After all the dust and smoke settled, we learned what was by then obvious: the fires were the work of an over-active arsonist. We also learned that the officials had identified the perpetrator. Imagine my astonishment when I learned that the arsonist was my friend, Ronnie. In an instant, he was de-elevated from “hero of the day” to “heel of the day”. I recalled watching my own father crawl out of a basement window of a smoke filled apartment house on Lyon Street, one of Ronnie's fires. Dad was coughing and sputtering; I watched, filled with apprehension, as he lay motionless in the grass for several minutes recovering his breath (those were the days before SCBA breathing cylinders and the mandatory buddy systems all departments use today). I thought about how I could have lost my father that day. My earlier admiration of Ronnie turned to anger. How could he! I never saw Ronnie again.
Many Christians today find comfort in the thought that God is in control of all things. Carried to its extreme, this doctrine is known as Calvinism, or Reformed Theology. When Calvinists look at the Problem of Evil, they typically see no problem at all. If God is in control of all things, then it follows that he is in control of evil. In fact, he created evil itself. Calvinists will take you to Isaiah 45, and point to verse 7 which proves it! (Of course, the verse is taken out of its context, and other more likely interpretations are ignored.) This view goes on to say that evil is part of God’s plan for the cosmos, because by defeating it, God will get glory.
So, let’s see if we understand this. When Ronnie sets a fire so he can get some glory, he is institutionalized as a dangerous, mentally deranged perpetrator. When God sets loose a billions-of-years run of horrendous evil so he can get glory ....
Can there truly be glory for the charter boat operator who capsizes his vessel, but manages to save a few of his passengers? Is there glory for the zookeeper who tranquilizes the rampaging lion, saving a threatened child, if we learn that he was the very zookeeper who left the lion’s cage open? intentionally? Is there glory for the scientist who unleashes some new disease upon the population so that he can bring out the cure he has already devised? Is there glory for a God who inflicts his child with sickness, and then miraculously heals?
I am reminded of the scene from The Count of Monte Cristo in which Edmond heroically rescues young Albert Mondego from his would-be kidnappers. But, as we later discover, Edmond had set up the whole affair, and paid the kidnappers who were his own friends. Glorious?
I fail to see how a God can create a universe in which he positions evil—limiting its power somewhat below his own, of course—so that he can defeat it and leverage up his own glory. It has simply never made sense to me. My Calvinist friends point out the presumptuous audacity of my sitting in judgment of God, and remind me that this stuff doesn’t have to make sense ... we just humbly accept it as the way things are. But in the end, the honest ones often agree: we can't possibly understand this scenario.
Is God a perpetrator? or is he a redeemer? Does he prescribe evil, and plan evil events? or does he respond to evil, showing the greater power of his inherent inalterable goodness? Does he design the disaster so he can step in to rescue his beloved ones? Or does he react to disaster, counter its effects, and demonstrate the brilliance of his redemptive genius?
Is God like Ronnie? Is he a clever Edmond Dantes? Or is he locked in an age-old battle with a tenacious and intractable foe, responding to his moves, slowly but surely wearing him down, and destined to ultimately dislodge and overthrow him?
You cannot have it both ways.