Saturday, March 25, 2006

Responses to "Tsunami and Theodicy"

Here is a letter in response to "Tsunami and Theodicy," followed by David B. Hart's response.

David B. Hart has missed the mark with his short apologetic, “Tsunami and Theodicy” (March 2005). Not only does he wash his hands of the offense of evil in this world, but to avoid the implications of Providence, he also skips from answering the problem of evil to eschatological sentiments about Jesus wiping the tears from the eyes of Dostoyevsky’s excrement-eating girl. The effect is unsatisfactory.

“Suffering and death, considered in themselves, have no ultimate meaning at all,” Hart says. But only a Platonist could consider these things “in themselves.” All suffering and death are part of a narrative—in fact, the Narrative. Without the story, they are nothing—like a hole in a shirt, without the shirt to surround it. And although they are in themselves nothing, and as such can benefit no one, when played out in the drama of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, they can facilitate goodness, beauty, and truth. Everywhere Easter emerges from Good Friday.

Hart is skeptical that others will profit from the demise of the tsunami victims. And certainly the benefit of others does not justify the evil of the loss. But won’t others benefit? Aren’t they already? Certainly acts of benevolence are now being visited on countries previously forgotten by the West. Food, shelter, care, medicine, prayer, infrastructure-building, and hope are all being helicoptered into Asia and Africa. A megaphone has sounded for their blessing. No eternal harmony necessitated the tsunami suffering, but God can take the chromatic noise of suffering and make a melody.

And what about us? Hart says, “our position is charity,” which is true. Charity is needed precisely because there is evil in the world. Provision must have been made within fallen Creation for us also to make melodies of the poor scales of suffering: to co-create goodness from them.

Naturally, Hart disagrees with Aquinas that all things will be justified in an ultimate synthesis, yet he never declares what will be done about all this suffering and death. If it has “no ultimate meaning,” then nothing needs to be justified. However, if it has ultimate existential significance, and cannot with a clear conscience be reconciled with a good God, then what could be done? Jesus can take away the girl’s tears, but what about her former suffering? Hart never steps forward to answer this dread question, and neither has any theodicy which I have read. Job is probably the only one who could provide us with an answer.

Jonathan David Price
The Clarion Review
Ashburn, Virginia

David B. Hart replies:

I fear that Mr. Price has failed to follow my argument, which may be my fault; but as he also repeats certain logical errors that I denounced in my piece (as when he confuses the order of ontological priority between charity and evil), I can scarcely concede many of his points. I submit also that he is a bit shaky in his understanding of Platonism.

I never suggested that good will not emerge from evil, or that no good will follow in the aftermath of what happened in the Indian Ocean. I merely pointed out that this good is the result of saving providence, that suffering and death are not necessary conditions of God’s purposes for his creatures but the consequence of sin, and that Christ came to overthrow evil, not to legitimate it. That is to say, I was making a simple and necessary distinction between a Christian doctrine of transcendent providence and any kind of dialectical teleology. It is because he has misunderstood this distinction that Mr. Price mistakenly believes that I disagree with Aquinas rather than with, say, Hegel. Aquinas nowhere speaks of history’s “synthesis,” nor did he have much patience for the notion that God is the true author of evil.

As I was at pains to point out, the final question Mr. Price poses is a “dread question” only if indeed one ascribes the origin of evil to God, as part of His plan for His creatures. Since I for one do not believe this to be the case, the biblical answer to suffering, death, and evil seems to me eminently satisfying: They are to be destroyed as things alien and damnable to God, from which He will—in an act of infinite victory—save His creation, to glorify it with that glory He intended for it from before the foundation of the world.