Where was God during the London Terror Attack?
Three men walk into a hotel to spend the night. The hotel clerk tells them that the hotel has only one room available, and that room costs $30. Each of the three men contributes $10 towards the bill, the $30 is paid, and the three men go up to their room. Later, the hotel clerk realizes that he overcharged the men, and that the room’s actual cost is only $25. He gives the bellboy $5 to return to the three men. On his way to the room, the bellboy recognizes that the three men will have difficulty splitting the $5 between them, so instead the unethical bellboy gives each of the three men $1 and keeps $2 for himself as a tip. So, in the end, the three men paid $9 each for the room which is $27 and the bellboy kept $2 for himself which is $29. What happened to the final dollar?A few years ago, my brother in law’s father, a devout atheist, posted a really nasty meme on his Facebook page. I don’t remember the details, but it basically accused God of being part of the rape of a child because God didn’t do anything about it. The reasoning, such as it was, suggested that a good father would not stand aside while a child was raped, and so God, who is all-powerful and all-knowing, must have been complicit in the rape since he chose not to intervene.
I’m sure that any number of people who have read that meme would nod sagely in agreement. Certainly, at first blush the meme seems to ring true in the same way that the three men at the hotel problem seems true. (Trust me, if you pose the three men at the hotel problem to a number of people, less than 1 in 6 will get it right. I know as I have shared it many times.) But the problem isn’t that the meme is true, Just as people approach the three men at the hotel problem with certain assumptions which make them miss the answer, many approach the child rape meme with various assumptions that are not only not necessarily true, but are likely false.
Evil? What evil?
Frank Turek, a Christian apologist who I have recently mentioned when I wrote a blogpost about his video on the question to pose to every atheist, has recently posted an article on Townhall.com which addresses one of the assumptions found in the meme. He addresses it by looking at the London terrorist attack which left eight people dead from knife wounds earlier this month. In God and the London Attack, Turek begins with the same assumption that the meme does:
If you had the knowledge and power to stop the terrorist attack in London, would you have done so? Of course. In fact, if you could have stopped it but didn’t, we would call you morally deficient. We would partially blame you for the attacks!”Excellent. There is nothing better than taking the best arguments put forward by those who oppose you and addressing them head on. That’s what C.S. Lewis did in his book, The Problem of Pain. Truth, after all, isn’t easy. It requires that you don’t spend all day knocking down straw men arguments. Rather, finding truth requires that one ultimately review and respond to the very best and strongest arguments against you and addressing those arguments. And this argument, similar to the raping of the child meme on Facebook, addresses an argument commonly raised by atheists over a whole range of evil done in the world because it touches such a raw emotional chord. “If God existed, he would have stopped the Holocaust.” “If God existed, he would have stopped 9/11.” “If God existed, he would have stopped the London Attack.” These arguments, and others like them, are advanced by atheists against God’s existence whenever a tragedy occurs.
Turek’s article addresses one assumption: the assumption that evil can exist without God. As Turek puts it,
While I can’t present a complete answer to that question in this short column, the one thing the attacks cannot prove is that there is no God. In fact, if the attack was truly a grave injustice—if it was truly evil—then it shows that God actually does exist.Turek is correct. Those who disbelieve in the existence of God regularly assume a worldview that can only come from God. Without God, there is no good or evil – only existence. Without God, all of moral philosophy can ultimately be boiled down to the 90s bumper sticker, “S__t Happens.” There is no reason to call the terrorist attacks evil because evil is simply a mental construct that can be disregarded. This is the assumption that Frank addresses in the article (and which he expands upon in the talk I have posted, below), but it is not the assumption I wish to address. I want to address a different assumption, and that is the assumption that God is somehow complicit because he didn’t stop these great tragedies.
Removing the Angst
“If God existed, he would have stopped the London Attack.” “If God existed, he would have stopped the rape of the child!” Whenever I see these types of statements, I find myself wondering “why stop there?” Why mention only big outrageous attacks or matters that we all acknowledge are great evils? How about, “If God existed, he would have stopped my mother from getting a sore throat.” Or how about, “If God existed, he would have stopped the fifth-grade bully from stealing candy from the second-grader?” Or even, “If God existed, he would have stopped that man from stepping on my toe.” Am I getting petty? Yes, I am. Admittedly. But that’s because the Facebook meme and the blaming of God for terrorist attacks are examples of another assumption that we cling to. Somehow, God can and should be held responsible for all of the big evil done in the world, but we instinctively blanch when stretching it to start blaming God for every little trouble we experience. You had a bad hair day? Blame God. He should have stopped that. A pen broke and left an ink stain on your shirt? Why didn’t God leap in to stop it? You stepped in a puddle and got your sock wet? God could have stopped that, too. He is, after all, omniscient and omnipotent. He should have done something!!!
Obviously, if God is omniscient and omnipotent he knew what would happen and could have done something about it. So, why don’t skeptics use little things like wet socks and broken pens to make their point? Obviously, because using bigger, clearer evils is a rhetorical device. The skeptic raises the spectre of the raped child to shock people. The skeptic asks why God didn’t stop the terrorist attack in London to get people angry at God. But if God could stop the London attacks (which He could have), he could also stop someone from stepping on your toe. But I don’t see many skeptics posting about that. They don’t write, “God knew that traffic was so slow this morning that you would be late to work. God, being all-knowing, knew that traffic was slow, and being all-powerful, he could have done something about it. But God allowed you to be late to work, so he must be responsible for your being late to work.”
When you remove the angsty, emotional part of the statement, you can see the argument for what it really is: an effort to use raw emotion to sway the reader. At heart, when the angst is removed, these arguments fall into three categories (1) an effort to blame God for the evil that your fellow humans commit, (2) blaming God for natural occurrences, or (3) blaming God for the problems we bring upon ourselves. The effort to accuse God for not intervening in the London attack falls in the first of the three.
Where was God during the London attack?
So, looking at it without the emotional weight, we can legitimately ask where was God during the London attack? We can answer it the same way that we would answer the question, “Where was God when you were late to work because of heavy traffic?” God is where he always is and will be until the Second Coming: Looking after you, caring for you, calling for you to love Him as he loves you. At the same time, he is allowing bad things to exist in this world because we collectively chose it and continue to choose it. Sometimes those bad things happen to you and those you love. That doesn’t mean God isn’t there nor does it mean that God doesn’t care. Just as no one in their right mind would stop believing in God when traffic makes them late for work, so to one should not lose faith because worse things like terror attacks happen.