Tuesday, May 17, 2011

East of Eden

"Why do bad things happen to good people?"

That question has gotten asked a lot in the past couple of decades. James Dobson wrote a book by that name, and when I was attending a Presbyterian church, before my return to Rome, it was often the topic of sermons. But I have to say I'm puzzled that Christians would even seriously pose the question. Here's why.

When God created the human race, He gave Adam and Eve a really terrific place to live: Eden. In fact, it wasn't just terrific; it was perfect for us.

But note that after Adam and Eve have their confrontation with God, they're banished from Eden. There was apparently a lot of Earth that wasn't Edenic at all. Good, of course, since God had created it; but not the perfect garden that our first parents had been given. I suspect that if things had turned out differently, God was going to invite Adam and Eve and their children (us) to spread the perfect order of Eden throughout the entire planet, in an immense act of what J.R.R. Tolkien referred to as "sub-creation." 

But the Fall short-circuited that plan. Adam and Eve betrayed God's trust in them, expressed in His single request, and instead grabbed for the Knowledge of Good and Evil that the forbidden fruit would bring them. Once they made their decision, I believe, they changed immediately and radically. They no longer "fit" in Eden.

At that point, God's choices included (1) just wipe out the human race and try again, (2) pat A&E on the head and say, "now, now, Daddy's going to give you another turn", and (3) send A&E out into the world whose management they had coveted more than their love for Him. The first would have been just but unmerciful. The second would have violated their dignity as human beings, able to choose and be held to the consequences of their choices. Only the third held out hope for a redemption of the human race; free will would be honored, and a long job of bringing the human will back into line with God's could begin.

So A&E would have to go into the outer world, still unshaped to the Edenic model, and live the best way they could devise with their new fancy Knowledge. And every day of our lives, we all experience just how great that turned out.

Murder, cruelty, war. Deception, slavery, death. And all the thousand ills that flesh is heir to.

So why do bad things happen to good people? Because this is the world we have crafted. It's not The Garden, that exquisitely ordered Creation that God, in His infinite wisdom, fashioned in one corner of the good but still raw Earth. It's the world that we children of Adam and Eve have fashioned after our own lights, using that nifty Knowledge of Good and Evil that we, their kids, still just can't pass up.