Bill Tammeus’ Article for National Catholic Reporter “Many Christian pastors offer bad theology about death, suffering” – My Response
by Frank L. Jordan III
(Bill Tammeus’ article for National Catholic Reporter found here.)
Mr. Tammeus, in addressing the problem of evil – what you call the “open wound of religion” – you’ve dealt with a difficult subject with great sensitivity. If what you mean by “all theodicies finally fail” is that we cannot ultimately know for sure why there is evil in the world if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, then you are indeed correct. But it does seem to be a part of human nature to desire some kind of intellectual closure to this problem, regardless of how attainable that closure is. Sometimes we need to grapple with “unknowables” to arrive at the most reasonable explanations for ourselves personally, in order to maybe move past those explanations to accept what we will never know for certain in this life. Some of us devote years of our lives to such a process.
The best intellectual solution I’ve come to for the problem of evil can be found in a little-understood dynamic between God and a universe that derives from God. If we go back to the beginning of the universe, it’s possible that the early space-time continuum – containing the first elements, light, electromagnetism, and gravity – HAD to be what it was because it derived directly from a Source that HAD to be what it was (I AM THAT I AM). Maybe God did not bring into existence this universe any old way he/she freely chose to, but the universe flowed out of God the way it HAD to flow out because it consists of realities that derived directly from God, who is the Ultimate Reality. Maybe the development that has occured in the universe over the past 13.82 billion years is a collaboration between God and that which has derived from God.
And finally, to address the problem of evil, maybe God contends with that which derives from him/her. Maybe that which derives from God has the power to resist God’s will and power because by its very existence it contains a degree of the power found within God, who is its Source. If this is true, then God doesn’t “allow” evil to happen. God isn’t “withholding” the power to stop evil from happening. God’s power is exerted in its fullness upon and within the universe. It’s just that the universe consists of realities that have the power to resist God because they derive directly from God and share in God’s power.
But, as you’ve said, Mr. Tammeus, all theodicies ultimately fail, and I suspect this one will also. Not that there absolutely isn’t any truth to it (because there very well could be), but because we’ll never know for sure whether it is true or not, no matter how reasonable or logical it is, or how much comfort it might bring to me or anyone else. But I had to go through the process of trying to figure out this problem in order to incorporate what I’ve “found” and move past my speculations.
Some of us will never be satisfied until we’ve at least tried to figure things out for ourselves.
Frank L. Jordan III