Best of All Possible Worlds?

One of the most difficult issues confronting believers is the problem of evil in the world. How can a person possibly believe in a good, wise and powerful God in the face of human suffering. An answer sometimes given is that of all possible worlds, this one, a world where humans have free will, is the best possible world.

The French philosopher Voltaire revolted against this approach. In 1755 an earthquake struck the city of Lisbon. It was All Saints Day when it struck, meaning that the churches were full. In just six minutes 15,000 people were killed and another 15,000 severely wounded. Voltaire could not accept that this was somehow the outworking of the plans of a good God. In Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon he asks why it is if God is free, just and good we suffer under his rule.

Later he wrote a satirical novel titled Candide. It tells the story of a young man Candide, and his teacher, Dr Pangloss. Whatever disaster befalls them Dr Pangloss glibly asserts that “this is the best of all possible worlds.” They are shipwrecked near Lisbon just as the earthquake strikes. Candide is almost killed and Pangloss ends up hanged by the Inquisition. This forces Candide to question. “Candide” writes Voltaire, “terrified, speechless, bleeding, palpitating, said to himself: ‘If this is the best of all possible worlds, what can the rest be?'”

Source: Information found in John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 312

Dr Karl and God

Karl Kruszenicki is well known to many Australian’s as master of the weird and wonderful in science. Beyond radio and TV appearances, Dr Karl has written a number of books on the weirdest and greatest moments in science. He can tell you why maggots can be good for you, whether people named Smith weigh more than people named Taylor, and why navel lint has a bluish tint.

But there’s also a serious side to Karl Kruszenicki. Karl’s parents were both survivors of Nazi concentration camps. His mother had been in Auschwitz. Karl only found this out towards the end of his parent’s lives, but the news was highly impacting.

Added to this is his experience growing up in a very Anglo-Saxon part of Wollongong, Australia as someone with an ethnic heritage. He recalls walking to school in the rain during his primary school days. Not many people had cars in those days, but those parents who did formed a car pool to ferry the children to school when it rained. Karl was the only one left out. He recalls his feelings of alienation because he didn’t embrace the sporting pursuits of the mainstream Anglo culture.

According to Karl those childhood experiences shaped his spirituality. He says, “I find it difficult to believe in a God that is in any way concerned about us but I’m prepared to believe in a God who doesn’t give a stuff. I’ve been to Salt Lake City and at the Mormons’ centre there are these sweet 16-year-old girls who give you guided tours. One of them said she believed in God because he does things for her all the time, like the other day she was coming to work and she needed a parking spot and God gave her one. And I remember thinking there are millions of kids in Third World countries dying of AIDS. Why doesn’t God help them?”

In this statement Dr Karl has expressed the problem of evil for us. Why doesn’t God solve the problems of the world? He has also raised a problem Christians have whenever we speak of a God who is personally involved with our lives. What makes us think God would find us a car spot while allowing AIDS stricken children to die? Perhaps part of the answer is that God is known only through us human beings, we who are to be his image here on earth.

Source: Scott Higgins. Information on Karl Kruszelnicki found in Sunday Life magazine , Sun Herald, June 10, 2001

God and Jack the Ripper

Gabrielle Carey is an Australian author most widely known for the movie Puberty Blues, based upon the book of the same title. In a later book, In My Father’s HouseCarey relates an incident that led to her conversion to Christ. Carey was raised in an atheist humanist household. Her father was a university lecturer with a passionate commitment to the left side of politics. Throughout her upbringing he railed against oppression, capitalism and was a key figure in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years.

Being against religious instruction Carey’s father wouldn’t allow her to attend Scripture classes at school, but he did allow her to attend Sunday School with her friends at the local Baptist Church. He had just one piece of advice: “Just remember to ask the teacher a question. Ask her why God doesn’t stop the war in Vietnam.”

Gabrielle did so but didn’t get an answer. The teacher, obviously embarrassed by the question, excused her self to go to the bathroom, and didn’t return to answer the question.

The experience convinced Carey that her father was right, that there was no God.

Years later Carey was living in Ireland. A music program she was listening to on the radio ended, to be followed by an interview with a Benedictine abbot. Gabrielle was about to turn the radio off when the interviewer asked the question her father had always used in debates with religious leaders. “If there is a God why is there so much injustice in the world.” Gabrielle paused to hear the Abbot’s reply, expecting the same old line about it being God’s will. The Abbot’s reply stunned her. “I don’t know” he said. “Sometimes being married to God is a bit like being married to Jack the Ripper. You just don’t know what he’s doing.”

Gabrielle says “It was the best and most honest answer I’d ever heard to that question.” She began a correspondence with the Abbot that eventually led her to convert to Catholicism.

The Abbot’s answer is honest. At the end of the day we don’t know why God allows suffering and evil. Sure, we can develop philosophically rigorous responses, but in the end they usually seem inadequate in the face of evil.

Source: Scott Higgins, based on Gabrielle Carey’s In My Father’s House (Pan MacMillan, 1992)

Is God Punishing Us?

In December 1985 the United States NBC TV News ran a week long feature on it’s evening news program. The advertising in the lead up showed a child praying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, what about the earthquake in Mexico City, the Japan Airline crash that killed 520 people, the AIDS epidemic, and the starvation in Africa?” The advertisement finished with this tag line: “Is God punishing us?”

Source: Advertisement reported in Daniel Hans, God on the Witness Stand (Baker, 1987),

God’s Gone Fishing

Bishop Roger Herft, former Anglican bishop of Newcastle, NSW, Australia, tells of a Croatian refugee he met in mid 2001. This man had fled his war-torn country and arrived in Australia some years before. Since then his marriage had broken up and he lost custody of his children. To add to his agony 24 members of his family, including his 84 year old grandfather and four month old niece, had been killed during the most recent conflict in Croatia.

He said to Bishop Herft, “Where is God when it really matters? I’ll tell you where. God has got fed up with us. He has put up a board saying, ‘Gone Fishing’, and has left us to live in this bloody mess.”

Source: reported in Lake Macquarie News, 19/12/01.

God, Why Don’t You Do Something?

One day a young woman was walking home from work when she saw a sight a little girl standing on the street corner, begging. The little girl’s clothes were paper thin and dirty, her her matted and unclean, and her cheeks red from the cold.

The young woman dropped a few coins in the begging bowl, gave the girl a smile and walked on. As she walked she started to feel guilty. How could she go home to her warm house with its full pantry and well supplied wardrobe while this little girl shivered on the street.

The young woman also began to feel angry, angry with God. She let her feeling be known in a prayer of protest. “God, how can you let these sort of things happen? Why don’t you do something to help this girl?”

And then, to her surprise God answered. He said, “I did do something. I created you.”

When a Sanctuary Becomes a Slaughtehouse. Facing Up to Evil

In September 2001 the New York Times Magazine published an article under this heading: “How Did a Rwandan Convent Turn from Sanctuary to Slaughterhouse?”. The article went on to describe the trial for crimes against humanity of two Benedictine nuns, Sister Gertrude and Sister Kisito. In 1994 Rwanda experienced a terribly violent period in its history. Conflict between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority flared into genocide. The Hutu government went on a rampage of violence and murder, slaughtering Tutsi’s on a massive scale. Many Tutsi people fled to the churches, believing that there they would find sanctuary. And so, thousands of people fled to the Benedictine convent headed by the Hutu, Sister Gertrude. But rather than providing shelter, Sister Gertrude went to the Hutu militia and asked them to “clear” the convent. The militia promptly obliged, beginning an indiscriminate shooting. 7000 Tutsis were killed. When some 500 fled to the convent’s garage Sister Gertrude and Sister Kisito provided the gasoline the militia used to burn them to death.

The New York Magazine article is dumbfounded by this evil. How is it that two angelic looking nuns could perpetrate such evil? The journalist ends with these questions: “The picture is not an allegory of innocence, after all, but a study in the unimaginable disguises of evil. What mixture of terror and hatred led these nuns to betray the promise of their faith? The Rwandan massacres left in their wake hundreds of disturbing questions like that one – How does mass violence suddenly erupt? Are we all capable of murdering our neighbours? Where does evil come from? – but none of them were resolved by the … court. Justice is built to establish the facts of evil. It cannot explain them.”


Source: Reported in New York Times Magazine, September 9, 2001.

Even When He’s Silent

The Holocaust is one of the terribly traumatic episodes of modern history, yet it has also yielded some astounding stories of bravery and faith. In France a Jewish family were hidden by some concerned French nationals in the basement of their house. The Jewish family waited and waited for their deliverance. At the end of the war these words were found scribbled on the wall of that basement:

“I believe in the sun even when it does not shine.
I believe in love even when it is not given.
I believe in God even when he is silent.”


Source: reported in Hans, God on the Witness Stand (Baker, 1987)