Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature -- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance -- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? - Ivan Karamazov

I was reading the story of little Hana. It was Child Cancer collection day and I donated ten bucks for the cute little bracelet with two colourful beads on it.

Little Hana is unfortunately, cruelly, representative of many many New Zealand children whose wee bodies and families are wracked by the cancer that is cancer. Her story, like the others, was truly heartbreaking, so much so that I couldn't’t finish reading it, and I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Not a good look for one trying to maintain such a staunch macho image.

I got to thinking later on about how I was once called upon to defend the indefensible. As part of an oral exam, my professor, playing Devil’s advocate, demanded I explain to him why God ordered the wholesale slaughter of the Midianites. Not just the men, but the women and children. The women. The children! Why?

What could I say? God has a purpose? A greater purpose, plan, than anyone can begin to understand?

That’s the standard line. That and the whole free-will thing. God made us with free will and because we chose to exercise it, the consequences are the horrific sufferings we see around us each day.

The consequence is that little Hana has to suffer and die from a debilitating destructive disease.

There are always two sides to every argument. One side, for example, is absolutely convinced Princess Diana was killed in an MI5 assassination plot. The other side thinks it was a terrible accident. And there is inevitably a lost and ambivalent minority who don’t know or don’t care. But by and large there are two camps.

As to little Hana, there is a camp that fully believes in the standard line, that any amount of suffering here and now is but a headache compared to the eternity of comfort coming (if you toe the party line, but that’s another debate).

The other camp, angry, bitter, narrow-minded infidels, cannot possibly understand why an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God could do such a thing.


I must confess to never having set up tent in the former camp, despite my conservative raisings. Even before I understood it fully, my unexplored theodicy baulked at the naïveté of such a weak argument.

This is the best he could do? The creator of the Universe, who spoke galaxies into existence, who breathed life into every animated thing in the cosmos, who transcends time and space and knowledge – this is the best he could do? This is the best of all possible worlds?

I don’t think so.

I can imagine a better world. I can imagine a couple, actually. Am I therefore smarter than God? Apparently.

If I were responsible for creating a fabric of human destiny – ifyou were – could I found that edifice on the unavenged tears of little Hana? Could you?

If the only possible world to create was predicated on the necessity of making little Hana’s five short years a living, incontrovertibly painful nightmare of vomiting convulsions, energy-sapping blood transfusions, tears and screams of anguish and a better than average chance of an intolerably lingering death leaving behind a wake of misfortune and tragedy for generations, would I do it? Would you?

Of course not. Of course you wouldn’t. Why would you?

Look into little Hana’s teary eyes and claim God is good. Watch her family disintegrate with grief and say that God is all powerful. Stand at her grave and praise God for his all seeing eyes. I dare you.

The logic is sound. God cannot have all those attributes. If he lacks one he ceases to be.

The common sense is even more sound. It is, as Dostovsky wrote, “beyond all comprehension why they (the children) should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony.”


Anonymous said...

That's a deep one alright. I don't know why. But if God is imaginary, which is another possibility, why should we put the blame there?

peter said...

The point of the argument is not to apportion blame, but rather to highlight the absurdity of believing in the existence of a "God" who is all good, all knowing, and all present.