(See the book of the same name at Amazon.com - a somewhat technical read, but worth the effort in thinking about such things)
The horrific events of the last few days in Asia have reminded us of the utter fragility of human life. But it also reminds me of questions that have remained unsettled in my mind for some time.
So many of the questions of evil revolve around why it exists at all in a universe created by an omnibenevolent, omnipresent, omnipotent God. But I believe the "best of all possible worlds" argument on those questions given humanity's real, liberal free will.
Where the question seems to break down is on the issue of such massive, immediate loss of life such as what those in Asia have experienced.
It seems to me that many of the "answers" to such questions focus on those of us who (for the time being) survive. You know, what we can learn from it, being reminded of the fragility of life, telling our loved ones how we feel more often, etc.
But for this to ultimately be a just universe, doesn't the equation have to reconcile for every individual - most especially those who are killed?.
In other words, it may be a good object lesson for me that 30,000 people were wiped out, but pick any one of those 30,000 people and tell me how their life mattered and how their death is or will be made rational and just?
In the case of natural disaster, the case seems even more pressing. When an evil person murders or rapes, we can see the connection between free will and evil - that is, that that murderer/rapist had free will to commit those evil acts. (Though, even there, I would question if God couldn't have intervened in a manner that allowed the freedom of the evil-doer without the consequence to the victim - a miss-aimed bullet, a passer-by intervention, etc.)
But for a natural disaster, what are we left to conclude but that God deliberately caused the event, or deliberately allowed it to occur. And what are we to say of the prayers of the righteous? Were they too few? Or too weak to affect His inaction?
And if we fall back to the "sovereign will of God" defense - that He has a plan that is working, I am still left with my original question: how does this plan ever make sense of the life of the newborn who was drowned after being ripped from her mother's arms - having never known life, really?
If we then claim that, well, after all, these poor folks are in heaven now so this makes ultimate sense of it all, we are still left wondering that if 30,000 people can be swept away in an instant, how really relevant or important are any of our lives anyway?
Isn't the height of illogic (and, indeed, hypocrisy) for those of us in the West to go around publishing and reading books like The Prayer of Jabez and The Purpose-Driven Life if our lives of our poor, third-world brethren can be swept away with, really, total and despairing ignominy and irrelevance and our only counsel is that they're better off in heaven anyway?
Aren't we left with the calculus that our lives (at least the living activities directed outward that concern us so much) really must mean very little to God, after all, if tens of thousands are so casually irradicated?
What does this leave us with, then? That all that matters is the present and the now? That all our grand schemes and purposes and projects are deceptions and distractions at best, and evil at worst?
Either that, or that God is truly a preferer of persons in the utterly worst sort of way.