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God and Evil

As my friend, philosopher R. S. Lee, put it perhaps the strongest argument against God is the problem of evil (G. K. Chesterton once quipped that the strongest argument against Christianity was Christians). Many atheists, of the loudmouthed stripe these days, seem to think this is some new evidence that they alone (the "brights" as Richard Dawkins wishes to label his ilk) have marshalled this damning bit of quandry against the forehead of Goliath-like religion with some smooth stone of David. Acutally guys, this reasoning is pretty old. . . ancient, in fact. Many of the ancient Greek dramatists and poets dealt with this topic. And yet, Christians are still here (religion is still here for that matter).
In David Bentley Hart's 2005 book The Doors of the Sea he tackles the problem of evil (theodicy as the ancients knew it) in the context of the 2004 tsunami that killed 1/4 of a million people. This short book is an excellent meditation on the question whether an all-good God is powerless to stop some evil or perhaps whether that all-powerful being isn't quite as good as his PR makes him out to be.
He uses much of Ivan Karamazov's arguments from The Brothers Karamazov to show how powerful these anti-God ideas are. They are legitimate questions. The world is fucked-up (excuse my Anglo-Saxon) in spite of the beauty that can be found. It doesn't do anyone any good when Christians (or other religionists) provide glib answers "It is the will of God/Allah/Shiva etc." So God wants pointless suffering? That's what that answer seems to provide. Bentley replies: "God's gracious will for his creatures--his willing of all things to his own infinite goodness--is the creative power that makes all things to be and the consumate happiness to which all things are called; but this does not (indeed, must not) mean that everything that happends is merely a direct expression of God's desire for his creatures or an essential stage within the divine plan for history."
This short book (I read it in one day) doesn't provide all the answers to the mystery of iniquity and suffering but Bentley does point us in the right direction when he writes in his conclusion:
Until that final glory, however, the world remains divided between two kingdoms,
where light and darkness, life and death grow up together and await the
harvest. In such a world, our portion is charity, and our sustenance is
faith, and so it will be until the end of our days. As for comfort, when
we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see
the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his
enemy. Such faith might never seem credible to someone like Ivan
Karamazov, or still the disquiet of his conscience, or give him peace in the
place of rebellion, but neither is it a faith that his arguments can
defeat: for it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and
taught us hope instead.
I was never an optimist; I am learning to hope.


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