I heard a sermon last Sunday that troubled me greatly. The sermon was on the age old question: "If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world?" For the most part, the sermon went okay. The pastor started off with the assumptions that Harold Kushner used in his classic book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People":
1) God is good
2) God is all-powerful
3) Evil exists
The idea behind this list is that all three of these assumptions cannot be true. And since we know that evil exists, God must either not be all good or all-powerful. The pastor's answer to this was to list a 4th assumption:
4) Therefore, God sent His son.
You can probably guess where it went after that.
It was a typical sermon about the subject with nothing really earth-shattering or particularly revelatory. But about 2/3rds of way through, the pastor said something that ground my mental gears to a halt and made me almost walk out. He said that some people ask the question, "Why didn't God stop Hitler?" The pastor's answer? "People don't realize that God DID stop Hitler. Hitler died a horrible death!"
Whoa, stop right there. That's a huge claim to make. In that instance, the pastor's question and answer encapsulates one of the greatest and most frustrating problems of modern Evangelical Christianity: The problem of Christian attribution.
There are two basic problems with this whole line of thinking that I think non-Christians simply find literally incredible: 1) The fact that Christians attribute only the good things to God and all the bad things to human evil, and 2) The fact that we must try to extract meaning out of every event.
With regards to the first point, I'm getting to the point where I'd rather just believe that we can't know what God does. Did God make me lose my keys today? Did he give me that promotion? Did he cause my grandmother to die of cancer? Typically, Christians attribute the good things to God and don't attribute the bad things to Him. However, they certainly believe that God allowed the bad things to happen; so how is that different than being responsible for them? Rather than spend copious amounts of my time contemplating what God is responsible for or not, I'd rather enjoy the life I have and feel blessed. Because ultimately, how can we really know?
Relatedly, regarding the second point, sometimes, stuff just happens. Tectonic plates shift on this planet. Rain falls. And people die. And even though Romans 8:28 says God will work all things for good, that doesn't mean WE have to try to work them for good. The insistence that we can derive meaning or pull something, anything out of tragedy can be blatantly offensive. Sometimes, there are no answers; only questions. To suggest otherwise is an act of sheer arrogance.
As for Hitler, what exactly was God doing before Hitler died? Biding his time while Hitler killed over 5 million people? And furthermore, isn't it easier and perhaps more respectful to just conclude that the death of those millions was evil and senseless, and not try to derive a deeper meaning from that fact (other than, of course, not allowing such a thing to happen again)?
Sermons like the one I heard make atheism seem appetizing.
Thursday, August 23, 2007