"Miracles from Heaven" and the Problem of Theodicy | Bishop Robert Barron | CWR's The Dispatch
As any apologist worth his/her salt will tell you, the great objection to the proposition that God exists is the fact of innocent suffering. If you want a particularly vivid presentation of this complaint, go on YouTube and look up Stephen Fry's disquisition on why he doesn't believe in God. (Then right afterward, please, do look at my answer to Fry). But the anguished question of an army of non-believers remains: how could an all-loving and all-powerful God possibly allow the horrific suffering endured by those who simply don't deserve it? Say all you want, these critics hold, about God's plan and good coming from evil, but the disproportion between evil and the benefits that might flow from it simply rules out the plausibility of religious faith. The skilled and experienced apologist will also tell you that, in the face of this problem, there is no single, unequivocal "answer," no clinching argument that will leave the doubter stunned into acquiescence. The best approach is to walk slowly around the issue, in the manner of the phenomenologists, illuminating now this aspect, now that.
It is precisely this method that is on display in the surprisingly thoughtful and affecting film Miracles from Heaven. The true story revolves around the devout Beam family from Burleson, Texas: Christy, Kevin, and their three daughters. At the age of ten, their middle child, Annabelle, develops a devastating disease whereby her intestines are no longer able to process food. After consulting local physicians and surgeons to no avail, Christy and her mother make their way to Boston to see a nationally renowned children's doctor. But after many more months of treatment, her condition remains grave. During this horrific ordeal, Christy's faith in God is seriously shaken, since her ardent prayers have remained, it appears, unanswered. In fact, she explicitly voices to her pastor the confounding puzzle referenced above: how can a loving God permit this innocent and God-fearing child to suffer?
When it seems that things cannot get any worse, Annabelle suffers a freak accident, falling headlong down the trunk of a hollowed-out tree. When she comes around after being unconscious for many hours, she is, against all expectations, cured. Unable to account for the sudden improvement, the Boston specialist declares that she is in "complete remission," just the medical way, he says, of explaining what cannot be explained. Annabelle herself, however, tells of an out of the body experience, a journey to heaven, and God's assurance that she would be fine.
I would like simply to explore a few of the aspects of the problem of suffering—theodicy, to give it its formal title—that are illuminated in the course of this film.