As a reporter, especially working the night shift over the first two years, my job was essentially to cover tragedy. The young boy killed in a house fire. The teenager racing – too fast – into town to see his newborn son. A teenage girl accidentally shot in the chest by her boyfriend.
I’ve heard the wailing from a mother who could not contain her grief. I’ve heard the bitterness of a father who lost his son in a war he opposed. I’ve been lied to by a dead girl’s drug-addicted parents, who used the support offered to them to buy more meth. I’ve seen bodies on dirt roads and highways covered with blood-stained sheets amid the wreckage of automobiles and motorcycles.
I’ve watched two men die, one protesting his innocence with his final breaths, the other apologizing to the family of the little girl he had raped and murdered.
I’ve never known any of them, yet each has changed my life in ways I’ll never fully understand or appreciate. Being around that much death and suffering changes a person; it has to.
Somehow, I’d never really thought much about the theology of death. But in recent months, and certainly since Liam’s death two weeks ago, that has changed. It’s become clear that God has a theodicy problem.
I’m not sure how a person can spend years around death and not think more deeply about its existence in the face of a supposedly benevolent and omnipotent God – it’s probably an indication of how near death my faith was, as well as evidence of the survival tactics reporters use to shield themselves from thinking or feeling too much about the things they cover. That’s certainly changed now.
So here are some statements about death and God that seem like they must be true:
- God is good, and he cares about his creation, which includes all people.
- God does not routinely intervene to prevent suffering or death
- Therefore, either death and suffering must be attributes of goodness …
- … or God is not omnipotent – or chooses to limit his omnipotence, which is pretty much the same thing as far as humanity is concerned.
There are some other points to be made here: