Cosmically Unfair


I was at a wake for the mother of a parishioner when a boy, maybe ten or eleven, asked, “I have a question: If God loves us so much, why did he create death?” I answered-after an absolutely necessary long pause-that God wants us alive, alive in a way we cannot now imagine. That’s what the resurrection means. But it was, as it usually is, a less-than-satisfactory response to the question behind his question. Once again you are faced with the problem of theodicy: Can God be all powerful and all good, and the world be the miserable place it obviously is?

A simple naturalistic answer to the most basic question about death is that if we didn’t die on a more or less regular basis the world would get awfully crowded. But why is the movement toward death so full of suffering? Seen in merely evolutionary terms, nature gets us to the point of reproducing, and once we’ve done that job, abandons us to pain and dissolution.

This could lead us to adopt, or at least appreciate, a Gnostic point of view: we suffer precisely because some terrible thing in charge of the universe has made suffering a condition of being embodied. We are trapped here. Or we can take an atheistic stance: nothing is in charge, it is as bad as it looks, and nothing at the base of reality has anything to do with love for us, or with love at all.

We sense that we are meant for more than this, which may be only to say that we want very...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.