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Grappling with the challenges of mass atrocities
C.S Lewis once opined that the “problem of evil” could most certainly be atheism’s “most potent weapon against the Christians.”1 By that he is alluding to the fact that sizable portions of the society find it extremely herculean to reconcile pains and suffering with an all loving and all powerful God. This problem could have potentially turned many away from any sort of religion.
For this essay, I will be attempting to grapple with the challenges mass atrocities pose to theodicists, (as stated in Peter Admirand’s Book) as well as attempt to make a compelling case for why permissive suffering could somewhat be inevitable.
I will also be making a strong case for how “goodness” in the world completely outweighs the bad, which could very well be interpreted as a clear indication that God is good overall. The aim of this essay also, is to make a strong case for God’s goodness in light of evil and suffering.
According to Peter Admirand, testimonies of mass atrocity “pose more severe challenges to a theodicist than other types of evil or suffering.”2 While those atrocities could pose some level of challenges to the theodicist, it is also worth recognising the concept of free will (as stated in my 2 previous essays) given to each individual. Circumventing this free-will would mean that the potential to choose between justice, equity, or injustice in each society would be negated. It is the beauty of this free-will that allows people to conduct critical analysis of issues surrounding them, irrespective of how controversial or out of place they may seem.
It also generates the propensity to vocally (or passively) vilify irresponsible leaders in authority, in an attempt to call them to order.
Free-will unfortunately can be likened to a double edged sword and multi-faceted in its reach, with a heightened propensity to kill or heal at the same time, making it a solid tool with which theodicists could navigate their way when confronted with difficult scenarios such as mass atrocities.
1 McCuster, Paul. CS Lewis & Mere Christianity: The Crisis That Created A Classic. Tyndale House, 2014.
2 Admirand, Peter. Amidst Mass Atrocity and the Rubble of Theology: Searching for a viable theodicy. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012. (pg 7151 Amazon Kindle Version).
Admirand further states that “where some examples of affliction may be (grudgingly) deemed justifiable, or rather, still enable the possibility for a satisfactory theodicy, mass atrocities and horrific suffering limit what theodicists can say.”3 I would respond to this by citing Rahner’s “Incomprehensible” mystery of God, as He “is incomprehensible to every finite, created intellect, and is so always and under any circumstances, hence even in the immediate vision of God.4 “In other words, only God truly knows and understands why certain actions occur the way they do. Therefore, it could be argued that He alone would fully comprehend the mysteries shrouding human existence.
The theodicist therefore should be able to make a case for why some sufferings or evil (privation of “good”) could potentially lead to a slightly better and equitable outcome in some cases. A good example of such is war. War in most instances is fought for the greater good of one’s society, and although a strong case can be made for why the horrors of it somewhat negate its outcome, but it can equally be argued that its end could justify the means. Hiroshima and Nagasaki for instance, which witnessed massacres of its citizens, played an instrumental role in ending the Second World War, which could have claimed millions more lives, had America not acted swiftly and decisively. Although utilising such an example may be quite difficult, as it might be perceived as apathetic towards the lives lost, yet one has to somehow make sense of why some of these tragic events occur, and obviously present a compelling case for how it could have generated something good in the long haul.
Admirand further inferred that some evils ought to prevent theodicists “from trying to “defend the indefensible.”»5 However, there are numerous reasons why a strong case can be made for why God would permit some of these immoral acts to take place (as outlined earlier). Though it may be perceived as though the entire world is replete with evil and atrocities, a case can be made for how the “good” in the world outweighs the “evil”. The mere consideration that an act is immoral, is in of itself indicative of the fact that “good” does exist, and the fact that it is considered (by many) to have pre-eminence over evil indicates that “good” transcends evil in our society.
3 Admirand, Peter. Amidst Mass Atrocity and the Rubble of Theology: Searching for a viable theodicy. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012. (pg 7151 Amazon Kindle Version).
4 Rahner, Karl “Thomas Aquinas on Incomprehensibility of God” The Journal of Religion58 (1978) S107-S125.
5 Admirand, Peter. Amidst Mass Atrocity and the Rubble of Theology: Searching for a viable theodicy. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012. (pg 7151 Amazon Kindle Version).
As C.S Lewis so succinctly puts it “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such a violent reaction against it?”6 Not only is the desire for justice an indication of “good” in our society, but more so, the mere fact that the entire world has not been overtaken or overrun with violence, raping, and pillaging, and mass atrocities, coupled with the fact that there tend to be more births than deaths, and the entire world is not overrun by drought, starvation or deadly cataclysmic events are all indication that “good” (both natural and man-made) still exist on the earth, and not only does it exist, but it does outweigh “sufferings”, hence the innate desire in each person to live and not die; an indication that there must be something “good” to live for.
The mass atrocities perpetrated our society are therefore brought about by people whose consciences present to them two different alternatives: to heal or to kill? To save or to destroy? To mend or to break? But ultimately chose to adhere to the negative thoughts within. By so doing, they have exercised their free-will, the consequences of which could be quite lethal either in this life or (as some religions teach) in the next one.
In conclusion, I have attempted to grapple with the challenges mass atrocities pose to theodicists, as well as reiterated the concept of free will and what happens when it is spun into action. A case has been made for how “goodness” outweighs “evil” and sufferings on the earth.
As Rahner states in one of his many essays, “God is incomprehensible to every finite, created intellect”7, it will therefore be presumptuous of one to level an avalanche of criticism of God (in protest) on the basis that He is claimed to be somewhat oblivious of the plight of humans; a claim which could be devoid of sufficient understanding of the reasons behind His decisions.
However, it is equally of paramount importance to sympathise with those at the receiving end of these mass atrocities, and attempt to be of help to them in any capacity, both physically and mentally.
6 Sherwood, David A. “Hnau What? CS Lewis on what It Means To Be a Person.” Social work & Christianity 36. 1(2009).
7 Rahner, Karl “Thomas Aquinas on Incomprehensibility of God” The Journal of Religion58 (1978) S107-S125.
Word count: 1386 (including footnotes and Bibliography) 1162 words (Excluding Footnotes and Bibliography).
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