Friday, September 2, 2011

Taking back my ticket...

I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov and falling in love with it all over again.  So brace yourselves, the next few posts may be Karamazovian.  I came across this passage that is a beautifully stated argument against the existence of a benevolent and powerful God.  Really it's not so much
Evil in the world -> There is no God
Evil in the world -> There is a kind of God I don't care to participate with 
I think it's a beautiful argument for the seriousness of sin and why love must imply judgement, why the cross was necessary.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Here Ivan Karamazov is explaining to his brother, Alyosha, a devout believer, why he cannot accept God. He refers to a peasant boy who was caught playing with a landowner's dog.  The man had the boy torn to pieces by dogs in front of his mother.
Listen:  if everyone must suffer, in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what have children got to do with it? ... I understand solidarity in sin among men; solidarity in retribution I also understand; but what solidarity in sin do little children have?  And if it is really true that they, too, are in solidarity with their fathers in all the father's evildoings, that truth certainly is not of this world and is incomprehensible to me.  Some joker will say, perhaps, that in any case the child will grow up and have time enough to sin, but there's this boy who didn't grow up but was torn apart by dogs at the age of eight... You see, Alyosha, it may well be that if I live until that moment, or rise again to see it, I myself will perhaps cry out with all the rest, looking at the mother embracing her child's tormentor: 'Just art thou, O Lord!' but I do not want to cry out with them.  While there's still time, I hasten to defend myself against it, and therefore I absolutely renounce all higher harmony...  I want to forgive, and I want to embrace, I do not want more suffering.  And if the suffering of children goes to make up the sum of suffering needed to buy truth, then I assert beforehand that the whole of truth is not worth such a price.  I do not want, finally, for the mother to embrace the tormentor who let his dogs tear her son to pieces!  She dare not forgive him!  Let her forgive him for herself if she wants to, let her forgive the tormentor her immeasurable maternal suffering; but she has no right to forgive the suffering of her child who was torn to pieces, she dare not forgive the tormentor, even if the child himself were to forgive him!  And if that if so, if they dare not forgive, then where is the harmony?  Is there a being in the whole world who could and would have the right to forgive?  I don't want harmony, for love of mankind I don't want it.  I want to remain with my unrequited suffering and my unquenched indignation, even if I am wrong.  Besides, they have put too high a price on harmony; we can't afford to pay so much for admission.  And therefore I hasten to return my ticket...  It's not that I don't accept God, Alyosha, I just most respectfully return him the ticket.
That's how I felt after we lost Ellie.  "God, your world sucks.  I return my ticket.  I don't care to participate."  But the gospel - that a price was paid, paid by God, for any horrible thing that ever happened to me (also for any horrible thing I ever did or that happened to someone else, but those things don't cause me this kind of angst).  God paying the price makes the difference.  So, I've snatched back my ticket, though with a disgruntled attitude at times.

When I read this passage what struck me most is that it's a beautifully written argument for the justice of God.  God cannot just forgive.  He wouldn't be good.  His goodness implies his justice. Horrible things happen, and they require a response, a payment.  In Reason for God, Tim Keller quotes Miroslav Volf, a Croation who lived through the violence in the Balkans.  He said:
If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence - that God would not be worthy of worship...  It takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis than human non-violence [results from the belief in] God's refusal to judge.  In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die... [with] other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.
It feels nicer to believe in a God who forgives, regardless, but, deep in my soul, I don't think it's safe, and I don't think it's true. 

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