Someone asked, once again, how we can believe God is good when there’s so much evil in the world.
There are lots of ways to answer this question. Here’s one that doesn’t have a lot of theological heft, and probably won’t comfort anyone in serious spiritual distress; but nevertheless, it struck a chord with me. Here’s how it goes:
The other day, my four-year-old absolutely lost her mind. It doesn’t matter why. She got a red bowl instead of a blue one, perhaps; or someone said the sky was blue when she was in the mood to hear that it was made of pudding. Down on the floor she went, with all the writhing, gurgling, and flailing you could hope for, if you were for some reason hoping for a spectacularly awful tantrum.
She’s steadily growing out of the tantrum stage, so I’m not worried; but it’s still frustrating. Then I got a sudden, brilliant idea. I told her I was trying to take some deep breaths, but I forgot how to do it.
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More screaming, of course. What does this have to do with her? So I ignored her screaming and started taking some deep breaths . . . but stupidly. I forgot how to breathe! Is it like this? [Huffa-puffa-puffa-puffa!] Or is it like this? [Heeeeee . . hoo-hoo-hoo-hooo. . . ]
She couldn’t resist. “No!” she shouted at me. “It’s like this!” And she demonstrated the right way to take some deep breaths. And started to calm down.
But I was still so very stupid, and kept on breathing wrong. And so she had to keep showing me the right way to do it. And of course with every breath she “taught” me how to take, she calmed down a little bit more herself, until her breathing was normal and her heart rate had slowed down to something we could all work with.
I was so proud. That was some excellent parenting! I really knew what I was doing! I didn’t lose my temper or make things worse or leave in frustration or disgust. And my other kids saw it, too, so when they become parents someday, they too can…
Nope. Scratch that. Something set her off again, and she was right back where she started. On the floor, gurgling, writhing, the whole deal, as if my brilliant parenting strategy never happened. Oh, well. I turned to my husband and said, “You know, that really was some excellent parenting there. Good parenting, rotten kid.”
That’s just how it is sometimes. Your behaviour as a parent is important; but it’s not the only important thing. There’s really only so much you can do, when it’s a relationship you’re trying to manage, because there is a whole other person involved. It’s a childish, undeveloped person who needs help, guidance, and supervision, but still, not a robot you can simply program by using the right codes.
This is why, when I see a kid spazzing out and being dreadful in a public space, I don’t automatically think, “Ugh, what terrible parents.” They may be the best parents in the world, and they happen to be dealing with a kid who is autistic and overstimulated, or a kid who’s been through trauma, or a kid who’s extremely tired. Maybe the parent has been working very hard, and the results of his work is that the kid had only one tantrum today, vs. six tantrums yesterday. Very often, good parenting doesn’t work, and doesn’t work, and doesn’t work . . . and then suddenly it works, when the child becomes ready. And sometimes, good parenting simply never yields good results, if the child is especially difficult. You simply can’t judge the parents by the kids’ behavior. It’s not that simple.
So, to return to the original question: How can God be good if there is evil in the world? Excellent parenting, difficult kids, that’s how. God’s behaviour as creator and redeemer of mankind is important, but it’s not the only important thing. When it’s a relationship, there is a whole other person involved. A childish, undeveloped person, but still, not a robot that God will simply program by using the right codes. Excellent God, difficult mankind. That’s just how it is sometimes.
I can tell you this much from personal experience. The story of my life is the story of me intermittently and unpredictably spazzing out, writhing around on the floor, gurgling and flailing. Then Lent comes along, and Jesus sees I’m kind of a mess, so He goes, “Hey, is this the right way to suffer? Is it like this?” . . . and demonstrates the right way to do it (which is what we commonly refer to as ‘The Gospels’). And I’m so smart and sophisticated, I think I’m inventing something new and wonderful when I do things like make some feeble effort to forgive my enemies or sacrifice my own comfort for someone I love. Truth be told, sometimes I think God is doing it wrong, letting people have free will, letting there be evil in the world. Silly God.
Good and loving and patient God, difficult me. Good parenting is when God is God, and He knows I’m a childish, undeveloped human who needs help, guidance, and supervision, and who needs to know that God loves me even when I’m being terrible. And who understands, at the end of the day, that I’m not a robot who can be programmed with the right codes. I need to be ready to respond to God’s excellent parenting.
It’s just a phase. I hope I’m growing out of it.