|Masaccio's The Expulsion from Paradise|
I had a conversation with Lowell in the comments about a month ago where he asked me about a post that I wrote back in 2009: Venite Ad Me Omnes. It was about a crisis I went through eighteen years ago. I wrote it before I had any inkling that I would ever write apologetics, and reading it again through a skeptic's eyes, I wonder if it was irresponsibly written. I spelled out the gut-wrenching evil in great detail, but failed to talk in much detail about God's great goodness through it all. Just about everything I am today grew out of that experience.
When someone asked me a few days ago why I ended up engaging in dialogue with atheists, I explained that it was because I happened to have a conversation with an agnostic who told me about Atheist Central, and after checking it out I decided to comment. But I realized afterwards that the why goes back much further than that. It started when my five-month-old, Ingrid, had her first seizure the day after I had completed my requirements for graduation from Notre Dame Law School. Before May 12, 1993, Ingrid was developing normally--smiling and babbling to everyone, including stuffed animals and the baby in the mirror. Three months, three hospitals, and countless seizures later, she neither smiled nor cried and her right hand was fisted and unusable.
That's when I started asking the hard questions.
I've only spent a year-and-a-half thinking about the resurrection evidence, the fine-tuning argument, the cosmological argument, and the argument from moral law, but I spent a decade-and-a-half thinking about the problem of evil--called "the rock of atheism" by German playwright Georg Büchner. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I did gain some insights into the relationship between suffering, spiritual growth, and prayer over the years, and I will do a series of posts on that.
But I want to stress that the Bible is never overly philosophical about suffering. John 11:35 simply says, "Jesus wept" when He saw people grieving over the death of Lazarus. Jesus wept even though He knew that Lazarus would not remain dead. Evil is still evil and suffering still hurts even though God has reasons for allowing it. We are not to downplay the suffering of others by offering "helpful" platitudes. Instead, we are to "mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15).
So I don't want to trivialize evil and suffering by a discussion of theodicy. C. S. Lewis said in The Problem of Pain that pain is God's "megaphone to rouse a deaf world." But he later wrote the following in A Grief Observed after his wife died:
Feeling, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead. From the rational point of view, what new factor has H.'s death introduced into the problem of the universe? What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe? I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily. I would have said that I had taken them into account. I had been warned--I had warned myself--not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, "Blessed are they that mourn," and I accepted it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.Pain is also a megaphone that drowns out reason, and it was not until we had settled into our new life with a severely disabled child that I was really able to reflect on the whys. But explanations are a pale substitute for what I did receive during those months in 1993: God's presence, joy, and peace like never before--the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus in Matthew 11:28: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."