Problem of Evil and Suffering, Sandor Clegane Style

Why does God allow good people to suffer?

Why is God silent in the face of suffering?

Why does God not step in and stop evil?

Why do the wicked survive and the good perish?

These are as questions as old as time (see the book of Job and Psalms).  The first episode of season seven of Game of Thrones tackled them too.  Sandor Clegane, “the Hound”, has been around since the beginning of the show.  First he is bodyguard to the king, then he is a wandering fighter.  Filled with anger and contempt, Clegane is not afraid to tell it like he sees it.  Recently though his character-arc has started to turn towards redemption and he has fallen in with a group who worship the one true God (Sidenote: the world of Game of Thrones is filled with different religions but the specifics need not concern us here).

In the season premier Sandor is talking with Beric.  Beric has been killed in battle numerous times, but the Lord of Light keeps giving him his life back.

SANDOR: So why does the Lord of Light keep bringing you back? I’ve met better men than you, and they’ve been hanged from crossbeams, or beheaded, or just s*** themselves to death in a field somewhere. None of them came back. So, why you?

BERIC: You think I don’t ask myself that? Every hour of every day? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? What does the Lord see in me?

SANDOR: And?

BERIC: I don’t know. I don’t understand our Lord.

SANDOR: Your Lord.

BERIC: I don’t know what He wants from me. I only know that He wants me alive.

SANDOR: If he’s so all-powerful, why doesn’t he just tell you what the f*** he wants?

The question is simple: if Beric’s God is so powerful, why doesn’t he just make himself known and be a bit more explicit in what he wants?

This conversation is happening in a farmhouse.  The previous residents of the house, a father and his daughter, are dead.  A few seasons ago Sandor had visited the same farmhouse and robbed them.  Though he did not kill them with his sword, his actions certainly put them on the fast track to death.  Witnessing their decaying bodies, he seems remorseful, in his own hardened way.  The remorse is more profound as he knows they were better people then he, that he should be dead, as should other killers, and the family should be alive.

SANDOR: There’s no divine justice, you dumb ****. If there was, you’d be dead…and that girl would be alive.

Why do innocent children die and murderous warriors survive

Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? – Psalm 10:1

I’m not interested in discussing answers to this question right now, as pointing out how great it is to see the question raised in such a popular television show.

Not only is Game of Thrones master storytelling, but it brings up these sorts of ethical questions (for some it is whether to watch the whos in the first place!).  That is one of the reasons I taught a workshop at the Student Conference on Game of Thrones and Tolkien, comparing the hopeless world of Thrones where evil seems to triumph with the hopeful world of Tolkien where powerful forces bend the arc of the story towards justice and goodness.  Along with that, I encouraged them to keep their minds and hearts turned on when they watch television and movies so that they can engage with their peers around the questions, messages and worldviews found and expressed within those stories.

In other words, how do we answer Sandor Clegane’s question in the real world?

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Journeying to the Dark Tower (Reflections on Stephen King’s magnum opus)

Last year I read The Gunslinger by Stephen King.  Published way back in the 70s, this book tells the story of the last Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead, pursuing the demonic man in black across the desert.  Roland’s goal is to find the mythical Dark Tower, the center of all existence.

I love fantasy stories so I was hooked.  Over the next nine months or so, I read the remainder of the series as well as some of King’s other books and short stories that tie in.  I won’t bother summarizing them here; if you want to read that sort of thing you can find such summaries all over the place.

Throughout the series, like in any good series, the world of the story expands.  New characters are introduced, new environments are experienced and the story becomes richer.  King resists introducing too many new characters though and succeeds in keeping the focus on Roland and his companions (his ka-tet).  There’s not really a final grand battle such as you see in many fantasy stories, from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter.  Such final battles are fine, but I appreciate how King went a different route.

Without giving too much away, what strikes me most as I reflect on the series is how it is much more about the journey then the destination.  The ending is even kind of disappointing.  In a post script, King admits the difficulty with ending such a series.  Nearly any ending, with all the build up of Roland reaching the Dark Tower, would fall short of people’s expectations.

Of course, this is how real life is.

You look forward for months to a new movie and it does not live up to the hype.

You work hard to graduate college in hopes of landing your dream job and struggle to find work.

My daughter has been begging all summer to go to Chuck-E-Cheese and when we finally took her she was ready to go home after about twenty minutes.

Maybe the value in life really is the journey more than the destination.  That sounds clichéd.  Yet if we who call ourselves Christians scoff at this idea, perhaps we should pause.  This idea is not new.  Look at John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress.  The entire story is about the pilgrim’s journey through the world.  It is the journey that draws us in.  Sometimes the ending is satisfying (such as Lord of the Rings) and sometimes it might not be.  But the story, the journey, is what compels us.

It is in the journey that we are shaped.

It is in the journey where we are faced with choices that will define us.

It is in the journey where we meet companions who will help us.

Life after death is a great mystery.  Christians and other religious people can say some things about what this life will be like, though no one really knows for sure beyond a few vague generalities.  But as we look towards that future goal,

as Roland did towards the Dark Tower

as Frodo did towards Mt. Doom

As Christian did towards Heaven

as Jesus did when he set his face towards Jerusalem

We can find strength to journey on in daily life.

All that to say, if you want to read a great story, check out the Dark Tower series…

 

 

Trading Anger for Sympathy

A couple weeks ago my family and I went camping and left our dog with my sister and her husband.  When we returned home we stopped to pick up our dog.  We opened the door and our dog unceremoniously ran right past us and up the street!

While my wife ran after him, yelling his name, I went in the house to grab his leash and a few treats in the hopes of luring him back.  By the time I caught up to my wife, Skippy had stopped running.  He peed on a bush and ran back to us.  We were about three blocks up the street from my sister’s house.

Then I heard a voice.

“What’s your address?”

I turned around and there was a man sitting in his truck.  My initial thought was that he was lost and thought he’d ask for directions.  I told him we weren’t from this town.

“I was just wanting to know so I could bring my dog to go to the bathroom in your yard!”

Oh, now I get it.  We were standing in this guy’s yard!  He magically got home at the exact moment we caught our dog.  I immediately sought to clear up this misunderstanding.  I told him that our dog had run away and we had just caught him.  Further, my wife had checked and he had not pooped in the yard.  But the man was not deterred.  More gruff words followed.

Again I tried to explain how our dog ran away.  He didn’t want to hear it.  With a bit of fear of the stranger creeping in, we walked away.

I was struck with anger.  WHAT A JERK!

But soon my anger turned to something else: questioning.  What had happened in this man’s day, or life, to cause him to see two parents and two little kids with their dog and automatically assume the worst?  He didn’t see us and ask if we needed help.  He didn’t take time to question what we were doing.  He jumped directly to the worst case scenario: that we had taken our kids out to show them how to teach a dog how to deface property.

Maybe if I was a teenager, alone or with a buddy, then I’d expect someone to assume the worst.  And my own white privilege has certainly trained me to expect to get the benefit of the doubt.  But I am haunted by this question:

What happens to a person to make them assume the worst motives in others?

Honestly, it made me sad.  It made me sympathize with whatever forces brought this man there.  It made me desire to assume the best towards others for my own life.

How do our assumptions and biases shape our understanding of reality?