Why, God ? – Depends On Who’s Asking
Atheists, agnostics, and believers ask the “God, why ?” questions in different ways.
A typical atheist question is: If this all-good, all-knowing, all-loving god you are trying to prove exists, why is there physical pain and human evil all over the world you allege that he made ? [atheists do not use upper case capitalized letters for God and God pronouns].
Agnostics have a different spin on this: Why don’t you doubt whether or not God exists, since there is evil and pain in the world ?
We believers, start from the position that the all-_____ , the infinite, and the all-______ God does indeed exist – most weeks we stand up and say publicly, “I believe in God . . ..” – so we ask this way: God, why is there evil and pain in the world ? We directly address the God in whom we believe.
The Explanation Is Not A Direct Answer – Aquinas & Bonaventure
The belief in God by those who ask “God, why ?” questions is not the answer to those questions, but it is the basis for understanding a correct response of a creature of God, who realizes she or he is God’s creature, he or she is not God, and she or he is made by God in God’s image and likeness. This is the conclusion of F.C. Copleston in his discussion of the problem of evil in the chapter entitled “God and Creation,” in his book, Aquinas. This is also an insight of many Fathers of the Church and of later theologians. Copleston discusses the thoughts of St. Bonaventure and of St. Thomas Aquinas. For Copleston:
To this question, why God chose this world, foreseeing all the evils which would in fact occur, no answer, I think, can be given. That is to say, no answer can be given which would be accepted by an objcient as a ‘solution’ to the problem of evil. St. Bonaventure remarked that if anyone asks why God did not make a better world or make this world better, no answer can be given except that He so willed and that He Himself knows the reason.
Regarding how St. Thomas would deal with the “God, why evil?” question, Copleston says:
At the same time he [Aquinas] was convinced that the metaphysician can prove the existence of God independently of the problem of evil, and that we can therefore know that there is a solution to the problem even though we cannot provide it.
There is an implicit humility, and act of hope, and act of faith in the approaches of St. Bonaventure and of St. Thomas Aquinas. Once one accepts “God is God, my God, and I’m not Him,” and the fact that this God-I’m-Not loves one with a not finite love, then one knows that the “God, why?” questions have an explanation; God’s reasons are loving, good, and divine; and the answers are divine answers – even though one may not know them.
In his classic masterpiece, City of God, Augustine asks a long series of “God, why ?” questions, in a section entitled “That in the Mingled Web of Human Affairs God’s Judgment is Present, Though It Cannot Be Discerned “(Book XX, Chapter 2); for example:
. . . why the ungodly enjoys good health, while the godly pines in sickness; . . . why he who is full of crimes is crowned with honors, while the blameless man is buried in the darkness of neglect.
From the accepted beliefs that “ . . . on this account are God’s judgments unsearchable, and His ways past finding out (City of God, Id.), Augustine goes on to say that:
. . . when we shall have come to that judgment, the date of which is called peculiarly the day of judgment, and sometimes the day of the Lord, we shall then recognize the justice of all God’s judgments, not only of such as shall then be pronounced, but, of all which take effect from the beginning, or may take effect before that time. And in that day we shall also recognize with what justice so many, or almost all, the just judgments of God in the present life defy the scrutiny of human sense or insight . . .” (City of God, Id.)
Don’t Lose Your Halleluia
In his book entitled On The Psalms, Augustine again dealt with “God, why ?” questions:
Whatever then happeneth here contrary to our wish, thou wilt know that it happeneth not, save by the will of God, by His providence, by His ordering, by His nod, by His laws: and if we understand not why anything is done, let us grant to His providence that it is not done without reason: so shall we not be blasphemers. For when we begin to argue concerning the works of God, “why is this?” “why is that?” and, “He ought not to have done this,” “He did this ill;” where is the praise of God? Thou hast lost thy Halleluia. (emphasis added, On The Psalms, Psalm CXLVIII, Chapter 9).
St. Augustine sees the very real possibility for a human being, even a true believer, to ask “God, why?” questions and get spiritually bogged down by them, and misled to the point that one ceases to worship God. The next step can be, then, to deny He exists.
In arrogance, putting one’s faith and hope in peril, one can ask “God, why ?” questions, and, then, ask them again and again. This is especially easy when God does not speak out loud to one from the whirlwind or even from the gentle breeze.
Buttessed by an initial belief in the loving, good God, one can turn the “God, why?” questions around and use them as the basis for saying with St. Bonaventure, echoing Job, “I don’t know the answer, but God knows. He knows His own good, divine reasons for doing creation, including man, as He did.”
We can know with St. Augustine that all those judgments of God which “defy the scrutiny of human sense or insight,” are indeed the results of divine justice.
We can be confident with St. Thomas Aquinas that there are solutions to the problem of evil and every spiritual and theological problem we can dream up. These solutions that we cannot see are divine.
And then, when we ask or hear another’s “God, why?” question, we can see God at work, and we can say Halleluia!