Theodicy is an area of theology where I just haven’t spent a whole lot of time. Studying the problem of evil and suffering is pretty depressing so I suppose I just try to stay clear. There probably is a more accurate reason, though. I just haven’t had a lot of reason to reflect on the evil and suffering in the world. My life, for whatever reason, has been pretty good. I came from a good family with parents who loved each other and loved their three kids. The kinds of horror that other children grow up in the midst of is hard for me to fathom.
The church that I grew up at, helped me immensely (financially speaking) attend college, which freed me up to complete my master’s degrees. I met my wife in college and was married at 20 years old We decided to wait 5 years to have children – and Clark was born two weeks after our fifth anniversary. Both our children have been born extremely healthy with no complications or concerns. They are growing fast and are rarely sick. Mary Beth and I have also been incredibly blessed with health – I haven’t been to a doctor in more than a decade. Our time is coming and I am resisting the need to “knock wood,” but, I feel the need to be reminded, every day, I am incredibly blessed.
And so, the concept of theodicy is a distant thought for me so often. The reality that the world we live in is a challenging and, often times, dark place is hard for a, now bona fide, suburbanite with the picturesque family, to picture. I try, but only in vain, to realize just how unique of an opportunity I have to talk about the things that I talk about in freedom and at length. Because of my situation I can banter back and forth about poverty, and global warming, and economics, and all the things I read about in the paper. Because no one has ever threatened my life (except my brother and sister when we were younger, but we’ve worked that out). I’ve never been hungry. I’ve always had clean water. I’ve never seen a child die. I’ve never had a disease.
Reporting of the recent upheaval and resulting tribal violence in Kenya, Kristof shares stories of men who are publicly circumcised before being killed, of a woman who entered a refugee village carrying the head of her decapitated husband which the rival tribe had horrifically presented her after they killed him, and another man entered the aid station with his severed penis carried in a sock.
My first reaction is to want to quickly turn the television on and reflect on things not as disheartening, something that will make me feel better. Maybe there’s a spring training baseball game on or a rerun of one of my favorite television shows. People are so afraid to play a guilt card on people that the better option seems to be just turn away and forget. “Should I feel guilty for what I have?” seems to be the begging question glistening from the minds of affluent Western Christians. The arguments and personal responsibility seems to get lost due to the scope and breadth of the problems.
But I can’t help but feel corresponding thoughts of guilt, responsibility, and duty. If the problems were smaller – if it was a small child living next door who was starving because she didn’t have enough to eat, or a mother dying of dysentery because the water supply next door was corrupt, you better believe that I would do something. However, those cases are seldom next door, but across the ocean (or at least downtown somewhere, “I’ve heard about them, but I don’t usually go down there, especially after dark.”)
We must begin to see the connection between our wealth and our power with the poverty and insignificance of so much of the world. Our minds must continue to grow with the globalization of the world. Theodicy is a murky and complicated field of study, and it’s one that must continue to grow because more stories will continue to come from the Third World of terror and horror and our tidy First World theologies are seldom equipped to deal with those problems . . . and we find that those are more prevalent questions than those we are accustomed to asking . . . .