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Gunmen surprised worshippers and seized a Baghdad church during an evening Sunday service. Before it was over more than 60 people, including the priest, were killed when government security forces stormed the church to free the more than 100 Iraqi Catholics who’d been captured. Eventually, the eight assailants involved were also killed.

This didn’t happen due to “forces beyond our control.” It didn’t happen because of unruly weather. It happened because people made bad choices. It was an avoidable tragedy, so why did God allow it?

Tragedy is a conversational word that means disaster, sadness, or unexpected developments that victimize human happiness, wellbeing, and even lives.

Theodicy is a less often used word that means a vindication of divine justice in allowing evil, suffering, or tragedies to exist.

Tragedies we’ve seen, perhaps experienced, and all-too-painfully understand. Theodicy, the idea that God has a reason for tragedies, the idea that God allows or, even more discomforting, directs tragedies is not so easy to understand.

Yet if we believe in the God of the Bible we must acknowledge his sovereignty, omniscience, and omnipotence. He is in control. He knows all things. Nothing is a surprise or an accident to him. He is all-powerful, so nothing happens outside of his will or influence. Not 9/11, not this senseless brutality against innocent churchgoers.

In the wake of earthquakes or tsunamis taking the lives of tens of thousands of people, including children, the idea that God could have thwarted these so-called “natural” disasters is a difficult theological pill to swallow. In the face of wars that decimate entire populations of people, the idea that God could have stopped the carnage seems to beg the question of God’s purported love and compassion for people. In the after-shock of senseless violence and unnecessary death, the thought that God could have prevented the tragedy tests our faith.

So some question God’s existence, some his goodness. Some, like Job’s wife, simply want to curse God and die.

Yet in the Book of Job, the oldest scriptural writings, God does not answer all of Job’s questions. God reminds Job and us that he, God, is great. That he is good.  That he is just.  That he is love.  God is big—bigger than our circumstances, bigger than suicide bombers, terrorists, or well-armed thugs.

Theodicy, in the end, requires faith—faith in a God whose goal is to reconcile us with him, even through tragedies. This, in turn, requires a right understanding of theology. To interpret properly the world and its volatile events we must know who God is, what comprises his character, and what he wills for the world in which we live.

Tragedy is abrupt and often life altering. Theodicy can meet our rational need to know why and our emotional need for comfort.  Theology provides us with understanding of a God who is not mean, vindictive, arbitrary, or clueless but a God who is love, righteous, and peace.

I don’t know why these particular church worshippers were made victims of this tragedy. But I don’t believe in bad luck, the fates, or whimsical deities. I believe in the God of the Bible who will bring all things to account.

We should pray for the Iraqi families devastated by this tragedy. And we can ask God to bring them in contact with Christians who can testify to God’s goodness in the face of evil.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010


Originally posted as “Theology and Technology,” in “Making a Difference" #437.

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