Our current WWII read-aloud is Hilda Van Stockum's The Borrowed House which is a young adult novel, probably for ages 13-14 and up. I'm editing a bit as I read, and I'm careful about what I read in front of Ramona, because the subject matter is a bit more raw than the other books we've read thus far.
The protagonist, Janna, is a twelve year old German girl, living in Amsterdam with her parents, in a house that has been "requisitioned" for them. Because Janna has been a member of the Hitler Youth, her ideas and opinions are difficult for my girls to hear. They're appalled, of course, but it's a slightly new experience for them -- our literary heroines are usually so much more likable from the start.
But, this book has been the fuel for some amazing discussions. The other day, as we talked a bit about the Holocaust, Betsy said, "But, Mom ... how could God let this happen? He's so good, and He could have stopped it."
How does one explain the problem of evil to a child?
I began by telling her that she had asked an eternal question, a philosopher's question, the best question. I told her that people have lost their faith over that question, when the answers to it seemed inadequate, or wrong, or elusive.
And so we went back in time, back to the story of Adam and Eve, and to what God gave them.
"A choice!" she said.
"Yes, a choice. He allowed them to choose good or bad, right or wrong, didn't He?"
"Why do you think He did that?"
"Hmmm ... I don't know. Wouldn't it be nicer if He had made them obey?"
"Well, yes, in some ways, it would sure be nicer. [Editor Mommy's aside: we'll deal with felix culpa later ....] But let's think about what kind of a relationship comes out of making someone do something."
From there, we put on a little demonstration about what it would be like if the girls were mere puppets that I could control ... if I could make their mouths move and, like a ventriloquist, throw my voice so that I could hear them say, "I love you, Mommy dear," whenever I felt like it. They lapsed into fits of giggles as Betsy played the puppet, and mouthed the words. But the demonstration made its point: little puppets or robots aren't capable of real love. For anyone's love to mean anything, it has to be freely given. Had God made us little robots, our love for Him would mean nothing. (They'll read a similar, if more eloquent, explanation someday, in C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity ....) I summed it up by saying that there's a world of difference between making a puppet say "I love you," and the feeling I get when one of my daughters brings me a picture she's drawn for me, something she's created purely out of love for me. That kind of "I love you" is real, and means everything to me, because she has chosen to do it.
We went on to talk about how the freedom God gave human beings -- our free will -- allows us to make choices about everything, including love. And where the possibility of true love exists, the possibility of utterly rejecting love co-exists. And where the possibility of rejecting love exists, there is the potential for evil.
Some people will choose evil.
It's not an easy answer. It's not a pat answer, not even a very satisfying answer most of the time, especially when one is contemplating great suffering. But it's the only answer that makes sense.
And as for stopping it? I think that's what God counts on us to do.