Theodicy: Why do bad things happen to good people?

One of the hardest questions for monotheistic theologians is the question of the presence of evil. That is, if God is just, why do bad things happen to good people?

I think there are even harder questions here though as well.

For one, the existence of the greatest evil on the planet, that seems to be more and more clearly indefensible, and yet seems to grow greater every year (at least here in Australia) in terms of its prevalence, and astonishing support.

That evil, is the evil of abortion. To anyone with any reasonable depth of morality and intellect and ability to deeply study the question of abortion in a rationale and comprehensive manner cannot possibly come to any other conclusion than that it is wrong, dead wrong, and worse downright disgusting, abhorrent and evil!

So to me another incredibly challenging question is how come this great blot on humanity, this evil that makes our time in the history of man the most evil since the time of Noah, has not been severely reduced, it not eliminated, by the great efforts of so many moral, caring and concerned lovers of life and defenders of the innocent?

This afternoon, I will join a few thousand marching for life, for our most vulnerable and innocent, the unborn. Yet, I will march, as I always do, with a very heavy heart, because our voice is so small, so weak and ineffective, despite all truth, all evidence, including scientific and anecdotal evidence being very much on our side.

Now, some may quote Proverbs 21:31 at me: “The horse is prepared against the day of battle; But victory is of Yehovah”.

Yes, it is true that we are called to be involved and take up the challenge, but also accept that it is God who determines how and when the victory will occur and it will surely occur, but it has taken too long. Despite our efforts, for the most part we have gone backwards!

Yes, perhaps we can take some solace in knowing that the great heroes of faith faced many of the same questions and challenges in their lives.

 Abraham for example pleaded, “Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?”, when from his perspective, he too thought that justice was missing, the God was not acting.

Moses too cried: “Why have you done evil to this people?“, as did Jeremiah: “Lord, you are always right when I dispute with You. Yet I must plead my case before You: Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy? (Jer. 12:1).

So this question, this challenge and argument is not new, yet to me it seems of greater validity than ever!

Yes, there are some answers. For example, we read in Psalm 92:

“7 … that though the wicked sprout like grass, and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed. …
and it goes on:
“12-15 …The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of Yehovah,  they will flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they will still bear fruit; healthy and green they will remain, to proclaim, “The LORD is upright; He is my rock, and in Him there is no unrighteousness.”

Evil wins in the short term but never in the long. The wicked are like grass, the righteous like a tree. Grass grows overnight but it takes years for a tree to reach its full height. In the long run, tyrannies are defeated. Empires decline and fall. Goodness and rightness win the final battle. As Martin Luther King said in the spirit of the Psalm: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

But, the more complete answer as I see it still lacks something. That answer is that justice ultimately exists in the world to come, in life after death.

It is clear that many die without seeing and receiving justice; from the hundreds of millions on unborn killed before the altar of immorality, ignorance and convenience; to many unfairly treated and cut-down in so many ways through wars, political and social upheavals, and even unresolved tribal and family disputes.

So we who believe that our God is a God of Justice and Mercy, need to believe that Justice will be served in the hereafter, on the Great Day of Judgment.

But this can feel empty and unsatisfying, and it is also not the central focus of the Bible. The Bible calls us to engage in ‘tikkun haOlam’, that is in fighting to repair the world now, regardless of the truth that we will fail!

We are to build … the world with grace’ (Psalms 89:2).

It is in the here and now that we must work for justice, fairness, compassion, decency, the alleviation of poverty, and the perfection, as far as lies within our power, of society and our individual lives.

So how can we heed this call, when we only see failure (in this life)? Perhaps a part of the answer is to take the attitude that if bad things have happened, let us blame no one but ourselves, and let us labour to make them better.

Taking this attitude, accepting our part in the world, and our call to be in the world, ‘repairing the world’, then maybe we can emerge from our pain, our despair, our tragedies, and though perhaps shaken, scarred, and limping like Ya’acov after his encounter with the angel, we can find the resolve to try again, to rededicate ourselves to our mission and faith, to ascribe our achievements to God and our defeats to ourselves.

So, I will once again march, and I will try not to feel so heavy-hearted as I reflect on how evil our world is. Instead I will cry, ‘Blessed be the Name of the Lord …’! Baruch HaShem!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that …” – Martin Luther King

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