Monday, May 7, 2007

Virginia Tech Idiocy and Theodicy -- Roger Imhoff, APC

By The Rev. Roger G. Imhoff, Jr.

A Virginia Tech student’s despicable actions on April 16 has left over 30 people dead, prompting many questions. How could it have been stopped? Do we need better gun laws? Should we not work harder to create a non-violent world? Is evil based on the given of humanity’s free well? Can we forgive?

However, this tragedy made me reflect on the question of THEODICY, which one dictionary defines as “a vindication of divine justice in allowing evil to exist.” Another calls this “God’ permissive will.”

Years ago in CREED OR CHAOS, Roman Catholic mystery writer Dorothy Sayers asked why the evils of her day such as wars, persecutions, cruelties, Hitlerism and Bolshevism, were not stopped by an all-good, all-powerful God> her response to someone’s question as to why God didn’t smite a certain dictator dead, was “Madam, why did God not strike you dumb before you uttered that baseless, unkind slander yesterday?” Why was I allowed to act with such cruel lack of consideration to my well-meaning friend? Why, sir, did God not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty little bit of financial trickery? People do not mean to do these things? Then why do them? To suggest that our own misdeeds are less repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular than those of others, and seem too trivial for God to bother about, does not let us off the hook. Why does God not sometimes feel like wiping us all out tomorrow?”

My interpretation of Sayers’ thoughts is that we need to repent for wrong actions no matter how seemingly insignificant, and as we witness someone else committing some terrible evil, we might have the honesty to say, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

I don’t have all the answers. It seems to me that some things evil and some things good have mysterious origins. As to God’s role, I think that Rabbi Harold Kushner’s thesis in WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE was that even God cannot prevent some tragedies, though God weeps with us as they occur. Therefore, perhaps one response to the Virginia Tech tragedy is to wing our prayers toward that place, and to support people affected by death, injury or loss. Scripture reminds us “to weep with those who weep.” We can empathize with those who mourn, those in pain, those who wrestle with deep anger, and those struggling to find some redemptive meaning in what has happened.

To continue to work for justice and confront evil as best we can is obvious. However, it seems to me that evil will probably continue to raise its ugly head till the end of time. Further, unless we are given to a Manichean philosophy which says that we, alone, as children of the light and that all others are not, we might realize that each of us has the ability to do both good and evil things. No wonder POGO once said, “we have met the enemy and it is us.”

Beyond utilizing some responses already mentioned, perhaps our deepest response can be to affirm Easter’s message that our God goes with us and all victims through the valley of the shadow of death. Also, we might confess something that many of us say most Sabbath weekends: “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” May such Divine mercy embrace us and all people at this hour.

Retired Lutheran pastor Roger G. Imhoff, Jr., APC, is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, which worships each week with Christ Church, Episcopal, Sheffield, Mass., at 8am and 10am. This was originally written for the Berkshire Record.

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