A Night of Tears

First joy, then sorrow in West Virginia. Theodicy gets a new layer.

Tuesday night, as I strained to watch the final quarter and three overtimes of the thrilling Orange Bowl football game, I flipped out of habit to CNN. Just then the network broke the big news: Rescuers had discovered 12 of the 13 trapped West Virginia miners alive. Families rejoiced. They sang "How Great Thou Art" as TV anchors lauded the town's great faith. I noted that CNN whipped Fox News with more dramatic video and on-site reporting, then flipped back to the game.

My gut ached when I read the news Wednesday morning. The West Virginia joy had been reversed. Rescuers retrieved only one live miner. Far better if the good news had never been delivered! Worn with waiting, buoyed by adrenaline, the dumbfounded families erupted. Some began fighting. Others groped for answers. "We have got some of us … saying … that we don't even know if there is a Lord anymore," the cousin of one victim said. "We had a miracle, and it was taken away from us."

Why does God allow life to be this way? It's bad enough that 12 men died an excruciating death trapped below the earth. Why allow this sucker punch to their families? It makes no sense.

Augustine of Hippo witnessed much sorrow. After the Goths ravaged Rome in 410, many complained that Christian faith had weakened the empire. In his great defense of Christianity, City of God, Augustine argues that faith in Jesus weathers the temporary triumphs and tragedies of this world. "If God did not bestow [the good things of life] with patent liberality on some who ask him, we could possibly argue that such things did not depend on his power. On the other hand, if he lavished them on all who asked, we might have the impression that God is to be served only for the gifts he bestows."

He echoes ...

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