George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida earlier this year, and who has been charged with murder, gave a nationally-televised interview last night (July 18, ,2012) in which he asked forgiveness for any pain he’s caused. He offered that he prays daily for the parents of Trayvon Martin, but that the shooting must have been part of “God’s plan”. (See article here).
To which Trayvon Martin’s dad, Tracy Martin, replied to CBS News, “I simply really don’t know what God George Zimmerman is worshipping because there’s no way that the God that I serve had in his plans for George Zimmerman to murder my son”.
And Trayvon’s mom, Sybrina Fulton replied, “I don’t think God would have him, in his plan, to murder an innocent child.”
And so which of the two antagonists, Mr. Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin’s parents, have the better theological argument? Is the killing of an innocent child a part of God’s plan?
The logical conundrum nesting at the core of Judeo-Christian theology is the existence of evil in a world controlled by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God. If God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, then God is the immanent cause of every little thing that happens, so how come there’s still evil? It is a question wrestled with by theologians and philosophers since the idea of monotheism took hold. St. Augustine resolved it by claiming evil existed in the absence of God. His explanation accounts for God’s omniscience and omnipotence, but not his omnipresence. God can’t be omnipresent and be absent from somewhere.
Baruch de Spinoza, a heretic Jew philosopher of the Early Modern Era (he lived in Amsterdam and its environs during the mid 1600’s), resolved the conundrum to my satisfaction by pointing out that what humans see as evil God sees as good. The problem of evil is one of perspective. We, as mere finite beings bound by space and time can only glimpse, as through a looking-glass darkly, what is God’s will or plan. When we see evil, it is because we are incapable of seeing things from God’s perspective.
Zimmerman therefore, in my view, has the better understanding of God when he refers to Trayvon Martin’s death as part of “God’s plan”.
Martin’s dad, Tracy, has the more common, Judeo-Christian view of God, which is that God is something that exists for us to worship in order that he might bring favor upon our lives. His response that “…there’s no way that the God I serve…” is telling. Mr. Martin’s God is a creature who can be controlled by the humans who created it. But such a creature can not have the attributes that are routinely ascribed to the Judeo-Christian idea of God. God can’t be all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present and amenable to human instruction. God causes everything, including things we consider to be evil, including an altercation in a Florida parking lot between a vigilante white/Hispanic man and a black teenager. Trayvon’s mother’s comments reflect a similar misunderstanding of God.
I believe there is an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent entity in the universe. I think we have captured a glimpse of this entity through our quite limited understanding of gravity. It is the entity to which we refer as God, but we often intentionally prefer to ignore the bad that it causes, illogically believing that God’s powers can be held in abeyance by some greater power than God, even though we’ve already attributed all the available power in the universe to him. The entity causes everything that happens, including the occasional death of an innocent child. I’ve seen enough innocent children die during my lifetime to know that if God didn’t cause their deaths, then God doesn’t exist, or at least doesn’t exist with the characteristics to which we attribute him.
I acknowledge that my view of God would brand me an atheist by most believers. So be it. I can’t imagine God would have a logical conundrum nesting at the core of his being.
The ancient Hebrews understood something of what it meant to worship an all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing being, a creature that causes the good along with the bad, (though they also at times worshiped God in the same manner as did Martin’s parents). If you’ve ever suffered an existential crisis, where you or someone you love is struggling for their life and you really want to understand how God fits into all of it, read the book of Job in the Hebrew Bible (or Christian Old Testament). Job had everything—riches, family, respect, stature–and then one day God took it all away. This was his response:
Naked I came from my
And naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has
May the name of the Lord be praised.
(Job 1: 21)
This is my son’s favorite Bible verse. He has suffered leukemia twice, along with two bone marrow transplants. I think my son gets it. He knows how delicately poised on the precipice between life and death we always are, and how impossible it is to understand why. The Martins, who are perhaps confused by the intervention of a human actor, don’t. God caused the altercation in February that resulted in their son’s death. It doesn’t mean the human actor is or isn’t at fault to say that whatever happened was all part of God’s plan.