The Problem of Good

I read Martin Short’s autobiography this weekend. I’ve had the impression that Short is one of those celebrities who seems like a regular guy; he’s led a pretty normal life despite his celebrity. A family man, married for 30 years. I enjoyed reading the book.

Something has kept me thinking. Short was the fifth of five kids, and by far the youngest in the family. His oldest brother was killed in a car accident when Short was about 12 years old. At the time, he wondered why God would do this, allow this. He thought about some of the misadvised things people said to comfort the family. And he rejected God then because of this evil thing that had happened to his family.

Not long after his brother’s death, his mother became gravely ill with cancer and was expected to die. The doctors weren’t treating her because it was so advanced. Short’s sister, a nurse, talked to her mom about the prognosis, and their mom, in her typical spunk, rejected the idea of dying because she had one more child to finish raising (Short). And she asked her daughter to pass the grapes. This phrase, “Pass the grapes,” became family shorthand for coping with bad news and carrying on. Amazingly, their mother rallied and was in good health within six months. The doctors had no explanation. She survived several more years until Short was nearly finished with high school. She managed to get him to adulthood. He reflects on how much more difficult it would have been had he lost her at 12 and how significant those extra years were.

But he never indicates that this amazing event was the corollary to his brother’s death, that this great good was a reason to believe in God. But if the very personal problem of evil is a reason to reject God, isn’t the gift of good a reason to consider He exists? And none of the other great gifts in his life have ever caused him to rethink.

Greg has written about the problem of good. Christians need to answer the problem of evil. But atheists have to answer the problem of evil – and the problem of good. What makes something good in a world without objective standards? Where does good come from in a purely random world?

It’s a curious and sadly common trait of humans that we focus on the evil we experience and reject God, but take for granted the great good we experience.

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Melinda Penner

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