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Monday, May 30, 2011

Suffering, God, and a Famous Atheist Lawyer...

Joplin victims gather in prayer
Last week, a friend posted a comment on his Facebook page thanking God for something good that happened in his life. A few minutes later, a very high profile local lawyer, who is considered one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the country, commented on my friend’s post, suggesting something to the effect that that the deadly and devastating tornadoes in Missouri, and the subsequent suffering they caused, were proof enough there is no God.

The most often used argument of atheists against God is that evil exists in the world.  However, the same logic doesn't apply for them when good in the world happens.

Regardless, the argument goes beyond the existence of good and evil.  If there is no God, what is evil? What is good for that matter? What is morality?  Is there a right and wrong?  Who determines it?  Further more, what would it even matter if people are dying or suffering? (I'm just trying to make a point)  Aren't we all just advanced animals and therefore should adhere to survival of the fittest?  In other words, an argument against God because evil exists in the world has an underlined admission of the existence of an Omnipotent God that would allow good and evil to happen. Is this too philosophical?

Suffice to say, the nationally renowned lawyer, who is outspoken about his atheism, my friend and I got into a little exchange of ideas on Facebook. This is my brain and the fried eggs in the frying pan are my brains after a philosophical debate on the existence of God and how it relates to good and evil with one of the premier brilliant legal minds in the country.  Then again, if I do say so myself, I held my own.  Most atheists don't like to think about the consequences of their world views.  He has yet to respond to my last inquiry although he may have just grown weary from the exchange.  Maybe, he had to go work on a case (either that or he's preparing a thorough dissertation to use against me!).

The discussion reminded me of a conversation I once had with a psychology teacher my senior year in high school (a lot happened that year!). He was talking privately to a girl in my class and me after some lecture on Sigmund Freud, I’m OK, You’re OK, or some other psychological concept we were learning. He turned to us and said, “Do you want to know what I think? I think this is all there is. When we die, we are buried and that’s it.”

This is a teacher I looked up to (I was an impressionable young student). The exchange shook me up so much that almost 30 years later, I still remember it. Still, to believe there is no God? I tell you what; I may not have been practicing my faith very well and may have even been avoiding God for moral and self serving reasons in my life at the time but, no God? I couldn’t digest the thought. I still can’t.

The quandary of God, evil and suffering…

A good friend, who is in his early 40’s, suffers from a debilitating form of Lupus. Every day is a struggle for him. He wakes up in the wee hours of the morning in excruciating pain, which requires dozens of pills just for "normal" functioning. Often, by the end of the day, he is exhausted to the point of wanting to collapse, another effect of the illness. He is married and has two rambunctious young boys. To add to his hardship, before his near-crippling disease, his livelihood and passion was coaching baseball.  His faith carries him through the everyday struggle. 

Another friend goes in for a medical exam one day several weeks ago and the doctor discover a stage 4 cancerous brain tumor. A few days later, she was in for an emergency surgery to remove the tumor, which was too large to take out completely, and suffers a stroke. Now, before she can start full chemotherapy, she needs to go through rehabilitation for the stroke.  Her faith is carrying her, her family and friends, through.  She is an inspiration to all who know her.

We are constantly inundated with stories of children being brutally beaten by their parents, husbands killing their wives and/or kids, crowds being slaughtered by dictators for protesting, entire villages starving to death in remote areas, soldiers and civilians indiscriminately dying in war ravaged regions of the world, or as my new attorney friend points out, natural disasters that claim innocent lives.

Non-believers often ask; why, if there is a merciful and all-powerful God, is there so much pain, suffering, cruelty and hardship in the world? And, why do bad things happen to good people?

These are not easy questions to answer but, for Christians, we can only take solace by looking at a crucifix.  Christ didn’t promise a life free of suffering and despair. He promised a life full of hope.

For some, suffering is the only way, they get close to God. As is often said, when there is no one left to turn to, we turn to God, or put another way, there is no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole or in a plane plummeting down to earth.

For others, like Pope John Paul II, who suffered the pain and grief of losing of his mother at nine years of age, his older brother at twelve and his father and lifelong mentor at twenty-one, not to mention, witnessing firsthand the wrath, brutality and scourges of war in his homeland and, in his later years, a debilitating disease, it’s a matter of endurance.

Then, there's a third group; those of us who are called to do our part to help those that are suffering.  It's an opportunity to show our love for God by loving the poor, hungry, destitute and in anguish.  This is the kind  of selflessness and benevolence that many saints are made of.  Mother Theresa of Calcutta comes to mind.

Although hard to understand, suffering sharpens us like metal through fire. It reduces and pushes us to the brink of destruction. It unites us to the suffering of Christ on the Cross. But, those that overcome are blessed beyond their human imagination.

You hear and feel it in the voices of those who survived the earthquake in Haiti, and the hurricane in New Orleans and Mississippi, and the World Trade Center attack, and even the tornadoes in Missouri. 

Then again, to most of us, suffering is never welcomed and only through faith can it even remotely make sense, albeit, never entirely.  

Although I don't know my new debate friend well enough to make a judgement on the reason for his point of view, which could be as simple as rubbing elbows with the world of academia, like my own deviation from God in high school, many atheists, materialists and secularists are so for moral reasons.  They know the Truth in their heart of hearts, but reject it because, as world renown 19th century Russian psychologist, Feodor Dostoevsky, once wrote, "If there is no God, everything is permissible."

Of course, the implications of Dostoevsky's comment are too frightening for most people, even atheists, to realistically consider...




[pic credit: CBS News]

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