My question falls under the rubric of theodicy, which is “the defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.”1 God’s goodness clashes with God’s omnipotence when bad things happen to people. That is, if God were good and all-powerful, bad things could never happen to people. But bad things do happen to people. Hence, one of these two propositions is untrue. Religious people, however, need for both propositions to be true; they want to maintain that God is both “good” and “in control of the world” in the face of common human experience that denies the truth of one of these two propositions. The obvious clash between the propositions has led some to attempt a resolution of the dissonance between them in the following two ways:
1. By arguing that “learning to view bad things as good things in disguise are disciplines God wants his children to develop as they mature spiritually”;
2. By arguing that “God will not allow anything to happen to you without his permission. He will not allow any ‘bad thing’ to happen that will not ultimately bring you more good than destruction.”2
The first argument cites 1 Cor 2:14 and Rom 8:1-17 in support. This solution, however, requires self-delusion, since one must convince oneself that bad is actually good. The second argument cites 1 Pet 4:12-13, Rom 9:14-24, Isa 55:8-9, Job 1:6-12, and Gen 50:20 in support. (In neither instance does the scriptural support seem to be on point.) This second argument also requires self-delusion, since it asserts that bad is not actually bad but rather only bad on the surface, for the belief is that it will ultimately bring a situation that is more good than bad.
I simply cannot lie to myself that bad things are not bad but rather they are good things. With respect to my own life I know the difference between good and bad, as most people do. I agree, however, that sometimes good comes out of bad, but statistically it does not happen that often. Bad remains bad even though we may eventually get our lives back in order. In 1979 in a tight academic job market, I was fired from Wagner College along with 24 other members of the faculty because of a financial exigency crisis at the college. It so happened that after sending out what seemed to me hundreds of job applications, I was hired to the faculty of Missouri State University. In my case the situation worked out, but the good (a new job) never has completely eradicated the bad (a painful memory of a being fired and without a future in academia).
In response to my question, it is unfortunately true that the Bible specifically depicts God doing bad things to some people and allowing bad things to happen to others. Here are two examples: God does bad things: 1 Sam 15:1-3, 7-9; Isa 45:7. God allows bad things to happen: the classic instance is depicted in the prose introduction to Job 1:1-2:22.
The question of theodicy “why does God do what s/he does?” continues to plague me like a tiny unfindable pebble in my shoe. I have addressed it obliquely in a number of essays, and this year published two other essays specifically on the question of theodicy.3 The reason it bothers me is because the lack of resolution to the clash between God’s goodness and omnipotence ultimately challenges the very concept of God for a rational person. How does it seem to you?
Missouri State University
1Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1990), s.v. “theodicy.”
2Institute of Basic Life Principles, “Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen,” https://iblp.org/questions/why-does-god-let-bad-things-happen
3“A Conundrum: Two incompatible Propositions,” April 27, 2020: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/2020/04/ and “Did God Cause (Or Allow) the Covid-19 Pandemic?” April 12, 2020: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/2020/04/did-god-cause-or-allow-covid-19-pandemic.html?m=1