On the Nature of God and evil
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
I want to try to tackle the question of how to reconcile God that is of both love and evil.
This is perplexing and a paradox of Judeo-Christian religion to explain the good with the bad especially when we consider God to be omnipotent or One. If we are to pray to this being that is the overseer of great wonders and also the great tragedies (e.g. atomic bombs, Hitler, slavery, earthquakes, etc..), which one is hearing us and which one is getting the praises. When I pray to God I want the one that is compassion; that wants and does love. How do we get love from such tragedies like genocide, cancer, and perpetual incarceration?
I am going to suggest that God is growing throughout the Scriptures, and through Jesus, God's calling message is fully revealed to us. Yet we have many examples in the scriptures of God-directed pain: God, through the prophet Jeremiah, was calling quits on the people (of Israel), God called Joshua to vanquish the land of Canaan for Jewish settlement, God calls upon Abraham to kill his child. Where is the sanity in believing this God is good and why should I pray to this God if only to be tormented on a regular basis? Were these erroneous understandings of God through the eyes of the Israelites? Were these tests of faith?
What is clear that through the millennia, God has been blamed for death and destruction almost as much as for the graces of nature. When I am feeling left out or hurt, what did God do to me ? I would say that God likely, just as in Hosea, Amos, Jeremiah or Isaiah warned me, even though I did not listen. I would like to stick up for myself on these, but I know that I can be pretty stubborn to suggestion to things I don't agree — only to find myself with consequences of the actions later to be less than bearable. Was the situation the same in the Scriptures? How about today? When did the kings get the better suggestion from God but instead decided to rape and pillage entire communities off the planet — and then out of ego blame God for it? I can see God getting blamed for things not caused by divine intervention. Jesus proclaimed this when he specifically called people out for erroneous use of God to cover their ill-intentions.
If God is truly compassionate as described by the most enlightened and perfect ones (Jesus, Mohammed, or the Buddha), then the fallibility of humanity is revealed in how we want to perceive God on our side rather than God on the side of compassion. Even when things happen as terrible as financial hardship, personal loss of child, Dad’s cancer, holocaust or slavery, there were lessons to be learned and taught to future generations about the meaning and grace of God. Truly even during the worst, there were fine examples of compassions that were revealed (whether recorded or not) by some members of the human race that understood something about love of God and neighbor. Even when tradition told us to look around the calamity of generations of slaves, there were people that exemplified love of neighbor, even at the cost of their own. Even when we learned of Dad’s cancer, there was an opportunity of time to understand what our family is and what is our faith.
These lessons don't absolve the horrendous behaviors of the people committing heinous crimes, but they remind us of what is possible and that we can be that good person in the midst that says something or does something to right an injustice. Even if we weren't as diligent as the ant in preparing for a bad winter, in God’s kingdom, some of the ants will help surviving grasshoppers to understand what is needed for the next winter.
This comes to the core of deliberative and progressive theology where God is not continuously directing the whole affairs of everyone but maybe nudges us from time to time (if we quiet our minds, anxieties, desires or fears..and simply listen to the still speaking God.) It may not be answer we want, the answer we think we need or the time that we want it, but there is an answer waiting for us if we have patience to hear it. Yet, we can ignore what is right instead of what is right now. We can choose to be evil, and we can hold onto the conviction that God inspired us to do it. We also know that God is ready to teach the world what that ignorance of the “right” means and how empty that inspiration really is.
God may not have planned to teach us lessons and there is the possibility that we may in fact bring on some of these by not tuning into God as suggested by the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.
With respect to the reality of catastrophic natural disasters in relation to God’s sovereignty, I would point to the interpretation of the story of Lot leaving the city of Sodom due to the impending doom forcing him to leave his beloved home. Sometimes We are warned of pending disasters and told that it is time to pick up and leave. I do not think God uses diseases like HIV or Cancer or events like hurricane Katrina, as examples, to exact punishment upon people nor do I think God is purposefully putting these obstacles in our way. We have a choice of how we respond to these (with dignity and honor or with negativity). For Lot, Abraham gave him a choice of lands perceived as great and prudent, but Lot chose to make home near a volcano.
There was a chose by Lot that put him a collision course with the impending volcano eruptions. Similarly we can ask where I to develop cancer like my dad, how do I know if could prevent that or is that even possible for me to influence? Were there choices about Hurricane Katrina that people made? The answer is, like Lot, very likely yes on both sides (needing to leave and the actions thereafter). Although, unlike many people in New Orleans, Lot had the resources to leave before the destruction. Were the people of the Lower 9th Ward condemned because of sins? I would argue they were not condemned.
Many choices, events in our lives, or chain of events are simply out of our control, but we can impact how we respond to these. Our response to suffering can either lessen the suffering or make that worse. We can be mindful how we bring and share God’s love and compassion in this world.
I do not know nor pretend to know why bad things happen to good people but they happen. The only we can do is be prepared for the hour as in the parable of the virgins (Matthew 25) and considering the necessity of watchfulness (Matthew 24:36).
If we are to leave a good legacy, then we should be prepared to showcase our good life when we are no more.