From the August 16 Peoria Journal Star:

“It’s a mystery to David J. Parsons’s family why God would bring the Chinese orphan into their lives and take him away four months later. But they’re certain the toddler impacted their lives in ways they will always remember.

“David, 2, drowned Tuesday afternoon in Lake Arlann. The boy, his three siblings, and cousins from Texas had been playing in the sand near the lake in the back yard of 2006 Alameda Court when family members noticed David missing. . . .

“The Parsons family is mourning David’s loss but taking comfort in knowing that it’s somehow part of God’s plan.

“‘We feel Doug and Jennifer did exactly what God asked them to do,” Carol Parsons said. “It was God’s plan to give him to us and it was God’s plan to take him.'”

You’d need a heart of stone not to sympathize with this family in their loss. Every parent can recall narrowly escaping disaster. Kids that age just naturally have more activity than sense.

But it’s hard to sympathize with the theology here. This god is “in charge,” which may be comforting, but any entity that would make and carry out a plan involving the death of a toddler is just evil.

These days, well-meaning religious people like John Garvey, writing in Commonweal, take another tack:

“Much philosophy and religion seeks to dissolve [suffering and death] as a problem by making suffering and death somehow all right. Christianity, to its credit, doesn’t–until it falls into the hands of some of its preachers. . . . If death and the suffering that precede it have power in our world it is because of something else . . . sin is the usual culprit, and the free will of humans who are allowed to choose evil its usual means.”

These folks are happy to give God the credit when free will enables a doctor to study science and save a life through brain surgery. Their God has the world’s best job description: He/She/It gets credit for every good thing that happens, while every tsunami and accidental drowning is laid off on “something else.” This kind of god is sympathetic, which may be comforting, but otherwise, well, kind of impotent.

The events in Daniel’s short life can be explained through human agency and chance, without reference to the supernatural. If you choose to add a god to the story, then you’ll have to choose whether you want the comfort of control or the comfort of sympathy.

Will it be the mean one or the weak one? The facts we all know about the world won’t allow it to be both–for the same reason that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.