One of the more common criticisms leveled at religion, and Christianity specifically, is that a loving God could not, would not, allow evil or tragedy to befall good people.
Alexander Dumas wrote, “If God were suddenly condemned to live the life which He has inflicted upon men, He would kill Himself.” Epicurus (or maybe some other Greek philosopher) asked, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
In 2012 there were approximately 466,078 intentional killings worldwide (source); that’s 1,275 per day, or 53 per hour. In 2010, there were 265,592 rapes (source), or 30 every hour; and that’s only reported assaults, so the actual number is far higher. As of 2007, approximately 261,200 children were kidnapped per year, or 30 every hour (source).
From 2002 through 2012, on average 58,328 people were killed by natural disasters, and another 196.25 million on average being otherwise victimized (source), each year. As of 2010, there were 2 million children 14 or younger with HIV (source; page 17). In 2008, 8.8 million children died before turning 5; 2 million babies died within their first month of life (source; pages 18-19). The American Cancer Society projected that in the US alone there would be 1.66 million new cancer cases, and 580,305 deaths from cancer, in 2013 (source).
Parents bury their children. Innocence is forcibly removed. People live in fear. People are born with mental deficiencies that literally prevent them from being whole people. People blow themselves up in a restaurant, or fly planes into buildings, or wage war not to prevent wrongdoing but to inflict it. Children live in fear. Entire societies are repressed, their artists and thinkers persecuted, their ways of life crushed.
God allows all of this to happen.
God allows people to commit atrocities in His name, acts of violence, acts of hate. He allows priests and ministers to abuse, sexually, financially, emotionally, people seeking His attention and grace, and to do it in His name. He allows groups like Westboro Baptist Church to perpetuate disgustingly hateful doctrine in His name.
God creates people with predilections to alcoholism, drug abuse, and other forms of addiction, then establishes laws making these things sinful. He creates people that are born with an innate attraction to those of the same gender, then not only says that this is sinful desire, but allows religion to systematically disenfranchise and abuse these people, His children.
Christianity at large has one main message that it broadcasts to the world: Jesus loves you. But how do we reconcile this message with the reality of the awfulness surrounding and, in some cases, perpetrated by, us?
I have seen good people, even God-fearing people, lose friends and family to tragedy, in some cases long, drawn-out tragedy. I have seen people’s lives fall apart around them. I have seen terrible, unbearable things happen to people who in no karmic way deserved it.
If Jesus loves us, if God is love, why does this happen? Where is God in the darkest hours of life?
This is a question that haunts me.
With all of my being, I believe there is a God. I believe there is an afterlife. I believe that we have been given promises and guidelines to follow in order to receive them. Yet the question remains.
At a most basic level, the greatest gift we have been given is not, as is frequently proclaimed, salvation via the death and resurrection of Christ; it is not His Word; it is not His name. These are tremendous and necessary gifts, but they are not the greatest. The greatest gift is free will.
Forced love, adoration under duress, these are worthless, fleeting. God does not want more slaves, He has those in the angels; He wants companions, friends, a metaphorical spouse. So we are given the choice to obey. The laws of nature were set in motion, and the world allowed to spin on. As a result, people commit crimes. People are hateful. People are reprehensible to each other. Tornadoes happen. Sharks happen. Lightning strikes. The evil prosper. The conniving banker get richer; the dictator maintains his grasp on the country; the racist has friends; the guy you can’t stand wins the election. The laws of cause and effect influence us all. Chance rewards some, ruins others. One man never experiences any serious hardship, another experiences nothing but.
This is not justice. It is not just; in the sense of human morality, it is not right.
But it is as it is. C’est la vie, say the old folks, and la vie, she is not fair.
This troubles me deeply, even understanding (or at least thinking I understand) the reason for it. But more troubling to me is the idea that all of this would be for naught. If this life were all there was, how utterly, utterly depressing that would be. To go through all of the misery that life can bring, and that be it? I truly do not understand how those who do not believe in an afterlife can cope with that notion.
“And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” —I Corinthians 15:19
The thing is, I do not believe, I cannot believe, that this life is all there is. There are times when the idea of an eternal reward is the only thing preventing abject despair.
I cannot promise anyone, on a scientific level, that God exists. No one can; how can you quantify the invisible and immaterial? But, even if, when I die, there truly is nothing beyond the grave, and every time I have felt the presence of God it was just the result of a great mix of chemical impulses and electricity and such in my brain, and every spiritual experience I've had was psychosomatic, it will still have been worth it.
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. —Martin Luther King, Jr.