Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Some people treat the world like it's a friendly place, full of rainbows and soft landings and certain success just around the bend. Maybe some people really live this kind of life. Maybe it's completely rational for them to think of the world this way--after all, as VH points out (see The Shaping of Rationality), one's own experience is always rationally compelling.

In a lot of ways, I have floated through life like this. I had a great childhood with sensible parents (despite that lapse which resulted in a 10:00pm high school curfew), sisters who grew up to be pretty cool, good grades without trying, scholarships to pay for college as the result of one good test day taking the NMSQT, a semester overseas which my parents were hellbent on paying for, a dream job overseas (in some ways) right after college, marriage to an amazing person (which I had seriously begun to doubt would ever happen), more school with scholarships, and more school with scholarships--at my first choice institution, no less, studying under a prof who's internationally known in his (and my) field. It's not that I don't work hard. I have, and I continue to, as I'm sure anyone who's read this blog knows, 'cause I complain about it on a regular basis. But look at all that. That is the trajectory of my life. Everything I have ever really wanted, everything important and serious and life-shaping, that is, I've gotten. It's come true, all of it.

John Hick's answer to the problem of evil basically proposes that all hardship, evil, suffering, etc., in the world is there because without these things, human beings would never come to spiritual maturity (which in any case he thinks takes longer than a human lifetime to reach--this goes on even after we're dead). The world is like a huge obstacle course, and in encountering obstacles, we learn and grow, and that's the ultimate point of obstacles. The obstacles being a metaphor for evil, of course. Imagine us all as toddlers, wandering around trying to learn something about our environment. If there was nothing for us to bump into, we would never learn anything. Therefore: humanity requires obstacles in order to progress.


If this really were so, beyond committing the unforgiveable breach of making senseless evil make sense (I like to think of this as "domesticating evil"--like, now that we've explained it, we can give it a nickname and keep it as a pet. "Here, Evil, here boy! Awww, good Evil, you're so cute, and helpful, too, aren't you, boy?"), Hick has some explaining to do, because I should be a naive nauseating idiot floating around telling everyone how good life is and God will bless them and nothing so bad we can't bear it ever happens and someday, someday we'll all be in heaven and it won't matter anyway.

But I'm not. I don't see a world of rainbows and happily-ever-afters and guaranteed successes, despite my coddled and overblessed life. Joe asked a few weeks ago how we view the world--optimistically, hopefully, or pessimistically, prophetically...

I see a world where little kids get run over in driveways and other little kids have recurrent CDH and old men get sick and old women get smashed up in car wrecks. I don't think that this is some kind of metaphysical learning experience for anybody. Not for them, and not for me, and not for you, either.

I'm mad. I am burning prophetic pissed that things like this happen in a world that Someone supposedly pronounced "good." I am raining down wrath on people who want to tie a bow on it and make it all better. I am sick to death of watching other people suffer for no reason and know myself to be completely helpless. I am embarrassed to have lived such a pain-free life that I don't even have a concept of how these other people suffer and manage to keep living.

These things haven't happened to me. I'm convinced my share of pointless suffering is down the road somewhere ahead, but that's not the point. They don't have to happen to me for them to matter. They happen. That's the problem. And if we can't see that from our cuddly cushy sunshiny happy place, then we too are the problem.


Anonymous said...

excellent post, JTB. I've been thinking about these things a lot after my last class and have quite honestly been pretty depressed about the state of the world and our keen ability as American Christians to be able to spit polish pretty much any situation into a nice shine.

I find Hick's argument apalling; as if God has placed us in this great reality TV show with a weekly immunity challenge for keeping the faith.

I'm not sure why we're so intent on trying to make sense out of evil. I've often tried to use similar reasoning (basically that shit happens, or life happens if you want to be church friendly), but it's like people can't accept that evil is without purpose.

I don't have a problem with people making suffering meaningful (perhaps using it as a way to connect to the suffering Christ, etc.?), but to suppose that God is "up there" pulling the strings in our lives ( a la Book of Job intro) seems less than ultimately helpful.

Something that Eddie Izzard said during his routine in Dress to Kill was interesting,

"Pol Pot killed one point seven million Cambodians, died under house arrest, well done there. Stalin killed many millions, died in his bed, aged seventy-two, well done indeed. And the reason we let them get away with it is they killed their own people. And we're sort of fine with that."

It's telling when even stand up comedians (transvestite ones at that) emobody the role of the prophetic voice when millions could care less since they're not directly affected.

Anonymous said...

As an oncology nurse,people die in my arms every week. I know...