I’m sure by now you’ve seen the report of a distraught 12-year-old girl asking Pope Francis why God lets children suffer:
“There are many children neglected by their own parents,” Glyzelle said Sunday at a ceremony at a 400-year-old Catholic university in Manila. “There are also many who became victims and many terrible things happened to them like drugs or prostitution.”
“Why is God allowing such things to happen, even if it is not the fault of the children?” she asked the Pope, breaking down into tears as she spoke.
Pope Francis responded by hugging her and saying, “She is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer and she wasn’t even able to express it in words but in tears.”
Many posts in my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds jumped all over the Pope’s apparent inability to give an answer to the problem of evil, what has been known as “theodicy.” Here’s a representative status, this one from physicist Lawrence Krauss:
I have mixed feelings about this Pope. He’s a much better iteration than the previous one, Pope Benedict. I applaud his edict on climate change, for instance, but find fault with his apparent approval of violence with regard to the ridicule of religion.
And I understand the atheist reaction to the Pope’s non-answer. I mean, it’s literally his job to know this stuff, right? But in this instance I’m willing to give him a little leeway. I don’t think it’s appropriate to explain to a 12-year-old kid, in the midst of emotional turmoil, the long history of Catholic theodicy. If he wants to take her aside a little later, after she’s calmed down and receptive to rational conversation, that would be fine.
As an atheist, I think the problem of evil is one of many in a long list of knockdown arguments against the Abrahamic religions’ version of God. But I actually think the Pope did the right thing in this instance. I think that what she needed most was exactly that hug. No explanation for the problem of evil, no matter how convincing, would have soothed her pain or assuaged her doubt.
(Image via Wikipedia Commons)