For those of you who might not be comic book fans, or at least more interested in Marvel’s Avengers than in The Justice League of DC comics, the Lex Luthor character is one of Superman’s continual nemeses. In the most recent iteration of Superman and Batman, Lex shows up as a brilliant, though maliciously evil, scientist. The movie was panned by the critics, an assessment with which I agree. Do not bother renting the video nor streaming it when it becomes available; one of the rare comic book movies that was a total waste of 151 minutes.
However, the movie does a good job in presenting the argument that God must not exist. In a significant point in the movie, Lex confronts Superman with a brief story of how he was abused by his father, and came to the conclusion that “if God is all-good, He could not be all-powerful; if He is all-powerful, He is not all-good.” About the only coherent and useful scene in the movie: to present an atheist’s view of God. Sadly, even though the “good guys” win in the end, the challenge from Luthor is left unresolved.
Recalling my recent fall that resulted in a broken back, one could wonder, “Well, c.a., why do you continue to believe in a God who could not catch you when you fell, or better yet, prevent you from falling in the first place? After all, didn’t God promise Jesus His angels would ‘bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone?'” (Psalm 91:12) Why could not such promises apply to you?”
Interestingly, this was the same promise quoted to Jesus by Satan when the evil one was trying to get Jesus to assert His own authority apart from the Heavenly Father’s. (Matthew 4:5-6) Even if we assume Jesus never hit his thumb with a hammer nor stepped on a nail, one has to wonder what the demons thought when they succeeded in getting the Roman soldiers of Jerusalem to capture Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and proceed to beat the living daylights out of Him. Is God the Father all powerful or all good? How could He possibly be both and allow His own Son to suffer and die? (What the devils were thinking is a subject for another blog another time.) This issue for today is The Problem of Pain. If God is all good, why does He not do something to prevent His children from pain. If He is all powerful, can He be all good?
This problem arises because of God’s allowance of free will and His time frame for justice. Free will, by definition, means that one can choose good or bad. This was the same choice for the first couple in the Garden of Eden: trust (believe in) God or trust Satan (and your own reasoning). Choose His way or another, but since He is the source of all good, the source of all order and sense in the universe, any other way will become bad, disorderly and senseless.
God’s time frame for justice arches over the ends of the universe He created. So allowing for free will means He will not change a bat into a feather simply because someone decided to hit another in the head with it. He will not defuse a suicide bomber’s vest at the moment of detonation and turn it into a radio. But His justice will mete out what is right one day, though for the time being, the poor victim at the bat’s end will suffer and the bomber will inflict terrible damage.
This does little for the victims of abuse or of a bomber in the immediate. If the abuser or bomber repents, there is hope even for him, and there may be elements of redemption for his victims as well. But rest assured that Abraham’s confession of faith will stand in the end: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25)
C.S.Lewis covered this subject with much more clarity and wit than I can, so I give you his words to describe the process (with a strong recommendation for the book 😉 ):
“There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. Blessed are the poor, but by judgement (i.e., social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. Blessed are we when persecuted, but we may avoid persecution by flying city to city, and may pray to be spared it as our Lord prayed in Gethsemane. But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.
“In the fallen and partially redeemed universe, we may distinguish (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute.
“Now the fact that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse – though by mercy it may save – those who do simple evil. And this distinction is central. Offenses must come, but woe to those from whom they come; sins do cause grace to abound, but we must not make that an excuse for continuing to sin. The crucifixion itself is the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events, but the role of Judas remains simply evil.
“We may apply this first to the problem of other people’s suffering. A merciful man aims at his neighbor’s good and so does ‘God’s will,’ consciously cooperating with the ‘simple good.’ A cruel man oppresses his neighbor, and so does simple evil. But in doing such evil, he is used by God, without his knowledge or consent, to produce the complex good – so the first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool. For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.” C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain