Why do terrible things happen to the good and innocent? In a godless world there is no reason. In a Judeo-Christian world there may be a reason but you won’t like it.
A godless world presents inevitable misfortune as much as luck.
This is Ecclesiastes 9:11 and 12.
“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
“For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.”
Of course, all things being equal, the poor, the sick, and the less powerful get a greater share of misfortune.
What then, explains misery in a world with God?
Kafka (internal link) once wrote this to Max Brod,
“Only our concept of time makes it possible for us to speak of The Day of Judgment by that name; in reality it is a summary court in perpetual session.”
I think Kafka was trying to reconcile conflicting promises and results at the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis 2:17, God promised death on the day that fruit was eaten from the Tree of Knowledge but the serpent promised something quite different.
“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 2:17.
Death didn’t ensue, did it? Or, at least immediately? And if we are now as Gods, it is only with the knowledge of good and evil, no power beyond that.
Instead, Adam and Eve continued to live but were cast out of the Garden of Eden into a cursed world of sometimes unimaginable misery.
We accept that God keeps his promises. The Garden of Eden was many days ago and yet we live past that promised Day of Death.
The meaning of a day and time itself in the Bible presents endless argument for scholars and lay people alike. Does a day always mean a solar day on earth? Or, as Kafka put it, only our concept of time that allows us to speak of the Day of Judgement by that name?
Kafka is saying that the Day of Judgement is here and now, that it is continuing, that our judgement is never-ending and that we will never know the rules under which we are being judged. As a Jew, Kafka could certainly accept this as his people have always been on trial.
As to a Christian viewpoint, a Presbyterian minister I once knew offered this explanation.
He said a central reason for humanity’s misery and misfortune was that we were living in a broken world, again, broken since Man turned away from God at the Garden of Eden.
As a result, brother kills brother, babies die of cancer, black marketers tear apart elephants for their tusks, and addicts rob the elderly to buy drugs.
The physical world is broken, too, as tornadoes spiral across the Midwest, tidal waves wash away entire towns, and droughts burn down crops. The ground itself is unsteady as well, as earthquakes shake apart entire mountains.
The serpent still lives. And, inexplicably, God still loves.
With an entire world broken, a Presbyterian would say the only thing fixable is our own life and fate by salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? Full disclosure, that is what I believe, too, I think this position best articulated by the words of Billy Graham (internal link).
As an aside, that very conservative, third generation minister didn’t believe that the afterlife hinged upon the acceptance of Christ. This despite it being the central tenet of Christianity. I once asked him what happened after death to good people who didn’t believe in God or Christ. He smiled warmly and said that just as God’s love is immeasurable, so too is his grace.
If you want another explanation as to why the “earth has been unchained from its sun,” try Nietzsche of whom I have written on before. (internal link). He maintained that God was alive at one time but that we ourselves have killed him. And that is why we have to light lanterns in the morning . . . .
As I said in the beginning, there may be an explanation for misery but the explanation might be miserable itself.
As to something we can all agree on, A.E. Housman (internal link) wrote in the Shropshire Lad that, “[M]alt does more than Milton can, to justify God’s way to man. Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink, for fellows whom it hurts to think.”
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