21 July 2008

Theodicy


Michael Novak on the problem of evil in USA Today:

The New Yorker (of all magazines) gave a good number of pages early last month to a quite brilliant book reviewer, James Wood, for a long essay on why he could no longer be a Christian. Stories like his are widespread. They usually cite the natural evils that too often crash upon humans — in China a stupefying earthquake, in Burma a cyclone, elsewhere tsunami, or tornado, disease, flood, or cruel slow-working famine. They then add the evils that humans inflict upon other humans.

Virtually every family in America has suffered from painful evils, often bitterly and almost overpoweringly so: A promising young nephew in a major university killed in an auto crash; a wife, husband, or sister wasted slowly and painfully by cancer or some other affliction — drug or alcohol addiction; the Alzheimer's disease of an unrecognizing spouse; nightmares from brutalities suffered under distant dictatorial regimes.

One of the oldest accusations against God in the Bible and in every generation since has been that there is too much evil in this world for there to be a good God. The pain is so intense. The irrationality and seeming cruelty at times seem unendurable.

Of course, ceasing to be a Jew or a Christian does not wipe these evils away. They continue. They roar on. The rejection of God does not diminish evil in the world by a whit. In fact, the turn of Russia and Germany from more or less Christian regimes to boastfully atheist regimes did not lessen, but increased, the number of humans who have horribly suffered, by nearly 100 million. Even under atheist interpretations of science, the vast suffering under ferocious competition for survival, for a vastly longer era than was known, far exceeds the evils earlier generations knew.

An unusually religious friend of my daughter volunteered for a year's work among the poor of Haiti. Within weeks, she was so dismayed by the inexplicable suffering of the poor, and their defenselessness, that she abandoned her faith. It demanded too much of her.

This noble young woman's loss of faith did not lessen the poverty and pain of those she worked with. Besides, the reasons for the overwhelming poverty she encountered were not God-made but man-made. (After all, Haiti is by nature a very rich nation.) The secrets of how humans can create wealth have raised up the poor of many countries; somehow, the secrets passed Haiti by. One remedy the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did add, moreover, is to touch the heart of this compassionate young woman and many others like her, to bring remedial help and, in some cases, knowledge of how to produce economic transformation.

However . . .

Here's the whole thing, very worthwhile. See also David Bentley Hart.
 

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