Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Theodicy & eschatology IV

In earlier posts, I have claimed that theodicy must be eschatological, that any attempt to solve the problem of evil prior to the eschaton is a futile and even wicked collusion with the deadly status quo of suffering and death. We must not look for an explanation of evil, of how it arose, or why it remains (the arrival and survival of evil). I suggest that to answer either of those questions in more than tangential ways is to have given the game away. Yes, we need pastoral responses for hurting people (indeed, are there any other kinds?) and even sometimes yes it is useful to clarify what we mean by some of the key terms in the discussion. But unless our response centres on the gospel, it is no longer a Christian response.

Christianity doesn't offer a philosophical (or sophical) response to evil. The gospel is not simply information, but event. God doesn't explain why evil has a useful role in society, or how in his master sceme it makes a cameo appearance. He does something. His response is to limit it, to condemn it, to restrain it, to oppose it, to undo it. And this is what we are seeing in the cross and empty tomb. Here I am taking the Christus Victor reading of the atonement, not as the only sign pointing into the Calvary mist, but as the most relevant to this discussion. Because on the cross, the full extent of evil doing its worst is manifest and exhausted. Though betrayed, scorned, violated, and ignored, Jesus never replied in kind. He was not overcome by evil, but overcame evil with good. He broke the vicious cycle, or spiral, of blood for blood, curse for curse. Trusting in the justice of God, he gave up his breath in blessing. He never pretended his situation was less than blackness; his godforsaken cry must not be read as a pantomime. He died in agony, the absent Father his only hope. Despair? Yes. Because he knew God - the God who hates evil. And he was located in the heart of darkness.

Holy Saturday is the Father's grief over the world. Died; was buried. This is not a theodicy - yet.

Easter is the theodicy of God, or at least its first dawning. For here, the injustice is righted, the scorned one glorifed. Here is the firstfruits of the defeat of death, the tasting of life beyond the deadliness of decay: death no longer has dominion over him.

But this 'over him', is our hope, our grief. For it does over us. We still die: in shame, in pain, outside justice, without peace. God has not redeemed his creation. Or not enough of it. The achievement of the cross can be overstated. It is finished? Not yet.
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.


John P. said...

Hey Byron,
I really enjoy your discussion on theodicy...I think this post is really insightful and thought-provoking.

"We must not look for an explanation of evil, of how it arose, or why it remains (the arrival and survival of evil)."

With this quote in mind, I am curious about your response to the Augustinian Privation approach to evil...I tend to agree with your assessment for the most part, but i think that privation theory does provide the most sound appropriation of evil that I can think of. How do you view this approach?

also, regarding the centrality of easter, i had some similar thoughts during the lent season (and in one post in particular....though i hate self-promotion, check it out here:

byron smith said...

Thanks for the link - I like your blog, and have added you to my list of cool places.

I am attracted to Augustinian privation (the less Augustine the better, I think...)* approach, but do not think it is an 'appropriation' of evil. Just the opposite. As Barth has argued (more or less, it's the vibe...), if taking evil as nothingness seriously leads to a kind of negative theology of evil, a ponerological via negativa (though in this case, a way out of evil, not into it). We can't go back and investigate the logos, the rationality, the ground and source of evil. Because it doesn't have one. An origin yes; a source or inner rationality, no. Evil is parasitic and as such is not the opposite of good.

Having said all this, I'm too postmodern - or should I simply say biblical and stake out the high moral ground - to be entirely comfortable with Augustine's equation between being and goodness. Sounds too much like Parmenides for my taste.

* Only kidding - I'm writing a project on the guy, so no hate mail from Augophiles please.
That was all a little cryptic. I got an essay back yesterday with a comment that my language is 'intimidating' because I used some Latin (from a marker who did his PhD on Luther - go figure). If so, please let me know and I'll try again when my brain isn't so tired (if you notice the time of this original original, you'll realise last night didn't bring much sleep...). Time for some now...

John P. said...

Agreed....Augustine seems to offer us a negative approach insofar as it is an approach which denies its own substantial reference. in that sense, you are correct: it is not really an appropriation at all...

anywho...I appreciate your answer and it was quite insightful for being a late-night attempt...i can only imagine what it would have been like in afternoon hours!!!

thanks again, and i look forward to further posts.

byron smith said...

Working on the afternoon attempt now...

My paper on this issue is to be delivered tomorrow morning at 8 am. Hope I'm awake enough for it.

Marissa O said...

me too.