Theodicy

The Death of Willie Lincoln and God’s Purpose

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[1] Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind, and said:

[2] Who is this that wrappeth up sentences in unskillful words?

[3] Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me.

[4] Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding.

[5] Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

Job:  38:1-5

For any parent, I think the death of one of their children is the worst thing imaginable.  Abraham Lincoln would see two of his four sons die, Eddie and Willie, Willie dying on February 20, 1862 from typhoid fever, that great killer of the 19th century.  Mary Todd Lincoln would see three of her four sons die, and witness her husband  assassinated before her eyes.  Small wonder that Mrs. Lincoln had a fragile grasp on reality after so much sorrow.  Prostrate with grief, Mary Lincoln retired to her room for a month after Willie’s death, inconsolable in the immense anguish she felt, unable to bring herself to even attend Willie’s funeral.  Mr. Lincoln said when Willie died, “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!” Lincoln continued his work, not having the luxury of private grief in a time of such public peril.

Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian church in Washington that the Lincolns sometimes attended, preached the funeral sermon.  I suspect this passage caught Lincoln’s attention:

His kingdom ruleth over all. All those events which in anywise affect our condition and happiness are in his hands, and at his disposal. Disease and death are his messengers; they go forth at his bidding, and their fearful work is limited or extended, according to the good pleasure of His will.

Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His direction; much less any one of the human family, for we are of more value than many sparrows.

We may be sure, — therefore, bereaved parents, and all the children of sorrow may be sure, — that their affliction has not come forth of the dust, nor has their trouble sprung out of the ground.

It is the well-ordered procedure of their Father and their God. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Need for Order, or “Do Something” Syndrome

In light of the horrific massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, it is disappointing but not altogether surprising that the calls to just do something to stop the violence rang out before the middle of the day. I’ll address the disgusting behavior of the mass media in a later post, but wanted to focus this post on the reactions and what they might say about our overall attitudes about life and society.

Gun control activists, grieving with obvious sympathy and empathy for the victims, and of course concerned primarily about the human toil of this tragedy, took to twitter and other outlets to immediately call for stricter gun laws. Ignoring that Connecticut is hardly a modern incarnation of the wild west, they seemed to imply that if we only tightened regulations and banned guns with menacing-sounding names, then we could ensure that no more mass murders of this kind would ever occur again, so long as we all shall live.

There are many legal, constitutional, and logical arguments to be made against further restrictions on gun ownership, and Jeff Goldstein makes just about all of them here. To me the strongest arguments against the gun control crowd are the practical ones. An obviously troubled young man murders his mother, then walks to her school and guns down children  and the thing we’re discussing afterwards are guns? Aside from the fact that even worse crimes have been perpetrated without a single firearm being deployed, we’re missing the big picture when we’re debating the mechanism for carrying out a massacre and not the underlying cause or causes.

Another recurring theme is that this incident is further proof that there is no God. Deroy Murdock expressed this sentiment in the conservative on-line journal of opinion, National Review online.

 Just in time for Christmas, a reputedly almighty God must have been on break Friday morning when Adam Lanza massacred 20 Connecticut school kids. These six- and seven-year-olds were far too young to choose wrongly between good and evil — that choice being the way that believers typically explain how a supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, omnibeneficent God allows such atrocities. Atop the ongoing mayhem of Hurricane Sandy, the carnage in Syria, and the burgeoning power of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, it should be clearer than ever that no one up there watches over us Earthlings. We are on our own.

Of course we’ve all heard this before and have addressed this in myriad ways.

What hadn’t occurred to me is there is a certain commonality between those who use tragedies like this to further the fight for control and others who use it to push an atheistic agenda. Granted there is overlap between the categories, but for now we’ll treat these as separate attitudes. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

When God Says "No"

Msgr. Charles Pope is a Priest in the Archdiocese of Washington.  In addition to his duties as pastor at a parish in southeastern DC, he regularly celebrates High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. Mary’s in Chinatown once a month.  He is perhaps the finest homilist I have ever had the privilege of hearing on a regular basis, and he demonstrates why in this blog post from the Archdiocese’s website.  He tackles what may be one of the most difficult subjects that Catholics and indeed people of all faith struggle with: why does God seemingly say no to some of our prayer requests?  He provides a fantastic answer, and in the process gives some guidance on he proper disposition we should have when praying.

1. Sometimes, “No”  is the Best Answer – We often think we know what is best for us. We want to have this job, or we want that person to fall in love and marry us. We want to be delivered from a certain illness or receive a financial blessing. We see these as good outcomes and are sure that God must also see them this way. But God may not, in fact agree with our assessment as to what is best for us. And thus his “No” is really the best answer to our prayers.

For example we may always prefer that God answer our prayer that none of our children be born with any disabilities. But God may see that the experience of disability may be just the thing that we or the child may need in order to be  saved ultimately. St. Paul prayed for deliverance from some sort of physical affliction: Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me,My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:7-10).

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