Theodicy is perhaps the number one intellectual reason given why people will not accept the One True God. Theodicy, which comes from Greek for “God” and “justice,” is a term coined by the philosopher Leibniz (who concluded that in spite of the evil in it, this is “the best of all possible worlds”) and is usually used to mean an attempt to justify the goodness of God in a world of evil, or the so-called problem of evil.
Romans is the classic discussion of theodicy in the Bible – and I’m not going to talk about it. Being the contrarian that I am, I want to talk about “theogathy,” or the goodness of God, from the Greek for “God” and “good” (agathos). (By the way – don’t bother to look “theogathy” up: I just made it up!) You’ve all heard of Rabbi Kushner’s Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, I’m sure. Well, someday there may be a book by Father Erlandson called Why Good Things Happen to Bad People. I confess that I haven’t read Rabbi Kushner’s book, but I can tell you that what Why Good Things Happen to Bad People would say, if it were ever written: it would be the gospel, the Good News, of Jesus Christ!
A lot of ink and tears have been spilled agonizing over theodicy. I’m glad that others smarter than me have addressed the issue in detail. If theodicy’s a demon you have to exorcize, then by all means have it exorcized. But I find that often it’s a distraction and an excuse. For those who choose not to believe in the Holy Trinity and God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and in His Word, the Bible, it may seem a legitimate stumbling block. But behind it is a heart that would not bow to God even if the problem of evil were entirely resolved to satisfaction for the person. Then, a person is left naked before God with only his unbelief and pride to cover him.
For the believer, it’s a distraction. I’m not saying believers shouldn’t think about the problem of evil, but I am saying that they better not let it distract them from who God truly is and what their response should truly be.
The real problem for mankind to understand is not the problem of evil or God’s justice but the problem of good or God’s justice. Why does God judge those who do evil? Let me see . . . don’t rush me. Is it because they’re evil and don’t love the God who made them and loved them and will serve only themselves? That’s the easy part to understand, and I think the vast majority of people have a pretty good idea that they have done a lot of things wrong in their lives that produce guilt, true guilt.
But why does God do good to those who hate Him? Why did He save some of us when we all deserved to die? I could give the theologically obvious answer and say because He loved us, and, of course, that would be exactly right. But I don’t want to glibly accept this answer, as profoundly correct as it is. That love came at a terrible price which you all know. It was not free: you were bought with a price, the price of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Why do toddlers lie and then try to hide their sin? Why do we have wars, and why do people get divorced? Why is there so much human suffering? The reason for all of these things and more isn’t very hard to find because it’s right there in the heart of each one of us.
The reason why there are still random acts of kindness and, much more importantly, purposeful acts of love, is the love and mercy of God. The reason we are given second and third and umpteenth chances is because of the love and mercy of God. I smell the foul, biting air which is thelandofMordorwe all live in, and sometimes, I, too, find it incomprehensible. Why must the land reek so? It reminds me of the time someone put a cherry bomb in the toilet in the boys bathroom in junior high (which is a Mordor all its own!), and the floor of the boys locker room flooded with a sulfurous, acidic stench that dissolved its way even through a nose whose breath was being held and which was hidden under a sweaty tee shirt.
But that evil air you smell is only the noxious additive to an air that still gives life. The fact is that we still all breathe and live and have good things happen to us, even though each of us is a Mordor of our own, or as Satan says in Milton’s Paradise Lost: “myself am Hell.” We live and breathe and have our being in a gracious atmosphere, but we don’t care: all we can see is the Pandemoniums we build and when they smell like Hell we blame God!
We blow it coming and going. When we look at the justice of God and His judgment on the wicked, we are often tempted to question the goodness and justice and power and glory of God. We become like lesser Jobs and ask, “Why have You made me like this?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to your Creator, who made all things good and you He made very good?
And then, when God proves His goodness and power through His mercy and love, resulting in His glory, we yawn. We take grace for granted, as we take air and water and oil for granted, as if they were not daily gifts from our good Creator. We gasp for grace because we lack it, and then when we’ve filled our lungs enough, we go diving in the sewers again until the next time we need to come up for some more grace.
We’re like malevolent teachers who take out our red pens and mark wrong everything we don’t like, instead of rejoicing in the vast majority of things that are good and right.
We look at the evil and suffering and denials of our wills in our lives and blame God, who has given us nothing but the good things in our lives, and these we claim as our own. We therefore blame God for the evil and credit ourselves with the righteousness: hence the bestselling status of books like Why Bad Things Happen to Good People and I’m O.K. and You’re O.K. A little more truth in advertising would produce a book with a title like Myself am Hell, but God is Heaven.
So shut your mouths with me and open your ears and hear what the Good One has to say:
1. I raised up Pharaoh so that I could show my power and my Name declared in all the earth, and I’ve raised you up for the same purposes (verse 17).
2. Who are you to talk back to me? (verse 20.)
3. I have endured your sins and wickedness that I might make known the riches of my glory through you (verses 22-23).
4. I have prepared and appointed and elected you for glory, My glory (verses 23-24).
5. I have called you a people, who were not My people: I have called you my sons and daughters, the sons and daughters of the living God, who were sons and daughters of perdition (verses 25-26).
6. If I had not left you my Seed, you would have been likeSodomandGomorrah(verse 29).
Regardless of who you are and where you are today, God is good. He is all glorious and deserving of all glory and praise and honor. He is Beauty beyond beautiful and the Truth that makes truth. None of us deserve Him, none of us are good enough for Him. Yet He loves us and gives Himself to us, preparing and anointing and electing us for glory.
What will you do today with the problem of good?
Prayer: O most merciful and gracious God, Thou Fountain of all mercy and blessing, Thou has opened the hand of Thy mercy to fill me with blessings, and the sweet effects of Thy loving-kindness. Thou feedest us like a Shepherd, Thou lovest us as a Friend, and thinkest on us perpetually, as a careful mother on her helpless babe, and art exceeding merciful to all that fear Thee. As Thou has spread Thy hand upon me for a covering, so also enlarge my heart with thankfulness; and let Thy gracious favors and loving-kindness endure for ever and ever upon Thy servant; and grant that what Thou has sown in mercy, may spring up in duty; and let Thy grace so strengthen my purposes that I may sin no more, but walk in the paths of Thy commandments; that I, living here to the glory of Thy name, may at last enter into the glory of my Lord, to spend a whole eternity in giving praise to Thy ever-glorious name. Amen. (Jeremy Taylor)
Points for Meditation:
1. Practice remembering today the many ways God has been good to you – and give thanks!
2. Practice noticing today all of the good things that happen, and not the bad.
Resolution: I resolve to rejoice and give thanks throughout the day today for God’s grace and goodness to me.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day