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A Brief Defense of Christian Faith in the Face of Haiti

January 21, 2010

The suffering of the Haiti tragedy is immense and heart-breaking, and brings to mind so many questions. Those who claim Christian faith are often the first to question or be questioned in times like these. In a stimulating BBC Magazine article entitled, “Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters”, philosopher David Bain recently raised a key question based on an age-old syllogism:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

How Can an All-Good, All-Powerful God Permit Haiti?

Bain argues that the implications of this syllogism lead us to conclude that a) God is either good but not all-powerful b) God is evil and all-powerful c) there is no God. This syllogism is misleading. It assumes that God has not done anything in the past and that he will do nothing in the future to address the problem of evil and suffering. It is an incomplete framing of the issue. We could flip it around and ask: “How can an All-Good, All-Powerful God permit good to bad people?” I’ll leave you to ponder that.

To the point, although the reasons for an all-good, all-powerful infinite God in human suffering may not be clear to finite minds, it does not follow that there are no good reasons. Just because our minds can’t plumb the depths of God and the universe to find complete answers to evil and suffering doesn’t mean there aren’t any. To make this claim is to put inordinate faith in finite intellect, which is itself a leap of faith.

Are We Asking Enough Questions?

Perhaps we aren’t asking enough questions? Is it possible that the way we frame the problem of suffering and evil is limited? In order to grasp some of the answers to this great problem, I suggest we bring more questions into the picture, to fill it out, and to see ourselves and suffering more clearly.

Ask yourself this question. “Am I placing too much faith in myself to discern answers to a cosmic dilemma?” To state it another way, “Am I holding myself, my intellect, in too high esteem?” Just think about how we come to the conclusion that God is neither good nor powerful. From a small and very limited perspective, we make some grand, totalizing claims. We stack ourselves as high as this omnipotent God to evaluate him as a peer. We make awfully big assumptions. We assume that we possess an individual intellect and moral capacity that rivals that of an eternal and holy God. If we are content with these assumptions, then the Christian answer to suffering and evil will not make sense. However, if we are willing to drop these assumptions, to humbly evaluate our intellect and morality, then humility may lead us to more satisfying answers.

Reaching an Answer

I believe some of the reasons for suffering and evil are within grasp, and others are not. One of these great reasons is that God wanted to enter into our suffering in Jesus, to redeem it, and make much of his mercy and grace towards undeserving people. Although this reason does not account for the origin of evil (another topic altogether), it certainly disproves the syllogism. It tells us that God has done something about the problem of evil.

In demonstration of his goodness and power, the cross of Christ began overturning evil on the very day of Jesus resurrection—the defeat of his own death and the vindication of his innocence, relief from suffering and establishing justice. But God’s answer does not remain in the past; it works in the present. His goodness and power flow through his true followers today, many of whom are working day and night to alleviate suffering in Haiti. The ardent, compassionate, and humble faith of Christians must tell us something, though certainly not everything, about God.

The confident hope of the Christian faith is that God has done, is doing, and will do something about the problem of evil and suffering. God in Christ 1) defeats evil at the cross, 2) releases “aid workers” at the resurrection, and 3) promises total peace at his return. In the language of Bain, God promises a “Magical world”, where reason, morality and joy will flourish with the absence of any evil at all. As I see it, the alternative of placing faith in my intellect and morality, or in some other philosophical system, dims in comparison to the Christian vision of what is and what will be. God crucified, God resurrected, God returning to defeat and redeem suffering and evil and make all things new.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2010 11:11 am

    Thanks for taking the time to write this! Yay for all things being made new!

  2. Nate Palmer permalink
    January 22, 2010 5:12 am

    It is also important to remember that human greed does play a role in the amount of devastation that resulted from the recent earthquake. Had the imperial powers (ie France) of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries not exploited that nation for its sugar cane and left it in disrepair, perhaps it would not be the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere. It’s difficult to build earthquake resistant structures when a large majority of your population is living in abject poverty. Remember, the Sanfrancisco earthquake of 1989 was similar in its magnitude, but only about 100 people died. Although God is sovereign over all things, let us not forget that our refusal to care for the least and the last does play a role in this tragedy.

  3. January 22, 2010 8:54 am

    I agree Nate. We can not divorce Gods sovereignty from human responsibility.

  4. January 26, 2010 11:45 am

    I heard an excellent sermon on the tragedy of Haiti January 17th, (http://www.gracecentral.org/mcms_page_sermons_all.php), that emphasized (among other things) that a demand for immediate justice, for immediate eradication of all evil, would also be a condemnation on ourselves. For we too, are perpetrators of countless tragedies within our own lives and those around us. Thus, it is God in His mercy that patiently withholds His judgment out of His love for us.

Trackbacks

  1. An Xn Apolgetic in the Mess of Haiti « Church Planting Novice
  2. Jonathan Dodson on God and suffering « Windham Baptist Church’s Blog
  3. A good, theological word on Haiti tragedy :: Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma

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