More thoughts on theodicy, God, Haiti, Pat Robertson, etc.

January 19, 2010

Zoomtard pointed his readers toward an excellent First Things article by theologian David Bentley Hart, which he wrote in 2004 after the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed over 200,000 people. First Things republished it in light of the earthquake in Haiti. Hart rejects popular Christian responses to the question of how could a good, just, and loving God allow or cause such a catastrophe. In the next to last paragraph, Hart writes:

I do not believe we Christians are obliged—or even allowed—to look upon the devastation visited upon the coasts of the Indian Ocean and to console ourselves with vacuous cant about the mysterious course taken by God’s goodness in this world, or to assure others that some ultimate meaning or purpose resides in so much misery. Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation; our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death, and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. For while Christ takes the suffering of his creatures up into his own, it is not because he or they had need of suffering, but because he would not abandon his creatures to the grave. And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed. Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death; and, in such a world, our portion is charity.

No one that I’ve read recently attempts to “solve the problem” of suffering and evil in the world. When we try, we often end up saying things as dumb as or worse than what Pat Robertson said. The Bible certainly doesn’t try (which may surprise people who haven’t read the Bible). Consider Job: He wants answers. Contrary to his friends’ haranguing, he knows that he’s blameless before God. Finally, in Job 38-41, God answers Job with a seemingly unsatisfying non-answer: you, mortal and finite as you are, can’t begin to understand. Interestingly, this non-answer satisfies Job, who “repents in dust and ashes” [Job 42:6]. I take Job’s response to mean that God gave Job what he truly needed (confidence that God hadn’t abandoned him even in the midst of his great suffering), not what he thought he needed (an audience with God in order to be vindicated).

Jesus answered a question about theodicy in Luke 13:1-5 by side-stepping the question of why. (Read the passage here.) “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Jesus refused to explain their suffering, except to say explicitly and against the Pat Robertsons of the world that it was not because of some particular sin. Suffering and evil are a fact of life in a fallen world, but God in Christ, the crucified One, suffers alongside us and is working to redeem it.

Jesus used this tragedy, however, to remind us of how fragile our lives are. As someone who inevitably drives more cautiously—closer to the speed limit and without a cell phone constantly at my fingertips—after I pass a fatal accident on the interstate, I need this reminder. We have no guarantees in this world. Every moment of life we enjoy is an unmerited gift, not an entitlement. What are we making of this time we have now?

Finally, I’ll point you again to the online debate between Ehrman and Wright here. To our skeptical friends who use every Haiti-like disaster to question God’s existence or goodness, Wright’s final rejoinder to agnostic Ehrman is food for thought:

Why, granted your view of the world, should we bother? Why not ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die,’ and thank our lucky stars that we can do so? The other side of the coin of ‘the problem of evil’ is, after all, ‘the problem of good’: if there is no God, no good and wise creator, why is there an impulse to justice and mercy so deep within us? Why is there beauty, love, laughter, friendship, joy? How do you then tell the difference between Ecclesiastes and Sartre? The Bible of course has some answers to those questions. But I’d be interested to hear yours.

The “problem of good” is a far bigger challenge to a skeptic’s worldview than the “problem of evil” is to a believer’s. Skeptics who argue against God’s existence on the basis of the persistence of evil in the world are acting as “practical theists.” In other words, the problem of evil offends their sense of justice—to which a believer may rightly ask, “Where does that come from, and what does it matter?”

The Bible is at least very clear on this: Evil offends God, too. God’s mission in the world is to defeat evil, which we believe God has done decisively through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son.

P.S. Many people said they liked my article on the Pat Robertson controversy. Thanks! I should have also pointed out something very obvious that Fred wrote about Robertson’s words related to Luke 4:16ff. I’ll let him say it, since he does so very nicely. (I don’t, however, think Robertson is either evil or “barking mad”—which makes his words even worse.)

One Response to “More thoughts on theodicy, God, Haiti, Pat Robertson, etc.”


  1. […] me! See my post related to both Job and Luke 13:1-5 here. In the Luke passage, Jesus explicitly says that these deadly instances of human and natural evil […]


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