Frederick Buechner

This is from The Alphabet of Grace:

Driving home from church one morning full of Christ, I thought, giddy in the head almost and if not speaking in tongues at least singing in tongues in some kind of witless, wordless psalm, I turned on the radio for the twelve o’clock news and heard how a 4-year-old had died that morning somewhere. The child had kept his parents awake all night with his crying and carrying on, and the parents to punish him filled the tub with scalding water and put him in. These parents filled the scalding water with their child to punish him and, scalding and scalded, he died crying out in tongues as I heard it reported on the radio on my way back from of all places church and prayed to almighty God to kick to pieces such a world or to kick to pieces Himself and His Son and His Holy Ghost world without end standing there by the side of that screaming tub and doing nothing while with his scrawny little buttocks bare, the hopeless little 4-year-old whistle, the child was lowered in his mother’s arms. I am acquainted with the reasons that theologians give and that I have given myself for why God does not, in the name of human freedom must not, by the very nature of things as he has himself established that nature cannot and will not, interfere in these sordid matters, but I prayed nonetheless for his interference.

  • tomkatsumi

    So what IS your take on ‘The Problem of Evil’?

  • tomkatsumi

    So what IS your take on ‘The Problem of Evil’?

  • Ursula L

    Biblical literalism solves the problem of evil easily.  Take the framing story of the book of Job literally, and despite all the excuses people come up with, it all comes down to God having a gambling problem.  

    Fortunately, there is help and therapy available for compulsive gamblers these days.  Unfortunately, God seems uninterested in getting help, and many of the people closest to him are inclined to make excuses and deny that there is a problem.  Codependent, as those close to people with addictive problems often are, I suppose? 

  • rizzo

    God made us in his image:  We’re petty, cruel, abusive dickheads…God is…?  Especially Old Testament God.  Bears eating children, wives turned into pillars of salt, etc…

  • Ursula L

    More seriously, the problem with “free will” as a reason for divine non-intervention is that none of has absolute free will.

    We’re all shaped by the circumstances of our childhood.  Our choices are limited by the condition of our lives – wealth or poverty, the other people around us.  And it is all played to the tune that our brain chemistry provides, whether we’re mentally strong, or depressed, or otherwise mentally ill.  

    Someone born to abusive parents, in a situation of poverty and limited opportunity, with an inborn mental illness has a very different sort of free will from someone born to loving and responsible parents in a situation of economic comfort and opportunity, with good mental health.  

    For an omnipotent god to throw people into these very different situations, and provide no support or intervention to help either, with the excuse of “free will” ignores all the ways in which free will is constrained by the conditions we’re born to and live in.   

    If God knew us before we were born and placed us in these situations than noninterference out of respect for free will is already off the table, as there has been a choice made about the circumstances that limit our free will.

  • Ursula L

    There is also the moral problem that respect for the parents’ free will doesn’t excuse one of the responsibility to help a child who is at the mercy of those parents. 
    In human society, we try, with different levels of success, to protect children from the absolute free will of their parents.  We’re far from perfect at sorting out when and how to intervene.  But pretty much every society recognizes that there are some times when free will needs to be limited for the good of others.  

    Excusing God from intervention because of respect for free will strikes me as holding God to a lower moral standard than the standard we have for ourselves as decent humans.  And if God can’t meet the moral standards of basic human decency, then there is no reason to  respect God any more than a human with basic moral decency. 

    If any of us were there and seeing a child about to be placed in scalding water by its parents, we’d intervene and stop the atrocity.  If God is actually there, and capable of intervening, but chooses not to, then God deserves no more respect than anyone else who would stand by and watch a child scalded to death.  

    And a creator God who decided to create humans with the potential for considering scalding a child appropriate disciple deserves no more respect than anyone who thinks that including “deliberately scald a child” in the range of possible choices is a good idea.  

  • Ursula L

    There is also the moral problem that respect for the parents’ free will doesn’t excuse one of the responsibility to help a child who is at the mercy of those parents. 
    In human society, we try, with different levels of success, to protect children from the absolute free will of their parents.  We’re far from perfect at sorting out when and how to intervene.  But pretty much every society recognizes that there are some times when free will needs to be limited for the good of others.  

    Excusing God from intervention because of respect for free will strikes me as holding God to a lower moral standard than the standard we have for ourselves as decent humans.  And if God can’t meet the moral standards of basic human decency, then there is no reason to  respect God any more than a human with basic moral decency. 

    If any of us were there and seeing a child about to be placed in scalding water by its parents, we’d intervene and stop the atrocity.  If God is actually there, and capable of intervening, but chooses not to, then God deserves no more respect than anyone else who would stand by and watch a child scalded to death.  

    And a creator God who decided to create humans with the potential for considering scalding a child appropriate disciple deserves no more respect than anyone who thinks that including “deliberately scald a child” in the range of possible choices is a good idea.  

  • Anonymous

    Years ago, and from where I know not, I discovered that God does intervene, but only if he has his tools at hand.  Humanity is his toolkit and his tools are those of us who are willing to lend our will to Him so that Her work can be done.  In this case God either had no tools to work with or the wrong tools at hand.

    Finally, do not look for His tools those who say in a loud voice that they are doing God’s will for they have replaced Her will with theirs.  Look rather for those people who move quietly and unnoticed thru the world doing good in the face of evil. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

    I don’t think I get this post. What can we take away from it?

  • Kayla Anderson

    That gods are imaginary and you should stop wasting your time, energy, and money on the fantasy.

  • Kayla Anderson

    If I was some all powerful being and I was all like “Uh, yeah, I couldn’t help ’cause I forgot my toolbelt” I’d deserve to be kicked in the teeth.

  • http://thetalkingllama.wordpress.com/ SketchesbyBoze

    “Someone born to abusive parents, in a situation of poverty and limited
    opportunity, with an inborn mental illness has a very different sort of
    free will from someone born to loving and responsible parents in a
    situation of economic comfort and opportunity, with good mental health.”

    Sometimes, but not necessarily…

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    Years ago, and from where I know not, I discovered that God does intervene, but only if he has his tools at hand.  Humanity is his toolkit and his tools are those of us who are willing to lend our will to Him so that Her work can be done.  In this case God either had no tools to work with or the wrong tools at hand.

    Finally, do not look for His tools those who say in a loud voice that they are doing God’s will for they have replaced Her will with theirs.  Look rather for those people who move quietly and unnoticed thru the world doing good in the face of evil.

    I keep hearing variations of this argument and I don’t buy it. Why take credit away from the people who do good and give it to God? Especially if the people who are doing good aren’t the ones saying in a loud voice (or any other volume voice) that they are doing God’s will?

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    I think what Fred means by ‘grace’ is some concoction that is one part humor and three parts humility.  People endowed with such ‘grace’ will be more able to recognize that sinfulness is not villianous rebellion in others but some intangible thing that is just as inherent within themselves as it is in others.  They will able to see the vanity in imagining that virtue is a matter of obsessing about ones’ own strength and authority while being constantly on watch for opportunities to act as God’s rightous hammer against the deviant.  They are able to realize that such a mindset can and does lead to far greater evil than what it sets out to punish.  And in the case of the Buechner quote above, it allows them to honestly experience the impotant, inchoate rage that news of such evil must naturally cause, without indulging in any anti-kitten burning vigilante fantisies or something else that gives them the illusion of personal control over such savagery.

  • Null_void

    To which I ask: What does God need with a starship?

  • Null_void

    To which I ask: What does God need with a starship?

  • Anonymous

    Because the credit isn’t being taken away.  Rather the credit for doing God’s will is being recognized.  Also consider this, doing Her will doesn’t mean you are being used as His tool but letting yourself to be used as His tool means you are doing Her will.  A lot of people who stand up an appose evil are doing God’s will are not being used by God when they do it.  But if we are lucky, sometimes we get to work with God.  Think of it as letting God help us to do Her will as a child will let a parent help the child do what the parent wants.

  • Anonymous

    Because the credit isn’t being taken away.  Rather the credit for doing God’s will is being recognized.  Also consider this, doing Her will doesn’t mean you are being used as His tool but letting yourself to be used as His tool means you are doing Her will.  A lot of people who stand up an appose evil are doing God’s will are not being used by God when they do it.  But if we are lucky, sometimes we get to work with God.  Think of it as letting God help us to do Her will as a child will let a parent help the child do what the parent wants.

  • Guest

    Oh this is *fun*. People are arguing over the internet about a dispute that has no resolution.

  • Ursula L

    I remember seeing on television news, at some point, people being rescued from a roof during a flood.  One of the people being rescued cried out “Thank God!”

    This struck me as extreme injustice.  They’re trapped on a roof and in danger due to a flood, something that is literally and legally considered an “Act of God.”  And they’re being rescued by human beings who are putting themselves through much inconvenience and danger in order to save them.

    But it is God who is thanked as they are rescued, not the flesh-and-blood people who are right there and helping them into the boat. 

  • Ursula L

    Please note, I didn’t say that the free will from one condition or the other was better or worse.  Only different.  Because the factors that go into decision making, the basic assumptions of how life works, are very different.  

    Different enough to make “free will” something much less than an absolute.

  • Ursula L

    Sorry, double post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

     Think of it as letting God help us to do Her will as a child will let a parent help the child do what the parent wants.

    Now you are saying something different from what you originally said. Originally you said

    I discovered that God does intervene, but only if he has his tools at hand.  Humanity is his toolkit and his tools are those of us who are willing to lend our will to Him so that Her work can be done.  In this case God either had no tools to work with or the wrong tools at hand.

    That’s an entirely different situation from that of the parent who lets the child help do the dishes or sweep the floor, even though the parent is entirely capable of doing those chores hirself and will do the chores with or without the child’s participation.

    So when you are ready to take the wheels off those goalposts and hammer them right back down where they were to begin with, you just let me know.

  • hagsrus

    Then there’s the point at which an interventionist deity might be expected to perceive evil and act, and the means. “Stop the evil Fred Clarke’s wicked posts” by a: crippling any computer he or any proxy tries to use; or b: striking him dead; or c: altering his brain/mind so he adheres to correct opinions and interpretations henceforth (wash his heart clean in the blood of the lamb?); d: ???

  • Anonymous

    We’re all shaped by the circumstances of our childhood.  Our choices
    are limited by the condition of our lives – wealth or poverty, the
    other people around us.

    They’re also limited by our physical capabilities; I can’t choose to fly or cure cancer with my mind, no matter how much I might wish to.  Why would “human freedom” require that parents have the physical power to abuse their children, when it apparently doesn’t require that children have the power to avoid being abused?

  • WingedBeast

    “Years ago, and from where I know not, I discovered that God does intervene, but only if he has his tools at hand. Humanity is his toolkit and his tools are those of us who are willing to lend our will to Him so that Her work can be done. In this case God either had no tools to work with or the wrong tools at hand.Finally, do not look for His tools those who say in a loud voice that they are doing God’s will for they have replaced Her will with theirs. Look rather for those people who move quietly and unnoticed thru the world doing good in the face of evil.”

    Do you know how that reads to me?  That reads to me as “God answers every prayer, it’s just that the answer is functionally equivilant to non-existence.”

  • Tricksterson

    That what i refer to as The Great Whatevfer is as stupid and irrational as the universe It created

  • twig

    Anyone remember that Futurama episode where Bender became God for a while?

    I liked that.

  • LaurenF

    Godsdammit Fred, As soon as I saw the first line or two I tried to scroll past this one, but flashes of text got into my brain anyway and now I am screaming inside my head and my husband is not here to talk me down. Dear God, why would you post this not behind a cut????!

  • Anonymous

    Wait, why is God the one with a gambling problem?  Satan was the one who kept going double-or-nothing.

  • Murfyn

    This isn’t a problem to be solved.  The passage quoted was about how it feels to be aware simultaneously of the beauty and wonder of life and of the wretched, nasty way things sometimes are.  A worthwhile technique is to ask that good things come to everyone, including the people that one thinks should be smited already.  That helps.  But sometimes it just feels really bad, like the person in their car there, and you find yourself cursing god and everybody.  It is good to know that those feelings will pass.  That is, don’t cling to them.  Righteous anger can become shallow, self-righteous rage.

  • Eminnith

    People are arguing over the internet about a dispute that has no resolution

    Sweetie, where have you been? Disputation with no resolution is what the internet is for.

  • Anonymous

    Evil exists. Not every abused child becomes an abusive parent, not every soldier who loses a comrade turns his fire on unarmed civilians. Someone has to make a choice and it is a often a choice they have an opportunity to retract ~ baths don’t instaneously fill with scalding water. When someone chooses a path of destruction, they have commited evil.

    Good exists. Think of Oskar Schindler and Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, think of the Italian divers searching the Costa Concordia. Think of the neighbour who reports their suspicions of cruelty to a child or animal to the proper authorities.

    Justice exists. It isn’t perfect because it is administered by fallible human beings, but it exists. For millenia we have agreed upon the necessity to punish the predator and protect the victim. Justice also presents a rational abhorrence of evil. 

    Look evil in the face, honour the good, call for justice until your calls are heard. Find the grace of God in all this if you can and if it comforts you. Or seek it in your fellow human beings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Is it really “gambling” if you control time and space, the past and the future? It’s like playing the stock market, except you own 100% of the shares in every publicly-traded company. And you rule the universe.


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