Tuesday, April 7, 2020

"But he still gets to be God"

Kevin Williamson writes about some theological questions raised for Christians in times like these. He makes no claim to being a theologian, nor do I, but I like what he writes (and how he writes).
There are two Christian concepts on my mind on this Palm Sunday. One is theodicy, the other is the sin of presumption. “Theodicy” means “the vindication of God,” referring to a seeming conundrum that has vexed Christian thinkers since the beginning: How can evil coexist with an all-good, all-loving, all-powerful God?

Christians conceive of God as a father, which occasionally places us in the role of resentful adolescents: If God really cares about us, why did He let my friend die? If God really cares about us, why did He let that earthquake kill all those innocent people? I never asked to be born! There is a philosophically sophisticated version of that line of questioning, but the underlying dynamic is the same. Many Christian theologians consider the problem of evil to be the most persuasive intellectual challenge to the idea of God as Christians understand Him, and so theodicy has been a very hot topic for a couple of millennia now. ....

It is difficult not to think of that in the context of the epidemic that is at the moment inflicting death and suffering on the guilty and the innocent alike around the world. As with the plagues that were visited upon Egypt, there is sickness but also economic and political damage. More than 6 million Americans filed new unemployment claims last week. Confidence in our institutions is low — and, if we are to believe the evidence of our own eyes, it deserves to be low.

And here, spare a minute for the sin of presumption and its twin, the sin of despair. Presumption, in its narrowest sense, is a perversion of hope — it is the belief that God’s mercy will embrace us irrespective of our own course, with no need for repentance or acts of reconciliation on our part. It is the mirror image of the sin of despair, the belief that our depravity is so deep and so wild that it is beyond God’s salvific powers. What presumption and despair have in common is the mistaken belief that God’s mind is knowable by such creatures as us, that He can be hemmed in by our narrow ethical prejudices, that he is an algebraic God who may be approached formulaically, as an equation to be balanced. To be presumptuous is to speak on God’s behalf with unwarranted confidence and foundationless certitude.....

I do not know if God “sent” this epidemic to teach us a lesson. I am not much of a theologian. The moral lesson that I have taken from reading the Bible is that God’s sense of justice, fitness, and proportionality is at odds with my own, but He still gets to be God. I trust, but do not presume, that He will forgive my occasional irritation at those famous “mysterious ways” of His. .... (more)

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