Five Thoughts on Grace – #4, Theodicy
Job 1:8-12; Psalm 80:4-5; Lamentations 2:7; Mark 15:33
Theodicy: If God is good, how can there be evil in the world?
Boethius asked: If God is righteous, why evil?
Hume’s question: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Is God able to prevent evil, but not willing?
Is God willing and able to prevent evil?
Then God is either impotent, malevolent, or there should be no evil at all!
Dualism demands we choose evil or good.
Monism denies evil as substantive,
and claims that only good has existence,
evil has none and has no quality, being the negation of being itself.
Both dualistic and monistic approaches
are extremes demanding belief in the impossible,
and hindering Grace.
Augustine/Aquinas understood evil as an absence of good,
but, I ask, if God is all that is, then how could that be?
With another eye, let me say,
if God is our Comforter, then evil is our discomfort.
Most theological questions assume a humanity
apart from the cycles and events of nature,
and when horrible events arise for which theology can’t account,
they are deemed, evil.
In the processes of Nature, horrors and insanities are part of
a natural cycle, having placed ourselves above Nature
we are flummoxed by events otherwise normal.
Grace is present in what we cannot understand,
in what our arrogance denies,
and Grace is present in our worst and best experiences
and the in middle ground of our everyday stuff.
Grace is, and we can trust it!
Theology has asked some strange questions from time to time. I like the one where someone asks, If God is all powerful would it be possible for god to make a rock that God couldn’t live. My dumb question might be, If God is all knowing, and smart, then how could God create such knuckleheads? However we are dealt questions from naive past ages when naive people asked naive questions. the trouble is that we, in our own time, treat those naive past ages as if they were golden times, and therefore holier than the present, and therefore more right. Well, maybe not. We must constantly be on the guard for reifying ideas, rites, and claims of a past time without a serious re-examination. All questions and their various answers are good, as long as any, one, answer does not end the questioning.
The question of whether God can be both good and evil, is a question based upon a system of thinking that was based upon analytical abstractions finely wrought, and bereft of experiential input. Or maybe it wasn’t. I could well be that those asking the question had experiences of God that, indeed, contained evil. It might be interesting to see how the question has been answered.
According to Leibniz, the world we have is as good as it gets, and we need to understand good and evil as light and shadow, with evil being the shading that helps the light to stand out (my interpretation). Origin, and later St. Thomas Aquinas, held that evil came into being as a kind of abuse of the freedom and freedoms that creatures, notably human creatures, have been given.
In a Dualistic Model of theology (dualism being the model of two polar opposites that are split off from each other), there are coexistent, both good and evil. They are in conflict for control of the world. Humans must choose between on or the other. In this system only good can come from God, and its opposite, evil comes from a powerful but lesser, anti-God. This is the stuff of the fantasy-film genre, Harry Potter books, Tolkien, Lewis, and the Book of Revelation, snake kissers, True Blood, and a very scary event horizon. The more imaginative faiths seem to drift over to this theological model, and in it fear reigns, believers are smug, and the elect who choose correctly, are themselves then chosen as the elect.
In a Monistic Model of theology (the word, monistic, is best understood as having to do with a system of one as in, monotheistic, or only one God), only good is existent, and evil is illusory, and therefore does not exist. Good is the positive overcoming and making negative that which is negative. This model sounds a little like some sort of mathematical construction where there is a zero point from which one side emanates positive numbers, and from the other side emanates negatives–each side fulling nullifying the other.
I find that the notions of both “good” and “evil” are evidences of a vocabulary of “other.” We humans seem to need to find ways to talk about events in terms of defining categories. We categorize some events as good, and other events as evil. Many times this categorization simply reduces the events to a common denominator that makes us feel as if we have some knowledge about how the cosmos is run, when actually we have none at all. We may be participants in the machinations of Nature, but we forget that we are neither the focus of its attention nor the ones controlling its forces or actions. We are quite simply subject to its ebbs and flows and our pain is no more or less intense that that of the members of any of its other species. It is precisely because of both this forgetting and our developing a vocabulary, that we can come up with such categories as “good” or “evil.”
A Grace Model of theology (this model postulates that the goodness and good will of God is all prevailing, all present, and all pervasive), takes into account that we are subjects of, and not controllers of, the universe. In a Grace Model of theology, there is evidence of hope available for all situations. To my mind, grace does not judge good or evil, but judges need against desire, hope against despair, but not human against human, hurt against hope, or harm against help. In a Grace Model, all get saved. In a Grace Model no one gets to choose who those chosen are, because all are–chosen.
In a Grace Model of theology, we develop a vocabulary that attempts to include even the perpetrators of harm, even mass harm, into the loved-by-God category. We understand that harm and suffering, and those causing it, must be stopped, but we also understand that regardless of the means we need to use to disable the mechanisms of harm, and those who operate them, we are mandated by covenant to find the means to do it through Grace. If we are given Grace, which we are, then we must offer Grace to all. Grace is.