Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Thanos and Theodicy: Why don’t we just fix the world? (Part 1)

by Bradley Yam, SY ’21

Imagine that you are given a glove that granted you magical god-like powers over all of human life everywhere. You would only need to snap your fingers, and it would in some way make the world perfect. It would be whatever version of perfect you choose. Minmax human suffering and happiness? Done. Eradicate systemic oppression and inequality? Done. Eliminate scarcity of everything, everywhere? Done!

If this sounds like some purple giant from the latest Marvel’s Avengers movie, and if you knew the plot of the movie, you would be suspicious of this line of questioning. “But we all know that Thanos was crazy, after all, if we had that kind of power, we would surely use it for good. It would be unreasonable, irresponsible not to. After all, isn’t that what being at Yale is all about? Making the world a better place? Fixing the injustices of the world?” In fact, this is also one of our perennial gripes with the idea of an all-powerful, loving God, that he hasn’t already fixed the world. This is theodicy: answering why is the world bad if God is good. I am going to argue that if we take the question of Thanos’ glove seriously, we might not have a solution to theodicy, but we will ask the question of theodicy differently.

For the uninitiated, in the latest Marvel Avengers blockbuster, Thanos gains the Infinity Gauntlet, the glove grainting sovereignty over Soul, Reality, Mind, Space, Time and Power. The wielder of the glove gains god-like dominion over the universe. Our purple giant Thanos uses this unrestrained power to exterminate half of all life in the universe in order to end the suffering caused by overpopulation. You can complain about Thanos’ failure at Economics 101, but Marvel chose to portray him as basically altruistic. Thanos, unlike almost every other character on the good side, sacrifices his emotions in favour of his ideals. He sets aside his own interests, for the sake of what he thinks is the higher good. Regardless of how we feel about those ideals, we are led into admiring his methodical and relentless pursuit of his goals over the last gazillion movies. Now this is the kind of pursuit that Yalies can resonate with.

Thanos’ unyielding and unswerving determination confronts us with the potential problems with our own expectations of the perfect world. We all think we could do better than Thanos, but we seldom stop to consider that in his position, we might do far, far worse. That the world is not yet prefect is clear to everyone. Yet, if we press the the more rigorous flipside of the theodical question, “what is a reasonable version of the best possible world?”, there is unlikely to be any consensus at all! We might all agree that a marginal increase in freedom, a marginal increase in equality, and a marginal decrease in suffering are all good things, but our imagination fails us when we try to take the limit of those ideals. All our utopias turn into dystopias. We trust the old adage that good things can be taken too far. We criticize Thanos, but cannot really offer the perfect alternative.

Since it seems impossible to concur on what to do with Thanos’ glove, we ought to ask the questions related to theodicy with at least a sense of our lack of complete knowledge. The question: “Why does evil exist?” is still valid, because it is apparent that evil does indeed exist! But that hardly puts the nail in the coffin for the an all-powerful, benevolent God – because we ourselves are unable to articulate what exactly we would expect an all-powerful, benevolent God to do! In effect, we are left with a mystery: we don’t want things to stay as they are, but we do not know what we want them to become. If we are seekers of the truth, then we need to confront that mystery, not use it to explain God away.

We will think about what that mystery suggests to us in the second half (yet to be published) part of this article. For now, as privileged and empowered people, we need to be conscious that of our desire “to seek, to strive, and not to yield” after our ideals. We only imagine that we might do good, but we are all always wearing Thanos’ glove- will you snap?

 

Psalm 42

by Bradley Yam, SY ’21

Sing, sing out my Soul,

And cry, cry out my Soul,

Cry of all your troubles,

Of your pains, let them flow

 

And feast on all our tears,

And spill out all your fears

For not one of them is wasted

Not one does he not hear.

 

And then we will sing, my Soul

Our hope is in our God,

Our hope is in our God

Sing, we will still sing, my Soul,

We will praise him,

Our savior and our God.

 

When you have been alone,

And love has seemed forgone

When there was nothing left

Inside us to go on,

 

Then cry, cry out my Soul,

That we were once told,

How much we were loved,

The love that made us bold.

 

And then we will sing, my Soul

Our hope is in our God,

Our hope is in our God

Sing, we will still sing, my Soul,

We will praise him,

Our savior and our God.

 

When you lie down at night

And you are not alright

The pain is in our bones

And there is no respite

 

Then hear, hear my soul,

That other voice of sorrow,

It cries, “forgive them, Father”

“I will never let them go”

“Oh I will never let you go”

 

So, sing, sing my soul,

Our hope is in our God,

Our hope is in our God.

Sing, we will still sing, my soul,

We will praise him,

Our savior and our God.

Logos Listens: Flood Waters, Josh Garrels

by Serena Riddle

Over winter break I had the chance to ask a member of a national disaster recovery team what he believed was the hardest disaster do deal with – his unhesitating reply was “floods”. This folksy melody by Josh Garrels inhales the terror and wreckage of something so destructively overpowering and exhales peace – peace, not from ignorance of the things that threaten to overcome us but from the assurance of something much, much stronger.

The contentment reflected in the tune is proclaimed in the chorus, where the love of God is pointed to as the ever-enduring source of rescue, undying and “more fierce than graves”, sustained by the God who lasts “past the time of the longest bloodline”. Not only in our studies, but in the trials of life that sweep us off our feet and feel like they’re pulling us under, this song is a heartfelt reminder of the Father who gathers us under his wings and is a “refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8). Not even something as strong as death is more than what our God can bring us through. In the spirit of this song I hope that this love, which is something we are invited live in throughout our busy days, will be continually recognized by our hearts for the way it truly does win no matter what the opposition may be.

 

Flood Waters (Josh Garrels)

from Love & War & the Sea in Between

[Lyrics]


Higher than the yonder mountain and deeper than the sea
From the breadth of the east unto the west
Is the love that started with a seed

Stronger than the wildest horses and the rising tide
The chords of death hung so heavy round our necks
Will be left at the great divide

Flood waters rise, but it won’t wash away
Love never dies, it will hold on more fierce than graves

Farther than the pale moon rises upon the open plains
Past the time of the longest bloodline
There shines an immortal flame

Somewhere in between forever and this passing day
There’s a place moth and rust cannot lay waste
This is grace, the face of love

Flood waters rise, but it won’t wash away
Love never dies, it will hold on more fierce than graves

 

 

Logos Listens: Lay My Head Down, Taylor Leonhardt

Welcome to the first post of our new series, LOGOS LISTENS, a series of chill music recommendations where we review and unpack the lyrics of our favorite music titles.

From Taylor Leonhardt’s album River House, the understated song “Lay My Head Down” struck me for the simplicity and honesty of its lyrics, along with its soothing chord movements. “Lay My Head Down” speaks to the overworked, anxious Yale student (me), who is constantly being badgered by internal voices questioning self-worth, meaning and ultimate purpose. The unusually direct and honest opening lines of the song that call out this voice of pride catches the listener somewhat off-guard, and opens us up to the realization that the “climb to progress”,  a truly tautological wordplay, is a road to nowhere.

The chorus seems to draw its inspiration from verses like Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” and Psalm 127:2 “in vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Finally, of course, Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Its simplicity underscores the simplicity of our own approach to God, our lack of anything to prove, the need to come as we are.

Leonhardt reminds the Christian how easy it is to forget that we do not need to earn the love of God, and how easy it is to slip into restlessness, into pride, into self-sufficiency. The greatest work of the Christian life is to rest all we have in God’s hands.

Lyrics:

[Verse 1]
I hear it all the time, the familiar voice of my pride
Whatcha gonna make of yourself? Whatcha gonna show everyone else?
I need to find release from a life of efficiency
This climb to progress is a road to nowhere

[Chorus]
When it comes to you
I don’t have anything to prove
You make me rest
You make me lay my head down
You make me lay my head down

[Verse 2]
I’ve been guilty of trying to win your heart
As if your love wasn’t certain, as if I could earn it
But you’re coming close, telling me all I need to know
Where to find a drink and how to open my hands

[Chorus]
When it comes to you
I don’t have anything to prove
You make me rest
You make me lay my head down
You make me lay my head down
You make me lay my head down, oh-oh-ooh
You make me lay my head down

 

 

Simple Humanity (an interpreted villanelle)

By Vienna Scott

 

I, soley and errantly human, am a simple thinking thing

Reduced to a baseline irreducible complexity

Miraculous in existence of unceasing dependency

 

If I am to trust the greatest paragons of philosophy

Life, in a Cartesian sense, is ever-renewing in me

I, soley and errantly human, just a simple thinking thing

 

Demonstrably and inarguably a creature prone to err

I owe nothing with the penance of unadorned prayer

Miraculous in existence of unceasing dependency

 

With life parceled into seconds of necessary brevity

Farther prolonged, enriched, and enlivened in community

I, soley and errantly human, a simple thinking thing

 

I lack the attentiveness to fellowship with consistency

For the one pierced by my transgressions; crushed by my iniquity

Miraculous in existence of unceasing dependency

 

Ignoring wisdom from long past the sages of antiquity

Why must I fail to worship my unfailing deity

I, soley and errantly human, am a simple thinking thing

Miraculous in existence of unceasing dependency