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May 15th, 2012 @ 6:06 am by Kevin
A while back it occurred to me that I should always be suspicious of a theology that arises from the suburbs of North America, because its comfortable surroundings is bound to have a distorting effect.
But then I heard the voice of one of my mentors saying that when we feel the boat tipping in one direction, the natural human tendency is to run to the opposite side. So I probably shouldn’t put any more faith in a theology that arises from the dusty shantytowns of Soweto, because the conditions of deprivation are bound to have a distorting effect. No matter which direction I run, the boat is still going to capsize.
But who is content to sit in the middle, especially when everyone else is running from one side to the other? And who can sit still with all of this rocking? Maybe the solution is to run back and forth so quickly we create the illusion of stability…
I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that right now, I live a pretty comfortable life. I look out the window of my spacious office and see a few cows lounging in a lush, green field spotted with yellow dandelions. Beyond them, a farmer harvests his first cut of hay. My doors are unlocked and my windows are open. My four-year-old daughter runs back and forth from our house to the neighbors, and I never worry about anything bad happening to her in between. When I go to bed at night, I don’t fret about someone breaking in while we’re asleep. The most powerful weapon I own–a BB gun–couldn’t penetrate a pair of jeans at 10 feet, and the reason I own it has nothing to do with personal protection.
I make note of this, because I realize my present state of peace and security is bound to distort the way I look at hell. Even though my city was the murder capital of Canada a few years back, I rarely come face-to-face with human depravity in its most chilling forms. Like most people, I have the luxury of merely reading about it in the newspaper. So when I express my discomfort with the idea of God punishing people in hell forever, perhaps you could accuse me of being glib, because I’ve never been victimized to the point where the desire to see someone suffer forever would arise in my heart. Maybe if my daughter disappeared on her way to my neighbor’s house, and her mutilated body showed up in the Fraser River a few weeks later, I’d feel differently.
I hope I never have to answer that question from personal experience. But I recognize that many thousands of people are in the thick of such situations every day. If they have a window, their view is distorted by security bars and stone walls topped by shards of glass. And rather than a few cows lounging in a field of lush grass spotted by dandelions, they see a few scraggly chickens pecking at a stream of raw sewage that runs unnoticed down a street packed with smoke-spewing mopeds, crowds of people and mounds of rotting trash. They live in constant fear of human traffickers seducing or abducting their children. And when they go to bed at night, they’re plagued cold, hunger and fear for their personal security.
Somehow in the face of all this, Louis Armstrong had the gall to sing “What a Wonderful World.” Centuries before him, Gottfried Leibniz dared to call this “the best of all possible worlds.” And today, we hear countless Christian witnessing attempts begin with the words, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
Really? Then how do you explain this:
One response would be to say God loves these children, and though the evil they suffered was tragic, it ultimately served a greater good. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Christians argue that evil is necessary in order to preserve free will. If we’re to freely choose God, we need a viable option. Hence the need for evil. The problem is, that pretty much reduces the children in the picture to collateral damage. They paid the price so that someone else could freely choose God–or not.
Another option would be to say that God doesn’t actually love these children–at least not in the same way he loves HIS children. From before the foundation of the world, he chose a remnant for himself. But then he went ahead and created the rest of the people anyway, knowing they were essentially hardwired to choose evil. But their rejection of God, and the subsequent destruction they committed, would merely be the dark cloth against which God’s goodness would shine all the brighter. So you could say the evil these children suffered ultimately brings glory to God–or not.
I don’t see any easy way out of this. In fact, my worst fear is having to face the same question Martin Bashir threw at Rob Bell last spring when he interviewed him about Love Wins: “Which of these is true, either God is all-powerful and, therefore, doesn’t care about the people in Japan and their suffering [from the earthquake], or he does care about the people of Japan but he’s not all-powerful. Which one is it?”
If we’re going to talk about hell, the problem of evil is front and center. And what is our theology of hell if not a way of coming to terms with the ultimate paradox–a universe supposedly created by an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God, but which is also rampant with all sorts of pain, death and destruction?
God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but… Somehow it’s all gone to shit.
All of humanity screams “Why?”
And what does your theology of hell have to say in response?
[Inspired by this blog post.]