Monday, June 05, 2006

Theodicy and eschatology III

Weeks ago, I raised the question of theodicy: defending God against the problem of evil. I suggested that the Bible contains a variety of insights and claims that can contextualise and provide comfort for the sufferer. I also claimed (despite some dispute, I'll come back to this issue) that free-will defenses failed to account for evil, since they (more or less) make evil (or the possibility of evil) the necessary condition for a greater good.

My contention from the start has been that only an eschatological theodicy will do. Put briefly, my point is that as long as evil continues to have the dominant hand, any attempt to account for its presence and influence is mere (re)interpretation. As Marx famously said, philosophers have hitherto interpreted the world, the point is to change it. As long as death is deadly, as long as pain hurts, God has a problem, indeed God is a problem.

At this point, a little digression to clarify what my rhetoric has probably obscured. There is not one single problem of evil. It is really a cluster of issues at a number of levels. To pick just three (there may be more, any suggestions welcome):

(a) Mortality and suffering are a problem for me, for every 'me'. The futility and frustrations of a world in which my efforts do not tarry long, in which my best achievements can still detract from the happiness of others, in which there is something wrong with everything, means that life is thwarted, or at least diminished. Capacities go unrealised, joys untasted. Life and possibility and freedom are cut tragically short. And not only are positives less than they could be, but the awareness of ubiquitous negative experiences speaks louder yet of evil as a problem for life.

(b) Such a world as we daily experience makes believing in a good and powerful lord problematic. If God is there and he loves his creation, and has the authority to command and execute justice: where is it? Can we trust him? The apparent rule of fear, failure and frustration makes believing difficult. Seeing in the sufferings of Christ the sufferings of God may help us think he is good. Seeing him soverignly bring good for Joseph out of fraternal evil may help us think he is powerful. But if God so sympathises with us, if he can indeed bring his plans to pass despite, even though, opposition, this only magnifies the question: why don't we see it? Why is life still so hard?

(c) Where God is God, what possibility is there of fault, loss, grief, neglect or hurt? The extent of such things in human experience across the ages, or at any single point, is a problem for God. Who is the God reflected the cracked mirror of this suffering world? Not just the reputation but the very identity of God is tarnished by his tattered world.

We can call evil good* and lose our soul.
We can call God the devil, and lose our hope.
Or we can groan with a groaning world: 'how long, O Lord?' - and lose our comfort in easy resolutions.
*(or at least the condition of possibility for greater good)

PS There's still more to come on this (which, of course, is the point of the whole series. Indeed, it could be called Theodicy: there's still more to come).
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.


Drew said...

Mortality and suffering are a problem for me

Not just my own mortality, but the mortality of others as well (it's easy to overlook the other in the face of my own).

the impossible mourning of Jacques Derrida. It wonders how to mourn his death...

A thought - Nostalgia and theodicy are at odds with one another.

Drew said...

sorry for the somewhat strange post!

I wrote some things, then deleted them. I had meant to say that The impossible mourning of Jacques Derrida was a book that had just landed on my desk, right before I read your post. It had seemed somewhat timely.

byron smith said...

Not just my own mortality, but the mortality of others as well. Indeed.

Nostalgia and theodicy are at odds with one another. I'd love to hear why you think so.

michael jensen said...

mmm so would I...

and be quick about it, I have to put it in a paper I am doing!

Drew said...


here's my tentative venture into it.