The Default Position Redux – Suffering and Christianity.

I have just read an excellent blog post by theologian Ryan Patrick McLaughlin entitled The Real Theological Challenge of Evolution.

The author raises an issue I have seen many times: that the problem with evolution is not that it contradicts Genesis in origins, but that it implies a creative God who allows and even requires suffering among living creatures, including humanity. As one commenter puts it, a loving God would have made things in a way that pediatric oncology would not exist as a discipline. If evolution is in fact (as I believe) God’s law of nature to govern life, than why is it that a loving God included the horrors of parasites, predators, illness, and so on?

This is nothing particularly new, but I think McLaughlin presents the case in a very compelling way. And it is an important issue to tackle for all theists.

My answer is related to a previous post called The Default Position (posted Aug 26,2015). The Default Position for many Christians and others is that the world should be good and suffering limited or non-existent. As McLaughlin and many others point out, that isn’t possible. The predator may thank God for a successful hunt, while the prey animal dies and thanks no one. My favorite analogy is that while a Yankee victory clearly proves that God answers prayers, I am aware that there are human beings in Boston who view the same event as a calamity. As McLaughlin says, there must be losers. But, why must there be killer typhoons, and terrible plagues and all the bad things that happen that are not caused by evil or sin, but just…happen?

This issue doesn’t trouble me.  I think the reason that it doesn’t is because my own DP is entirely different. Growing up as an atheist, in a very materialistic and hyper-rational household, I learned that it isn’t the bad things, but the good things that are rare.  I was never surprised when I learned that a young friend of mine was dying; instead, I was  amazed to hear that another friend had overcome a disability to achieve glory. I was quite ill as a teenager, but I never questioned God about that, since I knew there was no God. I simply knew that such things were bound to happen, and I was unlucky. And then, when I recovered, I felt that luck had swung in my favor. But I knew not to expect such things.

The world as I saw it was harsh, uncaring, unforgiving of mistakes, and dangerous. If people survived for decades, that was pretty good, and if they were able to get some enjoyment and pleasure out of life, well that was more than anyone could expect. Suffering? Of course, there is suffering, how could there not be? My Default Position was that I lived in a cold and dark world, and any hint of light or warmth was a welcome and wonderful thing.

So, when I became aware that Christ was real, and that God loved the world, I felt that a beautiful light had been turned on. Now I could see that all of those good things I had thought were rare examples of extraordinary luck were actually miracles. And the more I could see, the more miraculous everything appeared. I saw that the world, even the world as it is, is not a terrible place, but a place of beauty, of intricate design, a cleverly woven fabric of amazing order and perfect harmony. As a biologist, I became and remain transfixed at the miraculous unending complexity of life, and as a person, I fell in love with the wonder of the human spirit. I have seen courage, humor, love, creativity, passion and devotion in so many of my fellow creatures, far beyond what I would ever have expected from my original default position. The beauty of this world, and the magnificence of the living creatures in it, leads me to thank the Creator every day for allowing me to experience such joy, and to behold such wonders.

I don’t deny suffering, of course. But I embrace joy. That suffering exists is no mystery for me. That joy exists is a divine gift to us all.

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