It is interesting to note that most of our conversations about the problem of evil are still formulated within a paradoxical framework that is both deistic and fundamentalist. We still picture God creating the world in six day creatio ex nihilo followed by a great rest in which God folds His arms and lets the chaos ensue. It’s as if God creates humanity from the ground, humans start murdering and eating each other, and then God does nothing about it through today. But no religious person ascribes to such a worldview.

Another path we take is to picture evolution as a Saw movie slaughter fest of agonizing death. And yet we ignore the self-sacrificing, parental care, and symbiotic behaviors that have played an equal role in evolutionary development. Is there a lot of torturous death and predation? Yes. But we cannot stare God in the face and claim there was nothing but ravenous slaughter for billions of years.

We need a new way of conceiving these debates.

A more proper illustration of the world is the parable given by Jesus in Matthew 13:24-30

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

To quote some commentary on this verse:

“Traditionally, this parable is read as a commentary on the Kingdom of God, but Creegan follows Jacques Maritain and Reinhold Niebuhr in extending its meaning beyond the spiritual realm. Maritain and Niebuhr see in social, intellectual, and political history the same dynamic of evil mixed with and upholding the good. Maritain, for instance, points to the tremendous value of scientific advancement in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the tragic fruit such advancement bore in the development of an overly-mechanistic worldview. Revolutions—intellectual and political—bring about advancement and regression, justice and injustice, often in the same sweep. It can be perilous, she says, to try and root out the evil, because evil props up so much of the good. Analogously, Creegan thinks that a similar interplay of harmful and life-giving forces are at work not only in human history, but also in the evolutionary process.

Appropriating the wheat and tares paradigm, Creegan tells us God is not the author of evil, and God is not to be blamed for permitting or failing to remove evil in the world because the evil is so intimately bound up with the good. The tares are holding up the wheat. She takes this to be importantly different from claiming that God allows evil for the sake of securing some goods, though the distinction does not come through as clearly as she might like.” [1]

The emphasis on the intertwined nature of good and bad in this world is important to note and vital to how we think about the problem of why God would create a world that allows suffering.

A term I like to use is “tragicomedy.” Tragicomedies are fascinating pieces of art in that they are neither fully happy or fully sad. They meet in this interesting, weird, and yet strangely beautiful place in the middle. Evolutionary history and the world we currently live in are both natural tragicomedies.

One cannot say of a tragicomedy performance: “That was a comedy.” Neither can one correctly say: “That was a tragedy.” Both statements leave out essential aspects of the performance.

Likewise, we cannot say, along with the New Atheists, that God created a world that is a cannibal holocaust. Nor can we say with the Joel Osteens of the world that life is nothing but puppies and rainbows.

We must reframe our question away from “Why did God create a world that contains evil and suffering?” and change it into “Why did God create a tragicomedy?”

 

[1] http://journalofanalytictheology.com/jat/index.php/jat/article/view/jat.2015-3.050007150011a/267

Advertisements