On the sovereignty of God, Pastor John Piper recently wrote, "Now God wills that evil for the sake of thousands of good responses." (an a la Romans 8:28). And writing about John 9, when Jesus healed the blind man after his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind," the good pastor wrote, "And I don’t doubt that Jesus wanted 30 years’ worth of kind and faithful parenting from that man’s parents, like he wants from many parents today who have disabled children. And what is God’s purpose? Well, one of his purposes is that beautiful demonstrations of compassion be shown from these parents."
Imagine that, in one stroke of penmanship, Pastor Piper justified the above acts of human suffering on a higher purpose that is beyond human comprehension.
Pastor Piper’s theodicy is definitely eons-years away from mine in sophistication and depth. I guess I am but a bookish caveman as compared to his deep level of certainty in the divine sovereignty. In the shadowlands of faith, I am still groping with the perplexity of gratuitous suffering while others before me, I guess, have stepped out into the light with clarity of mind and faith. In other words, they have made the leap of faith while I am still hanging by the existential cliff.
You see, enduring "30 years' worth of kind and faithful parenting" under the yoke of unhealed blindness so as to eke out a pound of compassion is a little overkill for me. Even if it were for the "glory of God", and it was duly captured in a biblical passage for timeless encouragement, I can think of other much worse scenarios of disability and suffering that last more than 30 years, and the same will never make it to any literature of faith. And should this be the case, am I to accept the suggestion that it is all for the twin purposes of character development (compassion) and divine glorification? Me caveman is still groping.
Although I do not doubt that "whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger", I have to draw the line where the ambushes of life are deliberately planted by the divine, and His intervention intentionally withheld for an indefinite period of time, all of which hints to a divine conspiracy of sorts, so as to achieve a more purposeful end, resulting in more compassion on the one hand and more glory on the other.
Now then, many defenders of the faith will remind me of this scripture about how the Lord will ultimately deliver and that He is still in control: "The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor."
But still, there are groups not explicitly mentioned in the passage that in this day and age seems even more prevalent, if not relevant. They are the poor who dies pecking on the dust of the earth, the needy wallowing in the ash heap throughout their life, and the rich - being far from humble - looking out from their gated community with contempt and arrogance; more like petty mercenaries than honored princes. Divine sovereignty with a pinch of salt?
How about ultimate justice and fairness on earth? Well even that can sometimes be sparingly applied, if not unevenly distributed, in the world. Recently, a drug addict and murderer Richard Cobb was executed in Texas. In 2002, in a robbery that had gone wrong, Cobb killed one of the three people he abducted and raped the other. He admitted that he robbed to finance his drug addiction. When asked for his last words, he said, "Life is death and death is life...life is too short." And when he was injected with the lethal substance, he exclaimed, "Wow, that is great. That is awesome! Thank you, warden!" What an ironic ending for a drug addict, that is, to be killed by the same substance he regularly used when alive to temporarily escape from this world.
Although Cobb was punished for his crime, he left this world with little or no remorse. In fact, one of the victim's father said, "I think justice was served but it doesn't change anything to speak of...all he did was go to sleep. That's it." Where’s the fairness in a life that rebels against everything that is good?
So, if a test of theodicy were to be foisted on me, I cannot expect myself to pass with flying colors because I won't have much to argue or write about. Earthly explanations, or wistful ones, can only bring me so far. For every apologist's defence of the faith, there is a joinder of issues that matches it with equal persuasive force.
Alas, if only divine providence takes over and intervenes with a little less opacity, obscurity and abstraction, I could then be less uncertain about my own Christian journey. But I guess this is how it is going to be with faith. So, at a certain point, the fatherly hand that holds mine will mysteriously let go without me knowing and I will then discover that the road of faith ahead is one that is uncharted and lonely.
It is sometimes like a fog of war with a faint beam of light coming from a distant lighthouse and a soft bugle chorus wafting through as my guide and I have to tread barefoot on the cold uncharted pathways one cobblestone at a time towards the unlikely source.
This is my treacherous path of theodicy. It is not a garlanded road with clear directional maps and a ministration of cheery aviary wooing, prodding and leading me forward. That would be too enchanting for me and too convenient.
And as I take this lonely journey of faith, I must be prepared to be surprised not by certainty, but by the testy enigma of the unanswerable, the unknowable and the unfathomable. Cheerz.