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The Problem of Good

We have a problem. A recurring problem.

For example, in 2005, an undersea earthquake triggered unforgettable events. Massive tsunamis crashed into coasts all around the Indian Ocean, killing more than 150,000 people. Countless others were left injured or homeless. Many more would die in the weeks following from infection and disease.

But the devastation triggered by such an event is not just physical. We are also struck by a tidal wave of doubt. The problem of evil it has been called. A nagging, age-old question: If God is both loving and powerful, why does he allow such awful things to happen?

It’s a good question. There are good answers. (But, no, there is no Biblical justification for the offensive notion that God sent this destruction as judgment.) But there is another equally important question that is usually overlooked. Frederick Buechner called it the “problem of good.”

Most of us wouldn’t think of it as a problem, but just as the problem of evil presents a challenge to faith, the problem of good tosses out an enormous challenge for doubters.

The problem of good is this. In the wake of the devastation of the tsunamis, came an unprecedented outpouring of concern and assistance. In just days, more than $2 billion was pledged from countries all over the world. If there is no God, why should these unaffected nations care what happens to foreigners?

In the days following this disaster, an American teen asked a church leader how to send money and clothes to victims. An affluent Atlanta couple that knows no one directly affected by the tsunamis wrote a personal check for $500 to provide relief. That was repeated millions of times.

Less than a week after the disaster, American relief agencies already had donations over $200 million. In Thailand, where the death toll approached 5,000, Prime Minister Shinawatra said the world's compassion and generosity was "more than we expected." He had seen only the beginning.

If life is about survival of the fittest, shouldn’t survivors celebrate their survival rather than helping strangers? If humans are but soulless mammals, how do you explain such outpouring of concern? Is any other species gathering assistance for their cousins in Indonesia?

Humans are capable of amazing goodness and kindness to each other – even to others with whom they have no personal connection. How can that be explained? That’s the problem of good.

What a great problem to have!


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