Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Tragic Option

"Make no mistake, the problem of evil is not just a problem for Christianity--it is a problem for all worldviews because evil is fundamental to our human experience. If any worldview is to be considered plausible it must provide us with the intellectual and existential resources to deal with this issue." ~ Brett Kunkle from Stand to Reason

Yesterday Americans saw another example of the problem of evil up-close and personal with the bombing of the Boston Marathon. When things like this happen, often people will ask, "Where was God?" or some equivalent question. I do not at all mind the question; in fact, it is a good question. I have briefly written about this myself in past posts, and of course many wiser men have addressed this question (here is a good, short example and for a fuller treatment check out The Problem of Pain for pastoral help or God, Freedom, and Evil for a philosophical treatment). I do not bring up the subject today, however, to address the "problem" itself but talk a little about something I read on Facebook yesterday. Obviously Facebook was full of comments about this tragedy. Like most major events that hit the Facebook newsfeed, comments were across the board, and I was encouraged by some, discouraged by one or two, impressed by several, and perplexed by a few. One in particular stood out, and I wanted to share it as well as a comment (a tragic option) that was added to my friend's post.

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook yesterday:
Playing off what Steve Childers said:
Our Options When Tragedy Strikes:
Option One: A sovereign God who is not loving. He doesn't care about our suffering.
Option Two: A loving God who is not sovereign. He cares but he's not in control.
Option Three: The all-sovereign, all-loving God, whose ways are often beyond our ability to fully comprehend (Isaiah 55:8-9). The sinfulness of man is far worse than we could imagine. The only hope we have for what happened in Boston is Jesus Christ changing people.
Only He can bring us comfort in the face of tragedy.
I completely agree with my friend's post. In fact, I do not bring it up because I want to add or subtract anything to what he has said. I bring it up because a comment was made on the post that presents a truly tragic option. The individual commented: "Option #4 - There is no God." That is what I want to address briefly.

The simple statement came with no further explanation as to the motive or mindset of this individual, but I think we can assume that this individual added this option because they endorse it. Perhaps they think it deals with the problem of evil and pain (which we all experience) better than any theistic explanation. But, does it? In my option it does not because this tragic fourth option has an important corollary that most do not consider. Most who accept this option do not follow it to its natural, logical end. They exist in a state of inconsistency that attempts to hold that life still has meaning and purpose and yet there is no god. There are a few, however, who have been honest about it. Ablert Camus, for example, rejected the idea of God (following the "God is dead" movement of Nietzsche) and determined that because of this life is absurd:
So long as the mind keeps silent in the motionless world of its hopes, everything is reflected and arranged in the unity of nostalgia. But with its first move this world cracks and tumbles: an infinite number of shimmering fragments is offered to the understanding. We must despair of ever reconstructing the familiar, calm surface which would give us peace of heart.... If the only significant history of human thought were to be written, it would have to be the history of successive regrets and its impotences. (The Myth of Sisyphus, p. 18, emphasis added)
Without God bringing, giving meaning to the universe, we must despair of ever being able to find any meaning in anything ourselves. In fact, according to Camus' honest look at life without God, it is man's very search for meaning that creates the absurdity of this life:
This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together. It binds them one to the other as only hatred can weld two creatures together.... This is all I can discern clearly in this meaningless universe... (ibid, p. 21, emphasis added)
So, Camus, who cannot give any comfort to the "longing for clarity" that "echoes in the human heart," is forced to conclude:
Hence the intelligence, too, tells me in its way that this world is absurd. Its contrary, blind reason, may well claim that all is clear; I was waiting for proof and longing for it to be right. But despite so many pretentious centuries and over the heads of so many eloquent and persuasive men, I know that is false. (ibid. pp. 20-21)
Without God this world is absurd. The necessary corollary to "option #4" is life is absurd, the problem of evil is unsolvable, and man's search for meaning, unity, and clarity is utterly futile. So, what does Camus, in his honest look at life without God, believe should be our response to this? He tells us that there are really two intelligent options: suicide or "fate surmounted by scorn." (ibid. p. 121) Your only options are to kill yourself or live life with hatred of the absurdity, scorn of this universe, and enough pride and defiance so as never to let the futility beat you. According to Camus, only dogged hate and pride will get one through this life.

As my quote from Brett Kunkle (above) points out, atheists must deal with the problem of evil just as theists must, and for their philosophical world-view to be acceptable, it must give us the resources necessary to deal with this issue and others like it. Does it? With the tragic option #4, what are we going to say to the victims of the bombing of the Boston Marathon? Perhaps: "In the grand scheme of the universe your suffering is utterly meaningless--life and all that comes with it has no transcendent meaning or value," "Take heart, you will soon cease to exist forever and your suffering will be over," or, as Bertrand Russell said, "...all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system..." so who cares, right? Option #4 cannot deal with the problem of evil, at least not in a way that man's soul will find acceptable. Option #4 cannot offer any hope to the victims of this tragedy or a world living in fear of similar things happening to their loved ones. Option #4 cannot give us any resources for handling the problem of evil other than Camus' two options. Option #4 can only say, "This tragedy is absurd. Life is absurd. The bombing of the Boston Marathon only reminds us that we must either kill ourselves and get it over with or buckle down, hate this universe, live with defiance, and never let the world win." Is that really palatable? Is that anything less than tragic?

Now, do not get me wrong. I do not believe God exists, the Bible is true, and Jesus is the only hope for the world because it is the most palatable option. I believe it because it is true. I believe it because the Hound of Heaven relentlessly pursued me through my rejection of Him and brought me to the point where I could not deny His truth and my desperate need of Him. However, it is also the most palatable option, and I believe that is precisely because it is true, because it is the only world-view that can make sense of everything in the universe. As C. S. Lewis states, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." (The Weight of Glory, p. 140) Only option #3 (i.e. orthodox Christianity) can shed light on pain, suffering, and the universe itself and allow us to understand their meaning.

By His Grace,

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