God and the tsunami, part III

Here is a third installment in my dialog with a non-believing acquaintance, who, I now realize, is insisting that God, to be believed, must follow human notions of procedural equity. Since first posting this, I’ve added a further exchange with another reader.

Correspondent to LA:

I don’t accept the accusation that my views are “liberal.” I’m not advocating an equality of outcomes regardless of deserts. I do say that we have a right to expect the supreme law giver and judge to treat like cases alike. An evil cad should not be given a yacht and trophy wife by the judge as a reward for killing innocent civilians, say, but one would expect that as between two equally virtuous God-fearing Christians, who have done everything right in their lives, the judge would not hand out radically different sentences, which happens every day.

LA to Correspondent:

The criterion of equity you are setting up is incompatible with the existence of any world, let alone incompatible with universal understandings of God and religion.

You say, “We have a right to expect the supreme law giver and judge to treat like cases alike.” The Bible certainly doesn’t say that, and no Christian or Jew ever said it or expected it of God.

For one thing, you’re expecting your human insight into people’s moral stature to be authoritative. If two people seem to you to be in the same situation and have the same deserts, that for you is the final word on the matter: they should get the same results. You’re requiring that God operate according to a human level of knowledge and human notions of justice. But we don’t know the whole picture of those people’s lives and histories and souls. God knows the whole picture.

But let’s assume that we can know the state and status of other people’s souls. If there is an earthquake and two morally equivalent men live in neighboring houses, and one man dies and the other lives, that for you is already final proof that God doesn’t exist or that God is a malicious trickster. If there are two morally equivalent men of the same age, and one dies at forty and another lives on until 80, that is already proof for you that God doesn’t exist or that he is a malicious trickster. If two equally courageous and devout U.S. Army lieutenants land at Omaha Beach, and one loses his leg while the other emerges unscathed, that would prove to you that God doesn’t exist.

Think about the kind of comprehensively and mathematically “equitable” world you are demanding. If God were to operate the way you demand a just God must operate, there couldn’t be a world, since all morally equivalent people would have to have the same level of disasters, diseases, misfortunes, and tragedies, as well as happy outcomes, occur in their lives. If two equally moral men were deeply in love with the same woman, she would have to marry them both.

You said that you’re not being a liberal. It’s true that you’re not being a left-liberal in that you’re not demanding equality of outcome regardless of merit. But you are being a right-liberal, that is, you’re demanding that God systematically give people who (apparently) have the same individual worth, the same results. Again, no universe could operate by such rules.

You should read the final chapters of the Book of Job, where God appears and tells Job that God’s ways are not man’s ways and man cannot understand God’s ways. That teaching, which blows away Job’s insistence for a humanly rational explanation of the terrible inequities God has imposed on him, may not be to your liking, but I think it is the correct answer.

- end of initial entry -

VFR reader Jeff Kantor writes in response to the above:

I liked your last post very much.

I would only add that the just deserts only appear in the final analysis, not prior to death. Otherwise, the Crucifixion is—by your interlocutor’s standards—the supreme example of God’s injustice or the final proof of his nonexistence.

I always want to ask these people, “So, then, you have a world full of tsunamis and such and no redemption, no meaning to it all. Does that answer satsify you? Or is it precisely the thought of the world we IN FACT HAVE without any transfiguring meaning which causes you to seek for an answer in the first place?”

A senseless, material world is incomprehensible because it is nonsensical. This is the reason that when struck by such disasters, people ask—perhaps in agony or fury—”Why? Why?” They expect an answer; or at least, like Job, they expect to be reassured that there IS an answer, even if it is just the incomprehensible statement, “I AM WHO I AM”. (Moses, you see, got the same answer from the Almighty that Job did.)

These questions always seem to me to start from the wrong end of the stick. The world end of the stick just gets you to the point where you grapple around until you find the God end of the stick. And then you START from there.

My reply:

Very good, thank you.

And get this. Not only is the Crucifixion the most unfair thing (since Jesus is the highest man and he’s suffering the lowest most horrible death, and since he is sinless but is receiving the punishment of all sin), but

(drum roll)


Now why would he choose such an “unfair” death for himself?


By voluntarily undergoing that death (not only undergoing it with all its fear and horror, but orchestrating it from first to last), by going through what he went through perfectly, always following and pleasing the Father, he showed all men how to live and die in this world. He was showing that the only real resolution to the unfairness and senseless cruelty and conflicts of this world is found through living according to the will of God, which we are invited to do by and through Christ, the Reconciler of all conflicts.

So, a terrible unfairness or unequal treatment mandated by God—which is the very thing that my other correspondent regards as so outrageous that for her that it disproves the existence of God—is what Jesus voluntarily chose to take upon himself. Instead of recoiling from such unfair, inequitable treatment, he lovingly embraced it, and so transformed it. (There’s a beautiful verse from one of the Holy Saturday hymns, referring to the Cross as the “Holy Tree,” that says something like this.)

This also shows, as you point out, that meaningless horror can only be made meaningful when man is living in relation to God, because this world, in and of itself, is ultimately senseless and unfair.

So, as you said, far from horrible meaningless disasters convincing people that there is no God, they can and should draw people closer to God.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 02, 2005 05:27 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):