Early on in life, I realized that I wasn't like everyone else. My interests, sense of humor, and the way my mind worked set me apart.
Apparently, that's also true about my approach to religion. One of the big stumbling blocks for people to find their faith is the Problem of Evil, or as it's often expressed "Why does God let bad things happen?"
Now don't get me wrong. I get just as worked up as the next guy when misfortune comes my way. Job loss, death in the family, loss of friends - all this is deeply sad.
The thing is, I never understood it to be personal and never understood why a supreme being should spend time stopping it all from happening.
People argue about free will, but I think it's a key element to creation and my understanding of it has broadened since I became a father and then a grandfather.
Infants are adorable. They are so helpless, so free of guile that they are the personification of innocence. They can't even conceive of sin, yet they are tainted by it because of the Fall of Man.
You see this as they start to grow up. As soon as children are capable of exerting their will, they will defy their parents. In a room full of age-appropriate items, they go for the one thing they aren't supposed to touch and they will howl if you taking away from them.
Set a path before them and they veer off of it. Call them to you and they may come, or they may laugh and run away, expecting you to chase them.
But if they get hurt - they come running back and cling to you until they feel better and then they leave.
It's fascinating how on any given day a toddler can provide repeat performances of the early chapters of Genesis. Love, obedience, defiance, rebellion, wrath, injury, repentance and then renewed rebellion.
And in watching this, you come to understand how God must feel about us, because the payoff for all the dirty diapers, sleepless nights and temper tantrums is when they come up to you and give you hugs, or coo and smile, or stumble to learn words of affection.
That makes it all worthwhile.
Who among us would trade those moments away in return for unflinching obedience?
There are children who are horribly abused who learn the rote words and gestures and perform them flawlessly. They know the high price of rebellion and so they offer fearful obedience, but it is devoid of love.
What we want - what we really crave - is for our children to choose to love and respect us, and the tale of the Prodigal Son resonates precisely because we see it so often. I know there are people who see troubled kids or adults and wonder why the parents screwed up so badly. Often there is a relationship, but just as often there isn't, or it was the result of unintended consequences because of course parents are just as fallible as anyone else.
And so we see families split asunder and parents alienated from their children.
Understanding this makes the "problem" of evil seem more like a necessity. Given the choice to do bad, some will do it, and the steps necessary to stop it would result in the annihilation of love.
My parting thought on the topic is that the Problem of Evil is also a function of how one perceives the world. If you go looking for bad news, that's what you will find. If, on the other hand, you go seeking beauty and love, it's amazing how many joys you can discover.