University of Utah Professor Gregory A. Clark wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune attacking organized religion generally and the Catholic Church’s decision to elevate Mother Theresa to Sainthood. Reading his anti-religious screed brought back memories of arguments that I once embraced as an atheist. In particular, Professor Clark argues that God either does not exist or he is a cruel being not worthy of worship.
“Apparently, Mother Teresa hates amputees. Either that, or God does. He’ll routinely regrow limbs for salamanders. But for people? Meh. Not so much.
Primitive superstitious beliefs are not reason to rejoice. Mass self-delusion is not reason to rejoice. Rejecting reality is not reason to rejoice.
They are reason to mourn.”
The problem of theodicy or the existence of evil continues to confront and challenge religion. It is difficult to explain how God can allow human suffering—and even worse, this suffering is selective and inconsistent. Prayers seem to be arbitrarily answered or ignored.
But I wish Professor Clark could open his heart to the teachings of the restored Gospel. So many of the doctrines of the restoration address these very same concerns. In light of our knowledge of the plan of salvation, the love of God can be reconciled with the suffering that we witness in this life.
In particular, one of the great insights of the restoration is the image of the God who weeps that Mormon writers such as Terryl Givens have poignantly pointed to. Knowing that God truly cares and weeps as he witnesses our suffering is a game changer.
But more significant than an ancient vision of the God who weeps is that we are fully able to come to know him and his love personally.. The truth is that he is open and accessible to us. If we seek him, we will find him. He sent his son in order to perfectly empathize with and understand us. He can bind up our wounds and heal us. And he will do so –lovingly and with great compassion.
Of equal significance is the understanding of God’s plan and the role that this life plays in that plan. As President Packer frequently described, this life is like a three act play. We are in the middle of the second act. And that act is often the act with the greatest amount of suffering and drama. If we only see the second act, then things will seem arbitrary or unfair. But in God’s plan, this life is like a play within a play –it is merely a small part of a greater and more expansive scheme,
We can’t understand in every instance why some suffer and others do not. We cannot know why some prayers seem to go unanswered. But we can know that ultimately God is just because all of that suffering and pain is swallowed up in the grant scheme of things. Pain, suffering, and tears will be washed away. Those experiences will be building blocks of eternity. And because God loves us, he will do everything that he can to help us become perfected and exalted.
I once saw religious belief as self delusion as Professor Clerk does. I hope that one day he will come to know that these things are not a delusion. They are a reality that we can know as deeply as we can know anything else that we know in this life.