14 January 2006

Theodicy and grace

One of the classic problems in theology (and faith in general) has the technical name "theodicy". In a nutshell, here's the problem: if God is so flippin' good and so flippin' powerful, why is there so much innocent suffering? Human free will may partially explain it, but what about the terrible disasters of the year past? The tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes don't have anything to do with human free will, unless you subscribe to the somewhat crackpot idea that Adam and Eve's sin (aka "The Fall") screwed up the natural world too. Well, just because it occurred to me, I throw out an equally crackpot idea: what if the creation, the natural world, also has something like free will?

I'm not suggesting that nature is sentient, just that perhaps God is, generally speaking, as hands-off with nature as God is with our own human free will. That is, God is no more likely to prevent Hurricane Katrina than God is to possess the mind of a murderer and force him not to kill. Maybe even for the same reasons, not that I claim to understand them fully.

I don't think this is a new idea, and although it is a conscious acknowledgement of the wisdom of Deists like my friend Jan, I'm definitely not going as far as Deists go in claiming that God never takes an active role in creation. (Jesus is of course the most extreme counterexample to that.) But there is a term for God taking an active role in creation: miracle. Nobody thinks miracles are common. We live in a universe in which the innocent often suffer. If this is a just universe, that justice does not operate using the dynamics of physical or emotional joy and suffering.

I used to believe in karma, but I don't any more. There is cause and effect, but it's not moral. When causes and conditions dictate that something nasty will happen and cause suffering, it usually will cause suffering, regardless of the moral history of those affected. When it doesn't, it's a miracle. It's grace. We're not entitled to miracles, any more than we're entitled to have God step in and take over our wills when we're about to do something stupid or evil. When they happen, we should praise God, but miracles don't happen every day.

I don't know if this is helpful, and I realize I'm presenting a pat, static theory again. But it was on my mind, so I throw it out there.


P3T3RK3Y5 said...

sweet. haha. love it. 'course i don't know what i think about it and will have to chew on it -- but just thinking like this makes me happy. thanks mike, for once again letting some fresh air into the dusty chamber of my brain housing group.

Mike Croghan said...

Here's another thought I just had: could this "free will is bigger than we thought it was" idea be related to the idea that salvation is bigger than we thought it was? That is, the idea that Jesus came to save the WHOLE GREAT BIG BENIGHTED WORLD, the whole creation, not just my teensy little it's-all-about-me-you-know benighted soul. (Romans 8:17-25)

MsJess said...

Interesting. Matt and I were talking about the higher purposes of one's life. I say that there's several purposes, though bigger, higher purposes that we're intended to carry out. I say we have the choice to listen and hear the call and meet those purposes, though my hubby is more likely to say that everything was supposed to work out the way it did anyway. I disagree, but then again, I believe in many lifetimes and many opportunities to carry out those higher purposes.

In any case, this is why I believe in free will; God gives us the chance to listen or ignore, the choices between what is right and what isn't, etc. I do believe in miracles though--that part where God steps in to help us towards the higher path. It is complicated and simple at the same time, though.

aBhantiarna Solas said...

Well ... taking your own model, I think we have to begin by defining "justice." What is perfect justice?

aBhantiarna Solas said...

Hah ... guess I'm not really **that** sorry!!

aBhantiarna Solas said...

Anyway ... once we define perfect justice, then we can get around to what does a just universe look like and then perhaps we're just looking at our speck in the universe.

I don't mean to sound heartless and horrible, but we're kind of small in the grand scheme of things. Not to mention short-lived. I'm not certain that what we call pain and suffering IS actually pain and suffering in the whole grand picture of the whole universe and eternity. Does a hurricane or series of hurricanes here on earth effect or affect the rest of the universe? How about a tsunami? Or a bad earthquake? I'm not sure they do. But they might ...

Then again the answer might just be ... 42!

Jayce from Rochester said...

To deviate from the other comments, the thought I always have is, "what is innocent?" and is that good? In other words, what if we assume God, nature, and karma define what is "right" and we must learn to adapt to what that is -- following that path is good, even if it's not innocent.

In my own life, I have found that it is "better" if I am doing two things different from what I had in the past.

The first is to seek things that make me happy. By that, I mean to avoid the trap of the local maxima, where you assume that because any change makes things worse, this must be the best. It's analagous to climbing a mountain range: if you get to a place where any direction you go is down, you are at a peak, but that is not necessarily the highest point you can reach. Sometimes a drastic change of position is necessary to find something better.

The second is to shed the shackles of language. By acting in an intuitive way -- following my own heart -- the universe responds by making good things happen. In the past I had relied more strongly on logical argument and predicting outcomes based on past experience. I still do, but I respect the value of intuition as well.

In the end, these things, I think, are leading me toward a more harmonious relationship with everything. In other words, what we typically refer to as "innocent" in the sense of simply "not negatively affecting others" may be undesirable in God's eyes / the natural order / karmic balance. To take an active role in learning about yourself seems to be preferable to innocence as innocece seems to be preferable to actively defying your self to hurt others.