Faith and Fandom
To Boldly Go Into All the World, Preaching the Good News...Where No One Has Gone Before

Kobayashi Maru

The Odyssey of Theodicy

Theodicy is a theological construct that broaches the thorny topic of how a loving God can allow people to suffer. Merriam Webster defines theodicy as a “defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” Though technically accurate, that succinct and oversimplified definition of theodicy fails to address the human side of the equation—the emotional impact that tragedy has on individuals, families or communities.

In addition to being a rigorous philosophical exercise, theodicy can be expressed in the form of a question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Though customary to ask after tragedy has befallen innocent people, the unfortunate truth is that no answer can properly satisfy this universal appeal for justice.

Though the reality of that statement is as pleasant as taking a leisurely stroll across a bed of scorching coals, there’s a reason behind every ordeal we encounter in life…even if we can’t see it at the time. Well-meaning friends attempt to provide comfort in dark times and bromides seem to just roll off the tongue: “Into every life some rain must fall,” or “Suffering is good for the soul.”

Scriptures readily come to mind when troubles abound: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Rom. 8:28), and “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). These encouraging and ennobling words were penned by Paul—the no compromise first century apostle/evangelist who knew all too well the cost of following Christ. Compared to his sundry afflictions (II Cor. 11:23-28) ours seem somewhat tame, like a child whining about a lost penny when his parents are on the verge of bankruptcy.

And then there’s Job. Job is the very personification of theodicy. No one in the history of the world, with the exception of Jesus, was as well acquainted with sorrow, loss and physical anguish as Job. Call his life Murphy’s Law in overdrive (or hyperdrive/warp drive).

Most theologians agree that Job is the oldest book in the Bible, which means that theodicy’s prickly principles have confounded humans practically since the time of the fall (Gen. 3). As the story begins, we learn that God considered Job the most righteous man on Earth at that time (Job 1:8). However, the Accuser wagered that he could make Job reject God if the Almighty removed His hedge of protection from Job. God agreed to the conditions of the challenge, but prohibited Satan from killing Job.

Satan eradicated nearly everything in Job’s life: his health, his livestock, his possessions and everyone in his family except for his wife—who urged him to curse God and die. Yet through it all, Job’s trust in God never wavered: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). When it seemed like Job’s death was imminent, God restored everything to Job in double measure. Job passed the test by taking his focus off his problems and needs and praying for his unbelieving friends.

Though most of us will never have to tolerate even half of what Job did, the way we handle adversity reveals a great deal about our character. Indeed, how we react to negative circumstances is a litmus test that proves whether our default mode is to rely upon self or have faith in God. In a crisis moment, we have several options: attempt to avoid the problem (which only works for a short time), try to handle it ourselves or with the help of friends and family, completely turn it over to God or mope about the situation.

A prime example of the latter is C-3POs remark in
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), “We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” Such a martyr complex isn’t healthy or productive, especially since Christ became a martyr in order to provide us with eternal life. Instead of indulging in a pity party like C-3PO did, our impulse should be to celebrate when life throws us a curve ball.

That’s exactly what the apostle Paul did when he was tossed into a Roman prison (Acts 16:16-40). Paul and Silas sang songs of praise to God in spite of their dire predicament. In response to their jubilant worship, God caused an earthquake to rattle the prison, providing a means of escape for Paul and the other inmates.

Though it runs in direct opposition to our conditioning, the best way to deal with a setback is to praise God for His goodness, no matter how overwhelming the circumstances are in the moment. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (Jas. 1:2).

Ultimately, there’s only one reason why God allows His people to experience hardships…to produce personal and spiritual growth. “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas. 1:3&4).

Despite the many rigors and horrors of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans of that era are referred to today as The Greatest Generation. Forged on the anvil of tragedy and toil, they became stronger because of what they were made to endure. Similarly, with each successive trial in life we have the opportunity to become greater men and women of God.

Whether you’re in the midst of your own personal Kobayashi Maru test or if you’ve thrown your hands in the air and exclaimed, “Shaka, when the walls fell!,” know that you’re not the only one who’s faced such desperate times and that your plight is actually part of God’s purpose for your life.

So, if you’re feeling the unwelcome agency of theodicy at work in your life, just remember that it’s impossible to obtain pure gold without first purging the dross in a fiery cauldron. In the end, the only way to survive the agony of theodicy is to trust God and trek on!

Spring 1998