Theodicy and Me

Yesterday was our last long beach day before the start of school. As I watched my achingly beautiful children playing in the waves and building sandcastles, I couldn’t help but think about how utterly charmed their lives are (with the exception of having a neurotic and incompetent mother, whose genetic endowment to them will likely result in eyebrows, noses, and thighs that fail to meet the highest aesthetic standards). And of course, because of them, my life is also blessed beyond all reasonable hope. This unnerves me; it is so clear to me that these blessings are bestowed without my meriting them that I don’t even know how to be properly grateful.

The background of my brooding, of course, was the news from Beslan, where hundreds of parents spent the day waiting, praying, hoping, and then, horrifyingly, identifying the maimed and burned bodies of their children–children who were loved like mine, whose parents surely deserved God’s favor as much or as little as I do.

I can often, from the comfort of my reading chair, appreciate the doctrine of free agency, and find reason to worship a God who values it so highly that he will not interfere. I can even love the idea, at least, of “The Weeping God of Mormonism” (Gene England, Dialogue Spring 2002).

But not today. I would prefer a God whose justice and mercy are more recognizable to my puny human mind.

6 comments for “Theodicy and Me

  1. As it turned out, I had discovered England’s article just before 9/11, and must have reread it three or four times afterward. The idea of the embodied, weeping, Mormon God certainly takes on a new complexity in the shadow of tragedy (and I don’t know the circumstances of England’s passing, but that piece had to have been among the last he wrote before his own death).

    Incidentally, before it appeared in Dialogue it appeared online here, in the inaugural (and, it appears, final) issue of Element, if non-Dialoguers want to read it.

  2. Kristine –

    I had much the same reaction. When I was talking about it with my wife at dinner I called the terrorists lang xing gou fei zeitu meaning a person completely devoid of any Humanity. I first thought of Cane slaying Abel, and if God could hear Abel’s blood screaming from the earth and took time to curse Cain (who sinned against a greater light than these terrorists) he will certainly pay attention to this.

    In reading Helaman, I have noted the struggle against secret combinations. Are we engaged in something that is different than them, than that discussed in Helaman 11 and other places? There seems little difference between an enemy that will suddenly emerge from the wilderness and dispense destruction and what happened in Russia. I am comforted by Alma’s to Helaman saying the land is cursed against secret combinations. Indeed, if a terrorist cell or organization is not a secret combination, I do not know what is.

    Nevertheless, we must remember to pray for our enemies, hoping they will put aside Terrorism and address their grievances in a way closer to Ghandi or ML King.

  3. Actually, I’m happy to say that Element is still alive, though it was dormant for some time. It has been taken over as the journal of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, with Brian Birch of UVSC as the new editor, and with a budget. It will be appearing both in print and online.

    I first heard Gene England’s “Weeping God” piece in 1999, when he was very full of life, and no one dreamed he would be gone just two years later. But it is sobering that he wrote it then. Perhaps subconsciously he could sense it was time for him to prepare.

  4. Though not as eloquent as Gene’s essay–and not LDS–Paul Ricoeur’s essay, “Evil, A Challenge to Philosophy and Theology” (in Figuring the Sacred), is an important essay. Ricoeur’s argument is that evil is a challenge to thought that cannot be completely overcome, reminding us that the proper response to evil is not thought, but action, action immersed in mourning. In the end, he argues, “We believe in God in spite of evil.”

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