Monday, November 4, 2013

Alice in Wonderland and The Problem of Evil

This year, Netflix added a bunch of Disney movies to the catalog. That has made it easy for me to introduce my son to many of the classic animated films from my childhood. We have had a lot of fun watching The Aristocats, The Rescuers, The Emperor's New Groove, and many others. Last week we watched Alice in Wonderland. I have probably seen the movie a dozen or more times in my life, but this time something new occurred to me. It came to me during the scene where Alice takes a bite from a mushroom and suddenly grows taller than all of the trees in the forest. Mind you, that was the result of only a tiny bite. What would have happened if she had eaten the whole mushroom? Presumably she would have become hundreds, if not thousands of feet tall. That is when the thought hit me. If a land like Wonderland existed in reality--a land where simply eating a naturally occurring food could increase a person's size, presumably indefinitely--we should expect that someone would  take the notion to conquer the land simply by becoming unstoppably huge. After all, what match would even the greatest army in the land be for someone who could crush each and everyone of them in a single footprint, or weild a redwood tree as a weapon? I know that someone reading this will probably get unnecessarily technical and say, "well, a person couldn't breathe above a certain altitude." Fair enough, but that assumes that the atmosphere of such a hypothetical world is exactly like our own. But lest this post degenerate into a debate over the makeup of hypothetical worlds (even though that is tempting for an uber-nerd like myself) it should suffice to say that the specifics are irrelevant to my broader point. You get the idea. So lets move on.

From there, I couldn't help but think of one of the most commonly raised objections to Christianity; the problem of evil. More specifically, the problem of seemingly gratuitous evil. Skeptics seem fairly satisfied with the coherence of the idea that God could exist, give his creatures moral freedom, and that moral freedom accounts for some evil in the world. At the same time however, a lot of skeptics maintain that if God exists, we should not expect to see such apparently gratuitous evil in the world. But I would argue that they have got it exactly backwards. Just like the situation in Wonderland, we should expect that people would push the boundaries afforded by their environment. If such a world existed where human being were given moral freedom, we should expect that someone would take the notion to do everything that moral freedom allows. For the purpose of this discussion, I am not entertaining the often raised objection that God could simply have created morally free creatures and made it so that none of them would have chosen to do evil. I am not convinced that it is even logically possible (and therefore not a question of God's omnipotence) for God to actualize a world in which morally free creatures are guaranteed to never do evil. And theorizing about all of the ways that he could have curtailed that freedom just seems unhelpful. Anyway, putting all of that aside, I maintain that it would be very strange indeed if a world with moral freedom existed and no one had even attempted something like murder. Interestingly enough, that is precisely what happens with the very first children in the Bible. Unlike in Wonderland, they didn't even make it one generation without pushing the boundaries and uncovering a horrific reality. They opened Pandora's box as it were. If murder is do-able, why should we be surprised that genocide is attempted? The same goes for all acts of moral evil--why should we be surprised that someone, somewhere will see how far they can take it? That is exactly what we should expect in the real world.*

I hate to end a post on such a disparaging note. So, let me say a couple of things in closing. One of the reasons that I am convinced Christianity is true is that it best explains reality. The problem of evil is a good example of this. Christianity doesn't sugarcoat the problem, deny it, or say that it doesn't matter. The Bible acknowledges that the heart of man is terribly wicked. Additionally, it does not paint God as aloof. It is only in Christianity that we find God offering a solution that stands up to the severity of problem. God took on flesh and endured all of the seemingly gratuitous evil that the world could muster--mocked, profaned, rejected, abandoned, tortured, and murdered. And it isn't that Christians are masochistic and that God is bloodthirsty. It was the judgement of the evil that Jesus carried to the cross that is of utmost importance. All of the physical agony pales in comparison to what he endured spiritually. Even so, the physical suffering of God in the person of Jesus--the part that we can actually relate to since we are well acquainted with pain and suffering--demonstrates beyond any question that he is not cold and distant. Even though we still agonize in our longing to know "why?", the cross definitively answers the question "does he even care?" And aren't those the two questions that we all want answered? If a child asks his parents "why?" and doesn't receive an answer, he will eventually want to know, "do you even care?" A believable answer to the latter question doesn't take away the pain associated with not knowing why, but it assures the child's heart that there must be a reason. Of course, the next thing the child wants to know, "are you going to do something about it?" The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that God is not impotent to solve the problem--he has done something about it. The resurrection is more than simply a man coming back from the dead; it is the inbreaking of the new creation--the firstfruits of a universe free from evil, defect, sorrow--paradise restored.

*I am not trying to suggest that we should cease to be shocked by horrendous acts of evil. As these are gross violations of the way things ought to be, they ought to disturb us greatly.

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