Thursday, January 06, 2005

Theodicy - Tsunami Edition. The problem of evil which presents a question so difficult it gets it's own word - theodicy - has come to the fore with the terrible tragedy in the Indian Ocean region. Arts and Letters poses the issue (borrowing from MacLeish): "If God is God, he's not good. If God is good, he's not God. You can't have it both ways, especially not after the Indian Ocean catastrophe." Is this right?

Interestingly, one of the best responses is in a very short essay published in the Journal of Mammon by David B. Hart who observes: "When confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering--when we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children's--no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends."

On the other hand, Jeff Jacoby disagrees, while arguing for God's sovereignty, says we can be angry with Him: "To wrestle with God is not to abandon Him. To protest against the unearned suffering He inflicts or permits is not to reject His message -- quite the opposite."

That little phrase "or permits" is where I think Hart, Jacoby and I agree. And I appreciate Jacoby's message because this is one of many messages of the Scriptures: God is a loving God who does allow his creation to wrestle with Him.

Some of the other essays responding to the Tsunami and the problem of God: Michael Novak, Rowan Williams, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Ron Rosenbaum, Edward Spence, and others. As always, GetReligion has a great summary of the writings on the religion pages (with links).

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, notes, in the opening of his essay: "...but what most painfully reaches our feelings is the individual face of loss and terror." Alex Beam reflects on this issue, as memorably summed up by Josef Stalin: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." While that may be a reflection of our human limitation on grasping a million tragedies, I believe that the Lord does feel each and every tragedy. And he weeps.

Theodicy on the Web:

I debated putting in a link to Simon Winchester's article on the pagan response, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Gaia" but didn't because my link took me to the archives (and a 50 word abstract). However, I found another link that takes you to the entire article.

In addition, since I started writing this note, GetReligion now has additional entries on the theodicy question.

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