Catalina: Why don't you want to pray? We pray every night?
Elin: God doesn't answer my prayers.
Catalina: What do you mean, baby?
Elin: I keep having nightmares. We pray for me to stop having nightmares every night, and God just doesn't answer my prayers.
In this conversation which followed some discipline, I heard the following:
Catalina: You know that we love you, Elin, but you aren't going to have hot chocolate right before bed.
Elin: You don't love me! Why can't I have hot chocolate?
Catalina: You already had a sweet today, we don't want you to have caffeine right before bed, and you already brushed your teeth.
Elin: You never let me do anything!
Catalina: Elin, we had friends come over and play today, I cooked you three meals, we went to the Happy Cafe a few days ago and drank hot chocolate. We try to show you that we love you all the time, but sometimes we know what's best for you even if you think you need something else.
This is a typical conversation with Elin (and likely most toddlers) after disciplining her for disobedience. I think it highlights two very important concepts which contribute to her continuing struggle with evil and God's benevolence. First, Elin questions our goodness. I'm sure all children do this with their parents to some extent, but Elin really hones in on this and can't move past it. Elin is very smart, and her intelligence and capabilities often lead her to believe that she is capable of making her own decisions free from our guidance. She doesn't trust that we know best. She has a reason for everything and can explain why she's "right."
Second, Elin tends to lack contentment and thankfulness. It doesn't matter if she had a hot chocolate already today. If she really wants another one and can self-justify why she should have it, she focuses on her perceived need rather than what she's already been given. Whereas Atticus currently tends to have a very soft spirit and will spontaneously thank us for things (though that's starting to change), Elin seems to feel entitled. She feels she deserves all she gets, and she thinks she deserves even more. She doesn't recognize what she has as abundant blessings many in the world go without, but rather as that which is normal and to be expected.
I find it very interesting that these two aspects I see in Elin are the same two issues we can see in Eve as she contemplated the "very good" world she lived in. "Does God really have my best interest in mind? Wouldn't it be good for me to eat this fruit and taste all that it has to offer? Even though I have all of creation available to me, shouldn't I also have this tree of the knowledge of good and evil?" Eve was probably the first human being to deal with the problem of evil and God's goodness - and this was before evil had even entered humanity's existence! It was her conflictedness over the "good" world God created - a world which didn't seem good enough to her - that lead her, at least in part, to sin.
I'm not saying right now that discussing the problem of evil should be off limits to us. It's a very important question to work through. But I think it's important to recognize where such questioning can often come from in our own hearts. A key indicator to me that the problem of evil tends to be less an intellectual issue than a heart issue is the demographics of the main questioners and the seemingly increased prevalence of the question in modernity. I rarely hear people complain about the problem of evil in the persecuted countries of today, and I haven't heard the problem of evil being a thoroughly prevalent theological hangup for those living in antiquity - despite the fact that antiquity and persecuted countries tend to see more evil and suffering than we modern Westerners do. How is it that the problem of evil seems to grow in our minds with the amount of wealth and ease we have?
I think part of the answer to that question is our entitlement. We are a culture of "rights." While rights are generally good things, a culture steeped in rights language is likely a culture that assumes too many rights. We think that if there were a God, he would owe us the breath we have. If there were a God, he should prevent us from having to deal with the consequences of a sinful world we help create and perpetuate every day. Having tasted comfort, we never want to relinquish it. God owes that to us because we worked for it. In such a culture we see all that we have as things we've earned or things which are status quo. Life, health, and ease are the minimum wage of blessings. We are ungrateful. We are thankless creatures who don't appreciate all God has given to us because what is there to appreciate in receiving what we are owed?
Beyond our thanklessness, we are also a culture which no longer trusts. We've been burned by politicians and institutions for far too long. We know we can't trust those in power. Such a truth extends to God himself. If I know that sex pleases me, then who is God to give me parameters for it? If I know that money makes me comfortable, who is God to tell me that I should beware of wealth and give my money away liberally? God, like politicians, churches, and institutions, is not to be trusted. He has some self-seeking agenda and only desires to stifle my fun with his big book of rules. In a society centered around self-indulgence and comfort, we never see (unlike those in societies who suffer) the "peace and rest" religion offers, but only the self-sacrifice it calls us to. And we know that anyone or any institution which asks us to sacrifice for them has a greedy agenda.
But the Christian God isn't primarily a lawgiver. He is primarily a relater. He loves relationship. From eternity He has resided in the most intimate relationship, the trinity. He created humanity in His own image and walked with them. He provided everything imaginable for them and placed them in a land of abundance. And in all that goodness, love, and communication, He only laid out one expectation - trust Me and don't define morality for yourselves. Yet humanity's questioning of God's goodness undermined the whole system. It sabotaged their relationship with God, with nature, with each other, and with themselves. Thankfulness is vital in a relationship. It shows us first that we trust the goodness and care of another, and second, that we recognize the grace of another who gives us that which we don't merit. Without thankfulness, our relationships become self-centered as we question every act of another which doesn't comport with our own desires or what we think we deserve. Thanklessness is just another form of self-infatuation and self-inflation, and self-centeredness is the opposite of loving God and loving others.
Thanklessness makes obedience hard. It makes obedience hard because one views themselves as higher than the one who issued a command, and because one has no faith in the issuer. Thanklessness exposes the belief that there is no allegiance but to self, since one's self is the ultimate authority and the only individual capable of ensuring one's own interests. But beyond making simple obedience difficult, thanklessness also makes it impossible to be altruistic in any meaningful sense. Thankless people have a hard time being generous. If thanklessness is a fruit of self-centeredness, if thanklessness views all blessings as a deserved status quo, and if thanklessness results in a "take care of yourself" mentality, then generosity is lacking in the thankless as they don't have the courage to let go of their resources, nor the desire to aid those in need, since the thankless believe the needy "simply need to take care of themselves." Thanklessness produces a cold stinginess in one's soul.
Ironically, it is the very things thanklessness produces within us which make our world a habitat for the evil we all say we oppose. It is self-centeredness which is the antithesis of God, the antithesis of his creation, and the antithesis of his own self-sacrificial love. God created the world to be filled with those who would live lives focused on others. Yet most of us fail to recognize our blessings and God's goodness. We fail to recognize our own culpability - individual or societal - in the experiences we have of difficulties and evil. We say we have a problem with all the evil in the world yet we don't see our own evil and our own lack of goodness as that which perpetuates evil as we uncover it.
In the end, I don't know how we get our daughter to see all the blessings she has or to trust that we usually (try to) have her best interest in mind when we issue commands. At the moment, all we feel we can do is continue to point her to her own sin and try to show her how greatly she is blessed. If that's the right approach, then I think it is also largely how we have to deal with the problem of evil as it presents itself in most objectors. If Eve could fault God for the problem of evil (or lack of goodness) before Adam fell, then surely there will always be those who need to eat the forbidden fruit themselves and experience the consequences of rebellion before they are shown their nakedness before God and brought to repentance. In fact, if Adam and Eve are representative of all humanity, then their condition seems indicative of all of our conditions.
It's easy for us to all think we're doing well in trusting God and being thankful. Maybe some of us are. But I'm learning more and more that thankfulness isn't our default position. It's something that's learned and experienced over time. I thank God for whatever thankfulness I exhibit, as I know I only exhibit thankfulness because of his pursuing love and his ordination of all the wonderful examples and teachers he's placed in my life. Any thankfulness I have is a learned behavior. As we continue to work with all our children, and Elin in particular as it pertains to thankfulness, any waywardness on their part must make me question the example I am displaying from which they draw upon. I must repent for all the ways I am teaching them to be thankless and untrusting. How much of their thankfulness, or lack thereof, is a reflection of me? What attitude do I display towards God and towards others?
I pray to God that he would continue his pursuit of me through my failures - especially with my children. I pray that through his pursuing love, God would strengthen me to pursue my own children in like fashion as they face their individual struggles. God is already giving us glimpses of hope for Elin in regard to her thankfulness, as just the other day she told us she was thankful to God for where we live, by the beautiful mountains with trees and snow, and how the beauty could just make her cry. While expressions like this are rare for her, I have yet to hear such a powerful and genuine declaration of thankfulness from anyone else in our household, adult or child. As God proves himself faithful in working on Elin's heart, perhaps he will use his goodness and faithfulness to grow my trust and thankfulness in him as well. If he can change Elin's heart, maybe he is faithful and good enough to change even mine.