Theodicky by Thom Stark

Here is an older post written by a Christian theist dealing with the problem of evil in light of the Haitian earthquake. I'm pretty impressed with it. Here are a few snippets to whet your appetites:
Maybe God isn’t dead. Maybe he’s just going deaf. Maybe he’s totally deaf in one ear, and partially deaf in the other. It’s understandable. He is getting to be a little ancient of days anymore. Eventually, everyone’s hearing starts to go. We’re made in God’s image after all, so I don’t know why we would expect it to be any different for the archetype.

Honestly, what does it mean to say that God is going to redeem this situation?

In what sense, then, does a mass of Christians and non-Christians all giving aid to a group of people who are suffering bring glory to God? Even if God is orchestrating the entire relief effort, how does God bandaging up the wounds of the Haitians who survived exculpate God from complicity in their suffering and the death of one hundred thousand in the first place? Can you imagine such a defense offered by a mass murderer? “Yes, I shot 44 people in one hour and 32 of them died, but I drove the surviving 12 to the hospital. I don’t understand why I’m on trial here. You should be thanking me.” If God really created this earth, then God is responsible for the natural processes of this earth. If God made it, why did he make it this way, so that every once in a while, the earth opens up and swallows a hundred thousand people in death? Or are you going to tell me that prior to “the fall” there were no earthquakes? Earthquakes and tsunamis only happen because Eve ate a bite of a quince 6,000 years ago. After she bit into it, the composition of the earth was fundamentally altered on a real physical level so that now the earth itself has a bloodlust. That’s supposed to be an answer? We’re supposed to believe that?

Or maybe you’ll say that without suffering, nobody could be good. Goodness requires suffering in order to be shaped and proved. If that’s the case, then how was God good before evil came along?

But wait, you say. These people weren’t innocent! No one is innocent! “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (There’s God’s glory again.)

Right. Forgive me. I forgot about that one. Any sin requires death, so really, we shouldn’t say God is cruel for killing these people. We should say that he is merciful for not killing them until now! All those thousands of faceless toddlers who are buried in mass graves of unidentified bodies—they deserved to die, because they once said “No” to their parents when it was time to go to bed.

Now you resort to the old cliché: “God is mysterious. The answers aren’t clear now, but they will become clear.” Indeed, you’re partly right. How we can affirm both that God created this world, and that God is good—that is a mystery. Whether it’s a profound mystery, or a convenient one, I’ll leave you to decide. But the moment we start defining “love” and “justice” and “goodness” as “whatever God does/commands,” that’s the moment those terms cease to have any usefulness for human beings. Either God is good and good is therefore unintelligible, or good is good and God is therefore unintelligible.

Regardless, who do you think you are, you armchair theologians, you professional apologists! Did God’s victims appoint you? Did they grant you the power to acquit the Most High? What gives you the right? Your Bible College degree? Your ordination? Your PhD? Your church attendance record? Your own personal experiences? Which of these gives you the right to issue an immediate “not guilty” verdict upon God, on behalf of nine new orphans?
Thom offers no answers. At least he's being honest. Kudos to him. Read his entire essay and check around his blog a bit. There is much for thought.


DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Zechman said...

I see that Andy Kaufman has been reincarnated, and he's taken the form of a blogger named "DM".

Chuck O'Connor said...

That's my take Rob. He's kind of silly.

MKR said...

There is a somewhat out-of-date but still informative account of this cretinous lunatic here. I've written a bit about the fun I've had with him on my own blog here.

Tenk you veddy much.

Mike said...

Thanks for sharing this, John. I could really relate to it. The quaint, easy answers that evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity offers for the problems of life failed to satisfy me both intellectually and spiritually. This is one of many reasons why I'm presently an agnostic.

Thom Stark said...

Thanks for linking to me, John. I appreciate it!

John W. Loftus said...

Thom, I don't think this generated a discussion for Christians because it was so thoughtful coming from one.

But people read it.

Thanks for writing it.

Breckmin said...

"Thom offers no answers. At least he's being honest. Kudos to him."

If this somehow reaches to your heart, John, rather that actual answers...then I would say "whatever works" to get you back to the knowledge of a Creator.

Clearly I would love to go through this article point for point and provide the answers that God has given myself and other Christians to these questions.

I think it is important for every Christian to know how to respond to these specific questions. I can do this with multiple posts at request. These answers exist whether I provide the argument or whether you read them someplace else...and they are independent of accusations of so called "arrogance." Q E

Thom Stark said...

You talk as though I haven't read all the "answers" before. If you didn't notice there are 168 comments on my post, filled with fellow Christians attempting to give answers. I'd like to read your attempts, regardless.

Breckmin said...

"Maybe God isn’t dead. Maybe he’s just going deaf. Maybe he’s totally deaf in one ear, and partially deaf in the other. It’s understandable. He is getting to be a little ancient of days anymore. Eventually, everyone’s hearing starts to go. We’re made in God’s image after all, so I don’t know why we would expect it to be any different for the archetype."

We are made in God's Conscious Image NOT physical body. God is not a man that He would have "ears." You say this tongue in cheek but it was the first thing that makes it difficult for the Christian to process how this is not taking God's Holy Existence in vain. We all are guilty of vanity to some degree...I confess this through my posts with the imperfect words I use and how much of what I say can be guilty of defaming God...but to flippantly speak of God as though He is somehow going deaf or flawed in some way is futility to me personally. I often confess sin for things I post here because I know it is indeed imperfect and a violation against a Holy Creator.

Breckmin said...

Honestly, what does it mean to say that God is going to redeem this situation?"

I heard a baptist organization say that 85,000 people have come to Christ in Haiti since the earthquake and that over 100 churches have been started. The missionary work their will change people's lives for all of eternity and is clearly the result of bringing salvation to the land and to future generations of believers.

Why didn't God do this sooner? Like 4,000 years ago? fails to deal with how God is working through people and bringing salvation now.

God doesn't need to redeem situations...He redeems people using other people. He works through people and through relationships. God will display His Righteousness and His Holiness for all of eternity by judging the choices of those who did not receive His salvation.

There is nothing fair about grace because there is NO true observation of fairness in this universe...therefore "fairness" is a completely illogical thing to appeal to - to try and bring a charge against God. Fairness and equal opportunity do not exist in a universe where people are making choices which affect other people.

There is no equal opportunity salvation....and yet I can say that there IS equal opportunity salvation with a myopic imperfection of what I am referring to imperfectly with respect to the here and now spread of the gospel. There are always face value contradictions which need clarification and more communication when striving for precision due to the spiritual dynamic which is often ignored..or the situational value of the particular meaning of the statement.

Equivocation is everywhere and it is important to identify.

Thom Stark said...


In answer to your first comment, why don't you try reading your own Bible?

If I summoned him and he answered me,
I do not believe that he would listen to my voice. . . .
When disaster brings sudden death,
he mocks at the calamity of the innocent. . . .
If he would take his rod away from me,
and not let dread of him terrify me,
then I would speak without fear of him,
for I know I am not what I am thought to be. . . .
Does it seem good to you to oppress,
to despise the work of your hands
and favour the schemes of the wicked?
Do you have eyes of flesh?
Do you see as humans see?
Are your days like the days of mortals,
or your years like human years,
that you seek out my iniquity
and search for my sin,
although you know that I am not guilty,
and there is no one to deliver out of your hand?
(Job 9:16, 23, 34-35; 10:3-7)

Job accuses God of not being willing to listen, he accuses God of having the eyesight of mortals, he accuses God of mocking the innocent like some thug, he accuses God of being too thuggish to talk straight to, he accuses God of favoring the wicked and of being an oppressor, he accuses God of being no better than a human.

So get a grip on your piety.

In response to your second comment, I agree wholeheartedly . . . with the last sentence: "Equivocation is everywhere and it is important to identify."

Breckmin said...

So we can NOT over simplify "the ends justfies the means" for God any more than we can over simplify the Glory of Love forever in heaven trumps the allowance of the existence of eternal hell for billions who were never saved from God's logical "wrath."

It is clearly more complicated than this = and the problem comes when we reduce truth to reductio ad absurdums as though we have somehow debunked spiritual truth.

Perhaps I should go through the various reasons as to why we suffer and then talk about how these reasons apply to the individual. How every single death or suffering and every catastrophy only applies to the individual.

These catastrophies are a reminder of how ALL life is actually infinitely short in comparison to eternal life. The real issue is opportunity and learning. All death is judgement or life. All pain can have multiple reasons for it and we need to identify these possibilities.

Right now there is a logical reason why I can't cut and paste your post and go through it point for point. There is something wrong with my computer mouse and keyboard.

Unless we go through the fall of lucifer and the fall of Adam systematically and explain the logic behind these two events in relationship to salvation...we get no where. No where will we connect the dots with respect to love requires choice and choice creates the inevitable byproduct of sin/disobedience without prevention. No where will we address this in relationship to knowledge...and particularly knowledge of consequences which has to be learned by watching others punished or experienced ourselves. No where will we address how at least one individual would need to be eternally separated and punished in order to prevent the potential fall of the next...or how hell needs to be real in order to actually be saved from it.

No where will we connect the dots on suffering either.... and the logical causes which bring about natural evil.

You compared God to a mass murderer in your example regarding justification in a courtroom... but you forget that God determines ALL lifespans and is the Giver and Taker of all life cosmically. What difference does it make if it is an earthquake or if it is 20 Titanics that sink in the ocean?
There are still logical causes for both events to take place...some involving choice and some involving the surrounding environment that affects you.

I would never say "without suffering, nobody could be good."
That would totally ignore all of the holy angels of God who have never disobeyed and never suffered that we know of. However, you attempt to somehow over-simplify this in relationship to the Infinite Creator Who's Nature is the standard for good/perfection and allows the existence of sin/evil (choice) so that true geniune love can exist, etc.

I can make the statement that God "wills" evil to exist and explain what I mean by the statement but this does NOT mean that God creates our disobedience or causes our choices for us. Often times we stumble over our imperfect usage of English words like "cause" "control" "determines" "ordains" etc when we over-simplify God's transcendent existence and relationship to us as to be able to sunergei (together act with our absolute choices)our limited sovereignty with all circumstances.

It can not be over simplified, but I would like to explain infinite determinism at some point.

The biggest problem I have will your article is how it fails to give the whole picture with respect to catastrophic plates and the flood of Noah and the reasons for this flood (not necessarily above every mountain top)and how this event is the result of a world that is corrupt and not trusting in God. Instead you create a strawman of "Eve ate a bite of a quince 6,000 years ago" which fails to deal with the specifics of Adam's choice and how God was justified in placing a curse on the human race (something we need to talk about in great detail).

Thom Stark said...

I hope your version of logic works out for you in the end.

Nice crossing paths in the night with you.

Until we never meet again,

Breckmin said...

"he (Job) accuses God of mocking the innocent like some thug, he accuses God of being too thuggish to talk straight to,"

I disagree with this interpretation when you say "like some thug." I am sorry if I nitpicked at the first paragraph of your article. It was not about piety but rather about accuracy.

Thom Stark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thom Stark said...

"If he would take his rod away from me, and not let dread of him terrify me, then I would speak without fear of him, for I know I am not what I am thought to be."

Scary man with big stick = thug.

I've already said goodbye to you once. Shall I do it again?

Breckmin said...

When things are complicated it is easier to talk to someone who will reductio ad absurdum everything rather than have to navigate through all of the complications.

In my mind, we were just beginning.
Perhaps there is no common ground on basic assumptions such as theistic evolution or original sin. I don't know. I know nothing about you. The evangelical conservative may present so many things imperfectly and you may pick these apart at face value...but they DO keep themselves in ongoing relationship with God regardless of their non critical view of scripture. None of us are perfect... we will all be surprised when death is the final reality.