26 Oct 2004

There are many things too big for me. If I think on it, for one, the classic Problem of Evil overwhelms me — the cruelty that is in this world is huge and inexplicable, permeating every scale of existence. Even merely to eat is the closing of another window into this existence, maybe more than one: the sheer amounts of random pain seem extraordinarily wasteful uses of living organisms. I try to absorb it in philosophy, try to drown it in words, but these are meager weapons on such a monster. To say that God has a reason that we will find out about later is such an infinitesimal alleviation, a band-aid on a maiming gash — that there is a reason may well be true, but it is to try and heal a disease by telling you that it’s only temporary. Life, after all, is temporary, but there are a lot of spaces within it to fill.

There are two opposing responses to the situation, both valid in their own ways. (If it does not affect you, to the positive or the negative, my thinking is that you do not understand the problem, or have not thought about it enough.) One response is to shut that which may be your faith, the other is to surround and cocoon yourself in your believing. A rational man, examining the claim of providence, comes upon the sounding of such a strong argument — that a greater power does not exists else we would be shielded, all we creatures, from such incredible experiences of pain — that he suspects that the argument is true. If all this pain is necessary, then either God is not all good or He is not all-powerful: that is the consequence of the Problem of Evil. Or at least one of them, for the reaction may justly go in the opposite direction, and why so goes into the emotions involved.

For however calmly and logically the rational man outlines the argument against believing, it is ultimately an emotional response that he is making. It is not complaining about minor pains, but that there is so much, so great, so prolonged, so random suffering — and not just caused by free will (the classic refutation to the Problem of Evil), but also by “acts of God”. It is a passionate rebuttal to the believer’s conjecture of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent being. But one might think of it thus: logically, if there were to be recompense a hundred-fold to any suffering a creature goes through, one might think that you could make good on even the greatest of pain. It may sound cruel, but only because we do not know what that recompense could possibly be. All of it could be somehow worth it, and what if it only meant something if we suffered so that it came to pass? Pain’s answer might be the bigger thing….

But no, I am not trying to solve the Big Question. Ultimately, for the believers, we are left with only mysterium tremendum, and the doubters are left with meaninglessness. As has been said, the Problem of Evil is a monster that will not drown in words — but lo, I find I must make it through this night holding onto that which I believe, for my faith saved me. My reaction is therefore to its utmost defense. In the end, it comes down to trust: I trust that there is something greater than I can comprehend that I understand as love. God is love, remember? It was a leap I made long ago, and I burned all my bridges on the road there. There are many things too big for me, but my faith makes my smallness all right. For this is my response to the Problem of Evil: that the problem deserves an emotional answer, just like the ones the doubters make without knowing it: believe, and love can be bigger than that.

posted by John H. Doe @ 12:12 am

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