Category : Theodicy

(Washington Post) Peter Candler–How an ancient African saint named Augustine helped me make sense of 9/11

I had nothing grand for them. I just told them about Augustine. I told them that “City of God” was written in response to a trauma: the collapse of the Roman Empire. Granted eternal dominion by the gods themselves, Rome was supposed to be the Empire without End. So, naturally, it came as a bit of a shock when it fell to pieces overnight, when, not with a bang but a whimper, Rome became just one more empire of dust. Some at the time were blaming Christians for the catastrophe, because Christians worshiped a dying God, seemed to celebrate weakness and claimed as their highest virtue not duty to the nation or force, but love of one’s enemies.

So Augustine set out to write a defense of the “city of God” against these accusations, but it soon swelled into a “giant of a book,” as he called it. “City of God” is a study in opposites: the city of God in contrast to the human, terrestrial city. Augustine’s argument throughout the early books is that, contrary to the high praise Rome lavished upon itself for its commitment to the virtue of clemency, Rome had spectacularly failed, and its temples were not the sanctuaries of humility and mercy Romans wished them to be. In the Roman temples of Juno, he writes, “men were forced into slavery as the property of the enemies who had overcome them”; but in the shrines of the martyrs and churches, “they were conducted to freedom by the merciful…”

This was what the students came to hear from Augustine. They came to hear him argue that when the common interest of a public is not grounded in love for its own sake, and when human rights are not grounded in a universal human calling to love God and one another, then we inevitably serve some other god than the God of Love. We worship at some other altar than that of true mercy and freedom, and above all we end up worshiping an idol whose shifting forms disguise his one name: domination. In our desire for mastery over others, we will merely become slaves to the lust for domination that we mistakenly call freedom.

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Posted in Church History, Terrorism, Theodicy, Theology: Scripture

(LARB) George Prochnik–What Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt Can Teach Us About Evil Today

The more complete portrait of Eichmann that has emerged in recent years validates Scholem’s impression. From the descriptions and interviews of Nazi functionaries he himself has read, Scholem reports, it appears, “The gentlemen enjoyed their evil, so long as there was something to enjoy. One behaves differently after the party’s over, of course.”

The enjoyment Scholem refers to is not simple sadism, but the thrill of experiencing a wild inflation of personal power — power over others, power to do as one privately wishes quite apart from any larger, theoretical ideology. What Scholem identifies in Eichmann is the excitement of feeling oneself to be a god.

There are plenty of directions we can turn our eyes today to test the respective theses of Arendt and Scholem about the mentality of the characters crafting policies that cause suffering to the innocent and harm to the planet. Are we seeing conformist functionaries mindlessly carrying out their nefarious duties? Or are we watching numbers of highly self-motivated individuals eagerly, sometimes even gleefully indulging an unconscionable greed for power in all its earthly forms? In Arendt’s schema, given enough basic intelligence, the person who doesn’t know how to think can be taught to do so. But the problem presented by someone in a self-centered passion is different. The person who thinks himself a God has to be removed from power before the contradiction of their fantasy becomes a capital offense.

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Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, Germany, History, Theodicy

(NYTimes Op-ed) Peter Wehner: After Great Pain, Where Is God?

During 1940 C. S. Lewis wrote “The Problem of Pain.” Lewis’s answer to why an all-good and all-powerful God would allow his creatures to suffer pain was a bit too neat and tidy. Among other things, he wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Now flash forward two decades to the publication of “A Grief Observed,” which Lewis wrote after his wife’s death. God’s megaphone didn’t just rouse Lewis, it nearly shattered him. In writing about his bereavement, Lewis described what it was like to go to God “when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” He added: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ ”

Years ago I had lunch with a pastor and asked him about his impressions of “A Grief Observed.” His attitude bordered on disdain. He felt that Lewis allowed doubt to creep in when his faith should have sustained him.

My response was the opposite.

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Posted in Theodicy

Archbp Justin Welby–Reflections from Auschwitz

Here are three things that will stay with me:

First is the way that the perpetrators at Auschwitz tried to dehumanise their victims ”“ in a way that actually cost the humanity of both. It worked to some extent. Prisoners killed others in order to live ”“ and were then killed themselves. Others gave their lives, like St Maximilian Kolbe and St Edith Stein.

Second, these atrocities were committed by ordinary people. When one of the priests leading our retreat was asked who was to blame, he said: “People did it to people.”

Third, it was idolatrous and demonic.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Death / Burial / Funerals, Europe, Germany, History, Parish Ministry, Poland, Religion & Culture, Theodicy, Theology

Tom Wright on the Meanings of Christmas: In the new world there will be no more sea

When the early Christians wrote about Jesus, this was the story they believed themselves to be telling. They didn’t see him as simply a teacher, a moral example, or even as one who saved people from a doomed world. They told his story as the point where the dark forces of chaos converged, in the cynical politics of Herod and Pilate, the bitter fanaticism of the Pharisees, the wild shrieks of diseased souls, the sudden storms on the lake. They invite us to see his death on the analogy of Jonah’s being thrown into the sea, there to be swallowed by the monster called Death. They insist that in this death God has taken upon Himself the full force of the world’s evil. As a sign of that, the final book of the Bible declares that in the new world, now already begun with his resurrection, there will be no more sea.

Saying this precisely does not give Christian theology an easy explanation (“Oh, that’s all right then”) for the continuing presence of evil in the world. On the contrary, it tells a story about Jesus’s own sense of abandonment, and thereby encourages us to embrace the same sense of helpless involvement in the sorrow of the world, as the means by which the world is to be healed. Those who work for justice, reconciliation and peace will know that sense, and perhaps, occasionally, that healing.

This isn’t the kind of answer that the Enlightenment wanted. But maybe, as we launch into the deep waters of another new year, it is the kind of vocation we ought to embrace in place of shallow analysis and shrill reaction.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Provinces, Christmas, Christology, Church of England (CoE), Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, CoE Bishops, Theodicy, Theology

(CEN) Lord Harries discusses his latest book at Burgh House

“The Beauty and The Horror ”“ searching for God in a Suffering World” spawned an interview by Piers Plowright and in deep discussion with an attentive audience Lord Harries noted on the holocaust at Auschwitz, the question was not “where is or where was God?” but “where was man?” in those very dark days of history.

Oscar Schindler was not a man of faith but he did help to save Jews. God is the source of all goodness, Lord Harries believes, and we are not in a post-religious world, with more believers in Christ, especially growing in China.

On science and medical ethics and religion:- is there a clash? He said that while science gives us results we feel confident in, people can’t feel confident in religion in the same way. Camus and the Karamazov brothers are both sources of allusions to the human condition ”“ much of suffering is debatably made from making the wrong choices.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Anglican Provinces, Books, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Theodicy, Theology

(A Cranmer blog) Archbp Welby ponders problem of suffering: “I’m not a good enough theologian”

“I don’t think there’s a good answer..”

He realises what he’s just said, and, respectful of God and Aquinas, hastily moves to qualify, mindful that his previous spontaneous musings have been broadcast around the world and unhelpfully interpreted by a largely unsympathetic media.

“..in an intellectual sense..”

Phew.

The media won’t do Thomistic philosophy.

“I don’t think there’s an answer which says, ”˜That’s it.’”

That’s neat.

“I’m not a good enough theologian,” he justifies, before going on to expound the Book of Job…

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodicy, Theology

(1st Things) Peter Leithart–Macbeth: Surprised by Evil

Audiences recoil from Macbeth, but he recoils from himself too. After Macbeth murders King Duncan, a knocking at the gate startles him, and Macbeth wonders, “How is’t with me, when every noise appals me?” He stares at his bloody hands as if they belonged to someone else’s body: “What hands are here?” He knows that the “multitudinous seas” can’t wash away the stain of Duncan’s blood, and later he is haunted by the ghost of Banquo. Macbeth “murder[s] sleep” and so deprives himself of that nightly “balm of hurt minds.” Almost no one hears “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” and thinks, “Well, Macbeth, you deserve it.” He does deserve it, but Shakespeare has shown us enough of Macbeth’s shocked soul and tortured conscience to convince us that he’s human.

Shakespeare is no liberal sentimentalist. He knows that evil is evil, and knows that Macbeth chooses evil. A. C. Bradley saw the play as evidence of Shakespeare’s feel for the “incalculability of evil””that in meddling with it human beings do they know not what.” We don’t know where evil will lead; we can only be sure that the result “will not be what you expected.” Macbeth dramatizes what Colin McGinn has described as the surprising character of evil.

Shakespeare humanizes Macbeth to hold him up as a mirror to nature, our nature. We pity, and fear, because we recognize that the evil that surprises us in Macbeth is our own.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Theatre/Drama/Plays, Theodicy, Theology

(WSJ) Victor Lee Austin–The God Who Took Away My Wife

In the years that I was the principal caregiver for my wife, I did things I never imagined I’d have to do: caring for her body, thinking for her, arranging her days. My shortcomings often humbled me. But what if it had gotten even harder before she died? I do not know for sure that I could have gone on. For all of us, there are always untested limits.

But not for Jesus. All the way down, he screamed from the cross something strange: a prayer. He no longer felt any intimacy with God, so he didn’t pray to his father. Instead, he questioned God as any human could. A human being can still pray to God, even in the absence of any sign that he has a divine father, even there at the bottom. Someone can still ask, if nothing else, why this God has forsaken him. God gives, and God takes away. But he is still there.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Care, Pastoral Theology, Theodicy, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Tim Keller's "Sermon of Remembrance and Peace for 9-11 Victim's Families" in 2006

One of the great themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God identifies with the suffering. There are all these great texts that say things like this: If you oppress the poor, you oppress to me. I am a husband to the widow. I am father to the fatherless. I think the texts are saying God binds up his heart so closely with suffering people that he interprets any move against them as a move against him. This is powerful stuff! But Christianity says he goes even beyond that. Christians believe that in Jesus, God’s son, divinity became vulnerable to and involved in – suffering and death! He didn’t come as a general or emperor. He came as a carpenter. He was born in a manger, no room in the inn.

But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.

And lastly, we have to grasp an empowering hope for the future. In both the Hebrew Scriptures and even more explicitly in the Christian Scriptures we have the promise of resurrection….

Read it carefully (noting especially the original setting as described) and read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Christology, History, Office of the President, Politics in General, Terrorism, Theodicy, Theology

(CT) Christopher Wright on Lamentations: A Bottle for the Tears of the World

What does Lamentations offer us today?

There are people who are, at this moment, seeing murder, rape, the loss of homes and loved ones, and the destruction of holy places. For them, Lamentations describes reality. We can and should lament with them.

Lamentations, as O’Connor says, provides a bottle for the tears of the world. We cry out to God for those who suffer so terribly from the effects of sin and evil and sheer folly: in wars, racial conflicts, and all manner of injustice and oppression. Lamentations holds up to God the sheer horror of what this suffering feels like, and appeals to him to act justly, to demonstrate his faithfulness. The book affirms God’s sovereignty””his throne is still in heaven even as the devastation of his temple happens on earth””in its closing verses.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theodicy, Theology, Theology: Scripture, Violence

(W Post) Richard Gallagher–How I as a scientist learned to work with exorcists

The Vatican does not track global or countrywide exorcism, but in my experience and according to the priests I meet, demand is rising. The United States is home to about 50 “stable” exorcists ”” those who have been designated by bishops to combat demonic activity on a semi-regular basis ”” up from just 12 a decade ago, according to the Rev. Vincent Lampert, an Indianapolis-based priest-exorcist who is active in the International Association of Exorcists. (He receives about 20 inquiries per week, double the number from when his bishop appointed him in 2005.) The Catholic Church has responded by offering greater resources for clergy members who wish to address the problem. In 2010, for instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized a meeting in Baltimore for interested clergy. In 2014, Pope Francis formally recognized the IAE, 400 of whom are to convene in Rome this October. Members believe in such strange cases because they are constantly called upon to help. (I served for a time as a scientific adviser on the group’s governing board.)”

Unfortunately, not all clergy involved in this complex field are as cautious as the priest who first approached me. In some circles there is a tendency to become overly preoccupied with putative demonic explanations and to see the devil everywhere. Fundamentalist misdiagnoses and absurd or even dangerous “treatments,” such as beating victims, have sometimes occurred, especially in developing countries. This is perhaps why exorcism has a negative connotation in some quarters. People with psychological problems should receive psychological treatment.

But I believe I’ve seen the real thing….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theodicy, Theology

(ABC Aus) Luke Bretherington–Brexit as Theodicy and Idolatry

The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, rather than economic prosperity, political sovereignty or national greatness, are the condition and possibility of movement into new kinds of relationship with God and neighbour. Yet this conversion demands that as humans we orientate ourselves in a particular way to living in time and the experience of flux and transition that is constitutive of being temporal creatures. Such an orientation rules out a nostalgic division that poses the past as good and the present as intrinsically bad, as well as making judgments about who is and who is not on the “right side of history.”

Rather, ways must be found to identify with Christ and thereby dis-identify with the historical idols and cultural systems of domination within which human life is always and already entangled. Politics, understood as action in time through which forms of peaceable common life are cultivated, is a necessary part of any such process of discovery. However, the tragic dimensions of social and political life cannot be avoided and failure is often the result. Yet faith, hope and love demands the risk still be taken.

Some will judge what I am saying as merely swapping one kind of dangerous sentimentalism for another. Nevertheless, I beg those who consider themselves Christians to take up forms of politics orientated to faith, hope and love, yet alive to the fragility of ourselves, others and the world around us and to ignore the siren calls of the politics of nostalgia.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Economy, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Globalization, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theodicy, Theology

(ABC Aus) Christopher Craig Brittain–Branding Atrocity: From Orlando to West Yorkshire

So while it is true that, in the wake of Orlando, or of Jo Cox’s murder, or of some future atrocity that lies before us, talk is not enough, we won’t be in position to act in some life-giving or productive way until we learn to do two things. First, we must interrupt the simplistic branding of the atrocities that confront us, which only personify both victims and perpetrators in unhelpful ways, while fuelling our own sense of self-righteous rage. Second, we need to learn again what to do with the justified anger that erupts within us as we face the injustices and violence that surround us. Such powerful emotions have to be directed somewhere outwards, yet without merely being vented at targets of convenience. Doing that only expands the dominant cycles of mythic violence.

As we struggle to learn such difficult lessons, we need to find a way to regain confidence that another’s wrath trumps our own, so that the concept of justice can be defined according to something beyond our own immediate personal preference.

We might not all be able to imagine this in the traditional imagery of the Psalms, or through the concept of the divine, but we all nonetheless must find a way to imagine it. Any other response to Orlando or to the murder in West Yorkshire falls short of what these victims demand of us.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., England / UK, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theodicy, Theology, Theology: Scripture, Violence

(LJ) 5 Dumb Things Christians Must Stop Saying When Evil Strikes

5. “Everything happens for a reason”
No. It just doesn’t.
Evil has no reason. It is anti-reason. And anti-love.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Theodicy, Theology, Theology: Scripture