Pete rushed (or at least ambled) in where most Christian theists would fear to tread by suggesting a possible explanation for six week old baby Landina being “punished” by being buried in an earthquake:
I have tried thinking critically/honestly about on what grounds babies deserve to be divinely punished by God.
What if all humans were preternatural fallen angels who followed Satan, and rebelled against God to his face? Babies included.
Then we would all deserve it.
I don’t think this is the case, but just a disturbing thought that I hope isn’t true.
I appreciate Pete’s willingness to think out loud on this one. And I don’t intend this response as a “Hey everybody! Let’s pile up on Pete!” But I do think it is helpful to reflect a bit on the suggestion.
First, even if Landina was previously an angel who sinned in her pre-human life, it wouldn’t mean it was just to punish her now by burying her in chunks of concrete. Here’s an analogy:
Reinhold is a corrupt stock broker and investor who scammed elderly people out of their life savings. Although he disappeared on the lam, he was convicted of his crimes in absentia and sentenced to a lifetime of merciless flogging with foam pool noodles.
The authorities have just located Reinhold ten years after the crime. Time to face justice. However, there is a complication. Reinhold now suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. The disease has progressed to the point where he is now completely unaware of his personal identity and his past actions. He is now bed ridden and may have only months to live. There he lies in the hospital bed staring vacantly out the window. Under those circumstances would it be just to begin flogging Reinhold with the pool noodles even as he lies in bed staring blankly out into space? No, it clearly is not.
So why would we think it just to punish baby Landina for her previous sins as a pre-human angel?
There are three additional problems with Pete’s suggestion. First, this is not what scripture says. It doesn’t say that the infants of Jerusalem were punished for sins committed in their previous life. Rather, it says they were punished for the sins of Jerusalem committed in this world.
Second, the doctrine of pre-existence is a non-starter. There is no reason to think any human being preexisted their human conception. This doctrine of pre-existence, while a hallmark of Platonism, only made a brief appearance in Christian theology under the dubious Origen brand before it was boycotted and cast out of the marketplace.
Finally, this suggestion has unsettling implications for our impulse to stop suffering. It is interesting to consider how much Pete’s theodicy suggestion parallels eastern theories of karma: everyone does get what’s coming to them based on previous life actions. It is also interesting, if disturbing, to consider how actually believing this kind of suggestion could undermine one’s resolve to stop suffering in this life. After all, if Landina finds herself buried in concrete and this hypothesis is true, then isn’t she right where she belongs? And isn’t digging her out and healing her wounds equivalent to breaking her out of prison?