Pat Robertson had a ready explanation for the Haiti earthquake—he said that it was an expression of divine wrath at a centuries-old pact with the devil. Robertson's explanation may offend many of us, but attempts at offering a theodicy have a long pedigree.
In the film The Reader, Kate Winslet, playing an SS guard accused of great brutality, says to her meaning-seeking erstwhile partner, “Nothing comes out of the camps.” He wants to have a relationship that can restore their former joy, but in her emptiness she resists.
The problem of evil has plagued Christians for centuries. It has led Augustine to suggest the free-will defense, Hume to doubt God’s existence, thoughtful Christians to question their faith and a host of philosophical theologians to develop various permutations allowing God to coexist with evil.
God, Evil, and Design: An Introduction to the Philosophical Issues
A world more full of weeping than [we] can understand.” David O’Connor quotes this line from Yeats in the first sentence of his book on God and the problem of evil. His conclusion at the end of the book is that a world with both God and evil cannot be understood. One of the terms has to go, and it is God.
When I talk with Christians about their struggles in faith, the question of evil invariably surfaces early on. When I talk with those who have come to faith as adults, very often I hear stories of how God or one of God’s angels in human form has been very present to them in times of suffering.
Woody Allen famously pointed out that the problem is not that God doesn’t exist, but that he is an underachiever. The philosophical tendency for at least the past three centuries has been to assume that the human estimation of God is more significant than the divine estimation of humanity.
Humans are meaning-seeking creatures. We want to make sense of life. After the massacre at Virginia Tech, we want to know why it happened and whether something could have been done to stop it. And many of us ask: where was God in all of this?
When my wife and I returned home from vacation with a painting of a wolf, noble and forlorn in its expression, I had no idea how strange this purchase would have seemed to our great-grandparents. As the preeminent symbol of disappearing wilderness, wolves inspire awe in my generation.
When disaster strikes, people turn to religion to help them answer two questions: Why did this happen? and What should we do about it? Call the first the meaning question and the second the action question.