The Theodicy of Fences and Collateral Beauty

Fences and Collateral Beauty Stars     

       This Christmas break I had the time to check out two films: Fences and Collateral Beauty. Let me just say by movie standards these two films were GREAT! Both had incredible casts and great writing. I want to address something a little deeper that I saw play out in both films which caught my attention. In the movie Fences Denzel Washington plays a character who is struggling with being a black male living in poverty raising children married to a wife for the past 18 years. His ultimate battle is not with society and the oppressive elements therein but with what we all wrestle with which is the idea of death and dying.

        In the film Collateral Beauty Will Smith plays a character who is the founder and CEO of a big AD agency who loses his 6 year old daughter to a rare form of cancer. He spins out of control loses his faith or whatever resemblance he had of it and tries to bargain with death to exchange his life for his dying daughters.

        Both characters are dealing with death and it appears that DEATH itself is a co-star in these two movies. What prompts me to write this blog is Will Smith's narration on how he feels about death and dying and what people try to comfort the grieving with because they really don't know what to say.

        I paraphrase what Smith says, "People try to say she's in a better place, God knew better, She was a beautiful rose in the garden and God plucked her out for his garden..." None of these words ever bring comfort to those who are bereaved. Yet, these are the words we use to try and show people that we are there for them and that we understand their pain.

        In Fences, Denzel battles with DEATH head on. He tells death to come after him after he has built the fence in his yard. Once that fence is built Denzel stands in his backyard telling DEATH to come for him if he has the guts (my words). The real question these films are trying to answer is the age old one that we've been trying to answer for centuries. How can an all-powerful and all-good God let things like this happen to people?

         I just wrote a paper for class on the idea of death and dying. My question is the age old one that says, "If God is good then why would he allow IT to happen?" Whatever your IT is that is the question we all wrestle with. Your IT could be a child who passed at an early age, a spouse who dies suddenly, or a family member who passes from a crippling disease at a very young age. Lord knows I have had these same experiences and questions.

Below is a brief piece of my understanding as it pertains to "Why" these type of things happen: 
The argument historically attempts to justify or at least try to understand, how it is that a benevolent omnipotent God allows evil to arise. While we attempt to answer this very question, we know in our limited understanding that there is no complete answer to the problem of evil. This does not mean that we cannot attempt to have an answer that we settle and wrestle with. Epicures held that it was impossible to hold three propositions together: God is all powerful, God is all good, and evil exist. David Hume referring to God asks, is He willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then is he impotent? Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent?  Is he both able and willing: whence then is evil? We have thought that evil is incompatible with God’s goodness/love and his omnipotence so there must be a negation of one of the three.
This existence of evil calls into question the existence of the God of monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). During the 18th century enlightenment period these questions gave rise to the conscious project of Theodicy. Theodicy refers to an argument that attempts to specify why God and evil are compatible realities. It is an attempt to justify how it is that a good God who is all powerful would allow evil to arise in his good creation. The traditional approaches to theodicy gave three responses: soul-making, aesthetic, and submission.
The soul-making answer to the problem of evil states that God is using atrocities to mature us or make us stronger. This viewpoint is in line with the Ireanean school of thought. This viewpoint says that creation of humankind is a two-stage process: first the moral awareness and second a phase of free cooperation between that being and God.[1]
One can argue against this thought. If the world is intended as a place soul-making for such personal relationship with God, then how do we explain horrendous evil of the holocaust or slavery that is so severe that it becomes soul-destroying, damaging the very fabric of an individual’s personhood?
The second argument of theodicy states that evil is present to remind of us the aesthetics of life. When tragedy happens and humans experience suffering the result is the idea of gratefulness. The person who suffers appreciates life more fully and the beauty of God’s created world. It is this response in the development of theodicy that many people today still hold on to.
The third response to evil says that it must be a part of God’s will. We don’t question it or understand it, but in Gods sovereignty we accept it (submission). We trust God though as limited beings we cannot explain why there is evil in the world.
This most recent death in my church is why I chose the topic. It is hard on us and we are trying to understand why. My friend’s daughters are confused about why God would allow it to happen. His wife is struggling because this is the fourth person in her immediate family to pass away this year. The church is in mourning because this was sudden and unexpected.. Others are trying to reason with this event by explaining it away as some have done in the past. The first week of class our professor stated that our theology about God unfolds from the central thought of what we believe about him. When one of those things come undone it has implications for other areas of our theology to change as well. I am being drawn to have a deeper understanding of who God is and how he operates so that I can know what I truly believe about his sovereignty and goodness.
Evil is here. It is not some creation of a good God. God has dealt with the problem of evil but we only get to see a glimpse of that reality until Christ returns. In between the cross and the resurrection, we live in the present. Looking at the cross God suffers with. Looking forward we see Christ’s victory and the hope we have in the future.
It is my conclusion that God dealt with evil through the incarnation. It is through the cross and resurrection where God decided from the beginning to address this problem. It is our responsibility while we live in the in between time to respond in three ways: lament, protest, and hope.  

[1] Barrett, P. "Horrendous Evils And The Goodness Of God." Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 129 (2007): 99-115. Web.

Peter Watts