"When a four-year-old dies from a brain tumor or a mother of three dies slowly of breast cancer, we know that's not right. . . .
"Whether we believe in God or not, most of us know intuitively that there are certain things that shouldn't happen in the world. It's that intuition that makes us want to ask why in the first place.
"But where does it come from? Why do we have this sense, not just that life is difficult, but that things are not the way they're supposed to be?"
Those thoughts are from a book I've just finished reading: Plan B - What Do You Do When God Doesn't Show Up the Way You Thought He Would?" by Pete Wilson.
And they're compelling.
For as long as I can recall, people have struggled with the problem of pain - the idea that an all-powerful, all-loving God is a divine oxymoron and, therefore, and impossibility. I'll admit, I've struggled with it, too.
Growing up, I watched my mother endure surgery after painful surgery in a series of failed fixes for a body wrecked by a teenage car crash. When I was little, I knew only that mom was "going to the hospital." As I grew older and the enormity of her pain began to sink in, I recall pleading with God for her healing. I begged. I made deals with God. But she remains, to this day, in constant pain.
So I know something of the inner tension one feels worshiping a seemingly enigmatic deity.
I've always heard the problem of pain touted as proof that God is, at best, absent or, more likely, nonexistent. Turn the problem-of-pain argument on its side, though, and the shifted perspective reveals something startling - at least to me.
Absent a deity to reveal to us the way things ought to be, how does humankind recognize that there, in fact, is a problem with pain? Apart from God, how did you and I come to realize that there is a way things should be and a way things should not be?
It is innate to us.
We view injustice - a young woman gunned down by Iranian secret police because she stood up for freedom - and we just know, "That's not right!" Nobody had to tell us. An inner script, an unspoken voice deep within . . . and we just know.
A forty year old mother sits in a lawn chair at her daughter's graduation open house, unable to walk to the kitchen and back because of the cancer she is fighting. Pride mixed with anxiety. Sorrow with joy. Unspoken by every person bearing graduation gifts is the knowledge that something is fundamentally wrong. This should not be happening to one so young, to a mom that is just now seeing the fruit of a dozen-and-a-half years of child rearing.
And how do we know?
I don't recall a single lesson from my parents, or in school, or in church where I was taught that getting cancer, or child abuse, or murder are not the way things are supposed to be.
And so, we are left with two possibilities. Either that knowledge is the result of an evolutionary process that was not just physical but also moral - that humankind became moral beings - or we were given that knowledge by God.
I choose to believe the latter.
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Bible tells us that they became like God, knowing good and evil. In Plan B, Wilson writes:
Did you notice what the forbidden fruit was? It was knowledge - the knowledge of good and evil. Once Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate that fruit, they would know too much. They'd gain something they never had, something that would drive them crazy the rest of their lives. They would know when things are the way they should be and when things are all wrong.I intuitively know when something is or is not right because, as a son of Adam, I have eaten Adam's fruit.
That, of course, is exactly what happened. And because they had introduced sin into the world at the same time, they were now in a double bind. Because they ate the fruit, the "good" they now understood and yearned for would always be out of their reach.
But this curse - and it is a curse - is also a blessing. Because the knowledge that things are not right, is a powerful apologetic for the existence of things, or The Thing that is right, namely, God.
C.S. Lewis wrote that the reality of hunger proves that there is such a thing as food. In this same sense, the reality of evil, of wrong-ness, proves that there is such a thing as good, such a thing as right.
Evolution cannot explain that. Secular humanism provides no clarification for the way things ought to be.
The only explanation I can comprehend is the One that is beyond my comprehension. The only sensible explanation for the way things ought to be is the God who will remove the curse. Who will wipe away every tear from every eye. Who will put an end to mourning. To crying. To pain.
In this world that remains less than it ought to be, that is enough for me.