Monthly Archives: July 2013

Valuing Love Itself

I started this post all wrong. I was looking for a certain quotation about love, but opened my Kindle to the wrong book — one about computer programming. I searched for the word love, and up came the dedication page:

For Ann Marie: The ever enduring love of my life.

Not the quote I was looking for, but what do you know!? Even software engineers have love at the center of their lives.

Next, I opened the book I had intended to open. It has a high-sounding title, Ethical Empowerment: Virtue Beyond the Paradigms, but it, too, has love at the center:

One of the key arguments of this book is that the basis of morality and its ethical conceptualizations concern nothing less than universal love. (Kindle location 282.)

Although love is at the center of everything from a software developer’s heart to a philosopher’s ethical system, we sometimes value everything about love except love itself.

As the father of six children who range from 18 years old to 29, I have had the pleasure of seeing romantic love, in particular, bloom in many forms. It has not always unfolded according to the prescribed sequence of boy meets girl; they become friends; they go on dates; they get engaged; they somehow survive the planning of a big wedding; they get married; they wait a few years to have kids; they have children of their own; and the cycle repeats.

In fact, it has never unfolded like that. At least not yet, but with 6 kids anything can still happen.

So what’s a parent to do when his or her children don’t follow the traditional path? (A path that is more fiction than tradition, but that’s another story.)

I’ll tell you what I do. I enjoy each flower of love for what it is. If it’s toxic, I might say so, but I need to be sure that the toxin is really in the flower, and not in my own ideas about the flower. That is very rare.

Far more often, each flower is beautiful in its own way. If my children are experiencing love, I can be happy for them — especially if they are doing so on their own heart-felt terms and not on someone else’s agenda. As I said, let’s value and enjoy love itself, rather than everything else about it.

Just the fact that love occurs at all is amazing and beautiful, isn’t it? Who would have thought that particles of matter could float through the universe for billions of years, be cycled through exploding stars, coalesce into a planet, be coaxed out of the slime by Sun and Moon, come to life, and finally evolve to the point where they love each other?

The fact that we get to witness this is pretty sweet, too. I plan to enjoy it!

The Problem of Evil on the Margin

The Problem of Evil was never a problem for me.

I could easily believe that a world with a mixture of good and bad was better than no world at all. I could even believe that God had to allow evil in order to make his glorious plan of redemption meaningful. Perhaps wars must be fought so heroism can have a forum.

Wars, corruption, man’s general inhumanity to man … all this evil on a large scale … I can accept all that.

Rather, it is the small things — what I’ll call evil on the margin.

The Bible says that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” In colloquial terms, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” God may work in mysterious ways, but he is at work in every circumstance.

If God is perfect, his plan is perfect. It cannot be improved one iota. Any change would diminish its perfection.

So here we have a boy who is being raped by his priest. Far from turning to God in his suffering, the boy ends up embittered against the Church. No vindication of God’s plan there. The priest’s heart becomes more corrupt with each rape he commits and his hypocrisy takes deeper root. No good there, either. The abuse is never uncovered, so no social good comes from reforms or repentance.

In short, the evil is entirely gratuitous and without a redeeming consequence.

Those who believe God is sovereign and “works all things according to the counsel of his will” must believe that God’s plan would somehow be diminished if this boy had not been raped.

And let’s have none of the argument that evil is the inevitable consequence of God granting the wonderful gift of free will. Free will can have limits and still be free. My kids have free will even if I will intervene before one of them inflicts serious harm on another. (I have free will, too! Doesn’t God?)

In my four decades as a theist, I could understand why God’s plan might allow evil in general and on the scale that turns history. It was the individual, senseless, gratuitous acts against innocent people and animals that presented a greater problem.

I will not argue that a world without war would be better. That argument would be too complicated. Let’s keep it simple: will any theist argue that God’s most perfect plan had to include the rape of that one boy?