instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, December 30, 2013

Explanations aren't required, forthcoming, or sufficient

At yesterday's RCIA class, we talked a bit about the problem of evil (we didn't quite polish it up to The Problem of Evil), in the context of Pope Francis's statement in his recent interview with La Stampa:
One man who has been a life mentor for me is Dostoevsky and his explicit and implicit question, “Why do children suffer?” has always gone round in my heart. There is no explanation.

This image comes to mind: at a particular point of his or her life, a child “wakes up”, doesn’t understand much and feels threatened, he or she starts asking their mum or dad questions. This is the “why” age. But when the child asks a question, he or she doesn’t wait to hear the full answer, they immediately start bombarding you with more “whys”.

What they are really looking for, more than an explanation, is a reassuring look on their parent’s face. When I come across a suffering child, the only prayer that comes to mind is the “why” prayer. Why Lord? He doesn’t explain anything to me. But I can feel Him looking at me. So I can say: "You know why, I don’t and You won’t tell me, but You’re looking at me and I trust You, Lord, I trust your gaze.”
We learn from Job that we are not owed an explanation of human suffering, we learn from experience not to expect one, we learn from faith that God is nevertheless with us.

I am not sure, though, that, faced with the suffering of children, we are really looking for either an explanation or a reassuring look from the Father. I think what we are looking for is for the Father to knock it off and make it stop.

Suppose you were actually given an explanation. Suppose when you cried out, "Why?," God sat down with you and laid out His plan before you, giving you the knowledge and wisdom to comprehend it. Suppose you had full and perfect understanding of how this child came to suffer, and of what good God will draw from it, and of the otherwise unimaginable love He demonstrates in permitting all this to occur. Suppose He answered all your objections, walked through all the possible alternatives, and proved to you that His wisdom really does surpass human wisdom.

What then? Would you say, "Capital plan, LORD, capital plan! I shall follow its future unfolding with considerable interest"?

Or would you say, "Yes, yes, I see, yes... but my Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass"?

What we really want, I think, is for the suffering to stop now -- or even better, to have never begun. Which means we want it to be possible for God to make that happen, and then we want Him to do it. An explanation, if one were given, would only explain why God isn't going to do what we want Him to do, and that explanation won't make us stop wanting Him to do it.