It's that old chestnut again: The Problem of Evil. This time a slightly different slant is given by David Madison over at Debunking Christianity. I will again leave his word in black with my responses in red font. Let's see if this slant is any better than any of the others trotted out.
Theodicy, AKA The Litany of Excuses
In March 1996, in Dunblane, Scotland, a gunman walked into a school and killed sixteen children and their teacher. Among the many flowers that were left outside the school in thedays following, one bouquet was accompanied by a Teddy Bear with a note tied around its neck: “Wednesday 13 March 1996–the day God overslept.”
I remember when this incident happened. Unfortunately it was not the first time nor the last time such a horrific thing has happened. The annecdotal note and the article under consideration here seem to be making a point that if God was awake and active that gunman would not have killed all those people. The thought assumes that God is obligated to keep bad things from happening to people in general and to us in particular. The Bible never tells us that but many of us people are still quick to make this assumption.
For those raised to believe in a good god who also happens to be all-powerful, such evil is inexplicable. Theologians have given it their best shot—over and over, throughout the millennia—but none of their explanations really satisfy. As one of them, Uta Ranke-Heinemann has admitted, “The question of the origin of evil, of what causes the tears
and deviltries of the world, the question that no
theologian has so far managed to answer, is one that humans have always posed.” (Putting Away Childish Things, p. 62)
People who find the problem of the origin of evil as inexplicable to the point of absurdity should really consider if they understand what the Bible means where it says that God is "good". I think what people really think is that if God is good then it is unthinkable that he would allow anything bad to happen to good people. We think that we ourselves in particular are too good to deserve the bad things in life that befall us Therefore, of course God should not allow us to suffer. When we see someone else suffer, especially when we think they are innocent, we wonder why it happens and if something like that or worse could happen to us?
Many serious thinkers have concluded from the existence of massive evil andsuffering that there probably isn’t a good god overseeing the Cosmos. Most believers can’t go that far, and reach for other explanations. Hence one mourner in Dunblane chose the metaphor of oversleeping to excuse God’s inattention. This metaphor is milder than Nietzsche’s famous declaration that “God is dead,” but “God overslept” is still just an attempt—tinged with cynicism it seems to me—to come to terms with God’s absence or indifference. Why didn’t God—almighty God who knows if even a sparrow falls to the ground (Matt. 10:29)—jam the gun that day?
Just because something bad happens does not mean that God is not inattentive. It does not mean that God did not know it was going to happen. It does not mean that God did nothing. Obviously the situation could have been far worse and that does mean that God constrained it to make it not as bad. as it could have been. For example, what if the man had succeeded in killing every person at that school that day. I think that was intention. What stopped him? God. What about the people that was killed? I don't know! I think we should not be afraid to admit that. I don't know why God does what He does in every situation. None of us do. That should be okay. He is sovereign and under no one. This is where trust and faith kick in. We know that God knows what God is doing and he does what is best for everyone in the ultimate sense that will bring God the most glory although I do not understand it all now!
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? God could have jammed the gun. Why not? But even
many Christians would respond, “Well, the world doesn’t work that way.”Of course not. But why not, if “he’s got the whole world in his hands”? The disconnect between such sentimental religious banalities and the real world can be very jarring. With so much evil and misery on this planet, how is it consoling, let alone true, that “he’s got the whole world in his hands”?
I know people who have experience the "gun jammed" moment. Instances where people were in life threatening situations but God miraculously saved their lives - including having a loaded gun's trigger pulled in their face but God making the gun jam. I say God did it because the gun should have gone off,. God does exactly that kinds of stuff even today. That being said, God does not do that all the time nor are we promised that he would do it all the time. God having "whole world in his hand" is only consoling if you know him!
Many explanations have been offered to account for suffering in our tiny corner of a Cosmos supposedly supervised by a caring and all-powerful god. The result of this major theistic preoccupation can be labeled The Litany of Excuses (although it’s officially called theodicy). Most Christian laypeople can usually round up a few of the standard apologies if asked point-blank why God tolerates so much evil and suffering.
"The Litany of Excuses" appears to presupposes that God has to defend his decisions and ways in terms of what happens to us He is the potter and we are clay. He gets to do what he wants and does not answer to any of us. I hope by "apologes", Madison is using the word in its classical definition as "defenses". God does not need to say "sorry" to anyone for anything.
But I’ve found that believers balk at any hard thinking that would require serious homework on this issue. They usually don’t grasp how fraught with difficulties the common excuses are. The apologies sound okay only on the surface. Folks who blithely offer two or three excuses for God’s tolerance for suffering and evil usually have not thought deeply enough about the excuses to see how vulnerable they are. For example, those who claim that free will lets God off the hook on a lot of suffering don’t
grasp how free will goes off the rails before it accomplishes much of anything. Nor do they seem to be aware that the standard excuses have been vetted by non-religious philosophers, and commonly found wanting. They seldom—if ever—ask where they can find the exhaustive theodicy literature that is available. I’ve never heard a Christian say, “I’d better read up on this. There must be lots of books on my favorite apology for God. Where can I find them?”
Finally something Madison writes makes sense. The "free will" theodicy is indeed not a good argument and is not Biblical. It has been 2000 years and plenty of good answers for this.
Secular philosophers understand that the excuses don’t hold water—that’s commonly why they became secular philosophers—and theologians differ as to which are worth clinging to, and offer strained and forced defenses of those that they prefer.
It seems that Madison is coming from an Arminian perspective and I find that theology woefully inadequate for answering the Problem of Evil because all you really have the free will defense that I think that it really sucks, To see see better discussion seen Genesis 50, Romans, Habakkuk, the works of Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon, John Piper, RC Sproul, James White, and many others.
David Madison was a pastor in the United Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in August 2016.
Keep praying for David Madison
Debunking Christianity: The Day God Overslept (Well, One of Many Days)