Dr Cox: That was a coincidence.
Dr Cox: That knife. It just happened to go in at the exact right spot, you do not get a win for dumb luck.
Laverne: Look. If that’s the way you choose to see the world, then so be it. But don’t you dare try to take this away from me. I’ve been coming in here every day for twenty four years, watching children die and seeing good people suffer. And if I couldn’t believe that there was a bigger plan behind all this well I just wouldn’t be able to show up tomorrow. So just stop it!
Dr Cox: I’m sorry.
Laverne: It’s OK. You’d be surprised how many bad things happen around here for a reason.
Dr Cox: Well I wish I could believe that.
This religious-y interaction from Scrubs is the culmination of an ongoing argument between Dr Cox (the ultimate pessimistic sceptic) and Nurse Laverne Roberts (born again Christian) about whether or not the suffering they see each day in the hospital has any greater purpose. It is also the last conversation Laverne’s character has before she is randomly killed in a car crash in a depressingly ironic plot twist.
I’ve put this conversation up because I want to critique Laverne’s position. This is a very common kind of sentiment that I hear among both Christians and people who believe in some vague spirituality, and I think it is very lame for Christians to think like this.
The bible is clear that evil is a foreign intrusion into the world that God made and that God hates it. Suffering and all other bad, sad and painful things are things that don’t belong. Time and time again, the bible testifies to the fact that suffering is random, unjust and even meaningless. Job and Ecclesiasties show up the random nature of suffering, and the prophets make it clear that many people suffer due to unjust oppression of others.
A lot of Christians have trouble pulling together different threads.
There is the fact that God – the trinitarian God – is in control of all things (c.f. Colossians 1:15-18). There is the fact that bad things happen all the time. There is the fact that sometimes bad things can have eventual positive outcomes. The standard way of pulling these threads together goes something like: “God is in control of everything, including everything that happens. Therefore he is in control of all the bad things that happen. Therefore he lets the bad things happen. Sometimes this will have eventual positive outcomes. Sometimes there are no positive outcomes, but that’s OK because we can trust that God has a good reason for doing everything.” Like Laverne, suddenly its OK for us to tolerate suffering, because there is a bigger meaning behind it that we can’t see.
Being a very amateur theologian, I don’t really know how to go about arguing my case, except to say that I think that this way of thinking is rubbish. But I should probably try to justify myself a little. Here are some key arguments that I hold to:
1. If you are a Christian you will know that in Genesis 3 humans rebelled against God and opened the door for evil to enter into the world. Suffering is a consequence of this moment in history. There are cosmic implications: all of creation has been thrown out of order so the earth itself causes suffering – drought, floods, earthquakes etc. We are vulnerable to disease and the decay of our bodies. We are also personally reponsible for the suffering of other people. We inflict pain on each other all the time with our selfishness and greed, that blinds us to the needs of others.
2. God does not go around endorsing unjust evil as part of some master plan. The suffering that God endorses throughout the Old Testament is part of his judgement on rebellious human beings – individuals and communities, who abuse others and reject their creator.
3. Following on from this, human beings are not pawns that God sacrifices along the way to achieve his master plan. There was only one who was sacrificed in this way – God himself, in his son. This was the only case of planned suffering and it was necessary to free the world from all the evil it had brought upon itself.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Jesus is reigning over his world, but he is still in the process of putting his enemies under his feet. Yes, evil still exists and wreaks havoc, but it is not because God has endorsed it. It is because God is still fighting the battle, if you will. The resurrected Christ is reigning until all his enemies are destroyed, ending with the death of death. God does not endorse evil. He is trying to kill it.
5. Just because there are sometimes positive outcomes from bad things doesn’t mean that God has endorsed them. That just means that God, or sometimes even ourselves, have the ability to use horrible things for an eventual good.
In summary God hates evil and God does not use evil as a ‘tool’, however God can make good things happen in the aftermath of horrible things. The way that we deal with evil is not by redefining it as part of God’s plan, but by looking forward to the day when Christ returns, victorious over death and ending suffering forever.
I’ll end this off with a couple of disclaimers. RFirstly I’m not a theologian, and maybe one day I’ll disagree with parts of my argument and need to rework them. Secondly this is written primarily to argue against a Christian view that I disagree with. So if you aren’t a Christian and you have some problems with the broader Christian worldview and you want to argue against that, you might be missing the point. I may not respond to your arguments here – there are other forums for that kind of thing.