President Obama took time out from his Martha’s Vineyard vacation on Wednesday to give a press conference on the beheading of U.S. photojournalist James Foley. In his remarks on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant he made a curious statement: “No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day.” It sounds nice, but there is absolutely no reason to believe he is correct.
Here is an excerpt from the speech:
“Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can, for no other reason than they practice a different religion.
They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people. So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.” — (President Obama, August 8, 2014).
Mr. Obama forgets one crucial point: God gave humans free will. C.S. Lewis puts it well in “The Problem of Pain.”
I have tried to show in a previous chapter that the possibility of pain is inherent in the very existence of a world where souls can meet. When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork.” — (C.S. Lewis, ‘The Problem of Pain’).
A God who values free will would be very just indeed to let humans stew in the evil juices of their own making.
In short, we have a president who doesn’t have a clear understanding of the threat posed by ISIL, as even Shadi Hamid of the liberal Brookings Institution points out: “Underestimating ISIS is dangerous, as Obama did when he referred to it as the ‘JV team’ of terrorism. Let’s not do that again.”
And we have a president whose understanding of a just God is constrained to his point of view. Mr. Obama does little to dispel charges of narcissism when he even tries to lock God into an ideological box of his own liking.
What is more likely: That Mr. Obama knows what actions a just God would permit on earth — or that God’s purpose in eternity would in fact leave room for evil, so that free agents could reject such a scourge and willingly come to Him?
The onus is not on God to stop ISIL — the onus is on humanity. Mr. Obama may have inadvertently tried to slip off the hard (and painful) responsibility for humans to stand up to evil, but intellectually honest individuals know that it can not be done. While God may be gracious enough to answer certain prayers, He is under no responsibility to save us from the countless sordid affairs we create for ourselves on a regular basis.
C.S. Lewis also said: “Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion.” We have been enclosed in illusion for a long time. It is time to wake up.
Editor’s Note for regular readers: The book I am writing is heavily influenced by the idea put forth by C.S. Lewis that “pain is inherent in the very existence of a world where souls can meet.” If that message resonates with you, then stay tuned.