We mentioned last week that people were trying to make sense of the tragedy in Japan. I noted that a few celebrities did a very bad job blaming the Japanese for angering God; the specific ESPN story I discussed broached but did not address the theodicy question.
This story from the Los Angeles Times tries to answer that question. Its structure reminds me of one I wrote for San Bernardino’s The Sun after Hurricane Katrina and the Sumatra tsunami. However, reporter Mitchell Landsberg doesn’t cast his net as wide, talking primarily to theological conservatives, and only from the Christian and Jewish traditions.
Overall, the story is a good read, and includes thought-provoking and insightful quotes like this one from Erik Thoennes, a Biola University theology professor and an EV Free pastor:
“Is God judging Japan?” he asked. “Well, no more than He’s judging me.”
Yet, this story was not without its problems. Unfortunately, they come at the beginning of the article and belie the foundation upon which the story was reported:
If there is a God, and if He (for the sake of convention) is all-powerful, what in God’s name was He thinking?
This is perhaps the oldest of theological questions — the one that may, in fact, explain the nearly universal human yearning for faith, what evolutionary psychologist Jesse Bering calls “the belief instinct.” How can we explain the inexplicable? How can we make sense of suffering?
Atheists say we can explain life’s complexities through science, and that there is no meaning in suffering. It just is, and we should do our best to alleviate it.
Monotheists see it somewhat differently. Faith offers answers, if only the unsatisfying: “It’s a mystery.” But there is little consensus among the faithful.
Let’s take that graph by graph.
In the first paragraph, Landsberg is suggesting that God might not be a He, but that is completely irrelevant to, and distracting from, the topic at hand. More importantly, the early tone is way too cute for what should be a serious, even somber, story. Using God’s name in vain to question what He was thinking is pretty close to a pun, and every journalist knows those are to be avoided.
This second paragraph is a nice set up.
But it is oddly followed with a third paragraph about how atheists see suffering. This is a relevant perspective, but I don’t think it belongs right after a paragraph suggesting that inexplicable suffering gave rise to the idea of God.
In the fourth paragraph, I saw two major problems. One is that monotheists don’t see things “somewhat differently” than atheists. They see questions about God and suffering diametrically differently. And, two, is that monotheists don’t just say, “it’s a mystery so don’t worry about it.” They pine for explanation, which they often find in God’s greater plan. Further, Christians and Jews are far from the only monotheists, though they are the only ones whose views appear in this story.