December 14, 2017

On Theodicy

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Hayez

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Hayez

The other day, at the end of our discussion of “Jesus as the New Adam,” Mike H. wrote, “I get that the focus here is on vocation, but I have a tough time not looking at theodicy. It’s the elephant in the room. Is that going to be discussed head on?”

After posting Ron Rolheiser’s essay this morning, I thought it would be a good time to have a discussion about this subject. Theodicy — here are a few descriptions, definitions, and thoughts about it:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” (Psalm 115:2)

From the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Etymologically considered theodicy (theos dike) signifies the justification of God. The term was introduced into philosophy by Leibniz, who, in 1710, published a work entitled: “Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme et l’origine du mal”. The purpose of the essay was to show that the evil in the world does not conflict with the goodness of God, that, indeed, notwithstanding its many evils, the world is the best of all possible worlds.”

From Encyclopedia Brittanica: “Theodicy, (from Greek theos, “god”; dikē, “justice”), explanation of why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits evil. The term literally means “justifying God.” Although many forms of theodicy have been proposed, some Christian thinkers have rejected as impious any attempt to fathom God’s purposes or to judge God’s actions by human standards. Others, drawing a distinction between a theodicy and a more limited “defense,” have sought to show only that the existence of some evil in the world is logically compatible with God’s omnipotence and perfect goodness. Theodicies and defenses are two forms of response to what is known in theology and philosophy as the problem of evil.”

You can read Leibniz, “Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil” at Project Gutenberg. Here is his stated objective with regard to “the origin of evil” (emphasis mine):

“Likewise concerning the origin of evil in its relation to God, I offer a vindication of his perfections that shall extol not less his holiness, his justice and his goodness than his greatness, his power and his independence. I show how it is possible for everything to depend upon God, for him to co-operate in all the actions of creatures, even, if you will, to create these creatures continually, and nevertheless not to be the author of sin. Here also it is demonstrated how the privative nature of evil should be understood. Much more than that, I explain how evil has a source other than the will of God, and that one is right therefore to say of moral evil that God wills it not, but simply permits it. Most important of all, however, I show that it has been possible for God to permit sin and misery, and even to co-operate therein and promote it, without detriment to his holiness and his supreme goodness: although, generally speaking, he could have avoided all these evils.”

Leibniz conclusion was that God had created “the best of all possible worlds.” Here is how Wikipedia summarizes his perspective: “Leibniz’ solution casts God as a kind of “optimizer” of the collection of all original possibilities: Since He is good and omnipotent, and since He chose this world out of all possibilities, this world must be good—in fact, this world is the best of all possible worlds.”

This brief summary says to me that theodicy is primarily a philosophical problem, and therefore an apologetic issue for Christians and other religions. I do not think it is necessarily or evidently a biblical problem. That is, the writers of the Bible did not spend a lot of time exploring the origin of evil or trying to reconcile God’s character with the existence of evil and suffering in the world.

The Bible, by and large, is not a philosophical book. It is not a compendium of ideas and arguments about the nature of God and life. It is a book of history and reflections on history. It is the story of Israel and the story of Jesus. Whatever theodicy issues are raised — by David in the Psalms, by Jeremiah in his lamentations, by Job and his friends, by the martyrs under the heavenly altar in Revelation — are questions related to their perceptions of God’s actual activity (or lack thereof) in the world and how that activity squares with his past actions and the promises he spoke.

Genesis (“beginnings”), for example, does not depict where, how, or when evil and suffering originated. It simply says two things:

  1. In the beginning, God created everything. (Gen. 1:1)
  2. When God began to order the world, chaos was already present. (Gen. 1:2ff)

Genesis 1 says God made world to be “very good.” Genesis 2 portrays a divine Garden in that world where humans lived “naked” and “unashamed.” But look more closely and you’ll see some shadows. The original state of the earth was a wilderness of darkness and raging waters. This suggests that there were elements in the world that God had to tame to bring order to creation. Other scriptures do not hesitate to name and describe these forces of chaos and to describe a cosmic battle that is ongoing between God and chaos.

When God creates humankind in Genesis 1:26-27, his commission to them includes “subduing” the earth. This militaristic word describes bringing one’s enemies to subjection, trampling them down. Certainly that strikes a minor note amid all the positive melody in Genesis 1. Humankind is portrayed as mortal from the beginning; immortality was only to be gained by eating from the Tree of Life. Humankind somehow has the capacity to disobey God. And then there’s that pesky serpent.

A couple of years ago, we reviewed one of the finest books of biblical theology I have read, Gregory Mobley’s The Return of the Chaos Monsters: and Other Backstories of the Bible. Mobley shows that one consistent theme throughout the First Testament is “the dynamic interplay of order and chaos.”

There is a “cosmic battle” going on behind the scenes of this world, and humans are not privy to it except on extraordinary occasions. The Bible does not tell us how this battle began. It does look forward to how it will end and it assures the people of God that God will be with them in and through and beyond the battle.

The “theodicy” that troubles biblical authors and characters comes out when they cannot feel or see God with them. When it looks like the wicked, who represent the forces of chaos and moral and societal disorder are winning, and the righteous are losing. When God appears to let his name and reputation be mocked by scoffers who doubt that he is capable of keeping his promises. When what is happening in life and in the world simply cannot be made to fit into our theology.

From my perspective, the Bible indicates that there is an entire “backstory” which is not ours to know.

However, in the meantime, as our posts from last week suggest, and as Ron Rolheiser’s piece from this morning reminds us, we who were originally charged with the task of bringing God’s blessing to the world, working in and with God to subdue the forces of chaos and extend his blessing throughout all creation, have now been redeemed and set free in Christ to take up our original vocation in the power of the Spirit, planting seeds of love, justice, and peace that will come to harvest in the new creation.

Comments

  1. *From my perspective, the Bible indicates that there is an entire “backstory” which is not ours to know.*

    Okay: Why? Why not tell us? If it would fill us in on so many details, why not let us in on the big secret?

    Plus, there’s the inconvenient fact that god *isn’t* smarter than us: There were only 2 forbidden trees in Eden–Knowledge and Eternal Life. And we already ate from one of them.

    • StuartB says:

      And what if…there isn’t? What is a bunch of priests used motifs and contemporary ideas to spin stories out of whole cloth, that grew over time and took on lives of their own?

      And especially if this is true, why did we only get glimpses of this backstory thousands of years ago, spread out over time…and really no glimpses of it in the past 2000 years?

      Why is that?

      • I like the cut of your jib.

        • StuartB says:

          To argue against myself, the Bible definitely shows a conflict between order and chaos, but we see that everywhere. Whether or not there are giant spiritual forces waging this battle is something else. But I think anyone can lean towards an order/chaos perspective. At a scientific level, pushing back against the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, or even entropy, is an indication of order/chaos.

          The history of mankind has always been one of order against chaos. We need order to create a functional society. Chaos means the death of us all, and we each have a chaotic nature inside of us that we need to fight against.

          There probably is no ancient Hebrew/Greek term for chaos, is there.

      • OldProphet says:

        Because God is 100000000000000000000…times smarter than you. And you too Mr.J.

        • Uh huh. And may I also assume your big brother is a quadruple black belt and can beat up my big brother?

          • OldProphet says:

            I have no big brother. Do you? What does karate have to do with God? And, what does your non-sensical statement mean?

        • StuartB says:

          That’s just not good enough, OP. Tone aside, that type of thinking fits perfectly into what I asked. It presupposes the answer to my question.

          I’m not saying that’s what I think. But I need to ask. Especially when we can demonstrate elsewhere in scripture where things were added, changed, or midrashed into their present form.

          It’s been 5 years, but maybe I should read Boyd’s works on evil again.

          • OldProphet says:

            Of course Stuart, I’m trolling you. There are mysteries about God and his ways that no one, no matter their intellect, will ever know. The real issue is to ask and search and debate the questions we have about the nature of God but no go down some theological rabbit holes that will forever remain unknown. I don’t know what’s on the backside of Mars, might never know actually………unless I go there in the Tardis! LOL

      • Dana Ames says:

        Stuart,

        You asked, “What is a bunch of priests used motifs and contemporary ideas to spin stories out of whole cloth, that grew over time and took on lives of their own?”

        This is certainly a conclusion to which a person can come, especially if the bible is atomized and presented as a conglomeration of such stories. Unfortunately, that has been the case since at least the Reformation. If a church follows a lectionary, it is possible to get a hint that there is come kind of a connecting thread running through the whole bible. Most protestant churches do not follow a lectionary and therefore have indeed split the bible up into what ends up being presented as a bunch of atomized moralistic tales. N.T. Wright, Richard Hayes and others have done tremendous recent work around tying it all together. A friend of mine was living and teaching in South Africa a few years ago and put together this little synopsis, mainly for the adult Christians he encountered there: http://jbburnett.com/resources/burnett_what_the_bible.pdf

        Then you asked, “And especially if this is true, why did we only get glimpses of this backstory thousands of years ago, spread out over time…and really no glimpses of it in the past 2000 years?”

        Because our most basic human task is to love and trust God, who in his kindness and wisdom does not reveal everything to us – if he did, how would we trust him? But he has revealed what we need to know to be able to “take up our original vocation in the power of the Spirit, planting seeds of love, justice, and peace that will come to harvest in the new creation.” The reason it has been 2000 years is that the most massive aspect of chaos there is – Death and its process of unmaking – has had its sting removed in the death and resurrection of Christ. Everything leads up to and is contingent upon that historical reality – if one believes what the witnesses testified to in their Jewish context. That’s the “final word” so to speak. There is no more or no greater to be done than that.

        In Greek, the phrase “eternal life” isn’t about length of life, and the point is not to ensure that we will simply live on somehow after we die by getting a ticket to some “place” called “Heaven.” It’s about *quality* of life – the kind of life that, freed from the threat of unmaking into nothingness, is enabled to fulfill the vocation God gave humans in the beginning, to plant those seeds, and be that priest (Walton’s and Sailhamer’s temple image in Genesis). John the Apostle writes in more than one place that eternal life IS knowing (intimately) God and/even Jesus, his Messiah-King. (The little word “gar” in Greek means “and” and it also means “even” – as in, “the same as”.) He hasn’t revealed everything, but he has revealed that the path of that connection exists, and that we can walk it – the knowledge of, unto union with, the One Who was displayed for us on the true Tree of Life.

        Dana

        • Dana Ames says:

          Oh, one more thing. There have actually been glimpses of the power of the resurrection overcoming various aspects of chaos in the past 2000 years – if one will see them. They are the lives of those people through whom the outworking of that eternal kind of life in God’s Spirit has been evident, and have been named specifically “Saints.” They are not perfectly sinless people, nor have there been “miraculous events” associated with all of them. But their lives have demonstrated God in Christ and by the Holy Spirit “beating back the chaos” in some way.

          Dana

        • *…who in his kindness and wisdom does not reveal everything to us – if he did, how would we trust him?*

          Doesn’t this make just as much sense?

          “Since for whatever reason does not reveal everything to us, how can we trust him?”

          • Dana Ames says:

            j,

            The Incarnation of Jesus and what the earliest Christians (through the 8th century or so) understood that to mean. Most Protestants either completely ignore this or turn it into merely a justification for “the miraculous” aspects of Jesus’ life.

            It was also a big stumbling block to the people of the ancient world. They could think things through just as well as we can. There were plenty of instances in myth – and political fiat – of “men becoming gods” – there were none of a god becoming incarnate while remaining god. This did not make any sense whatsoever to them, and it doesn’t for many of us, either.

            But if it is reality, then Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit is the fulcrum of history, and the lens through which we need to read the bible to make sense of it. If you don’t believe it’s reality, then okay. Peace to you.

            Dana

    • J, my position is simple: I don’t know.

      I do know that the Bible was not written for that purpose. What else can I say? If the book of Job means anything in this regard, perhaps it is telling us it’s beyond our pay-grade.

      I don’t know how satisfactory that “answer” of ignorance is to you, but I’m not sure there is a better alternative out there. What do you think?

      • *If the book of Job means anything in this regard, perhaps it is telling us it’s beyond our pay-grade.*

        Maybe you need to re-read Job: we know *exactly* why Job suffered, it’s because god felt like making him suffer in order to play games with the devil. It’s right in there.

        Let’s agree that *you* don’t know the answer. I’m pretty certain I do.

        • You are missing the point of Job. First of all, it’s a wisdom tale, not history, and the narrative opening doesn’t “explain” why Job suffered. It just suggests there was a cosmic backstory. Second, even if the reader is given a glimpse of that backstory, the point of the book is that Job never got that and that it was inaccessible to human wisdom, even to the most theologically informed.

          God does not answer the “why” question.

          • *…it’s a wisdom tale, not history, and the narrative opening doesn’t “explain” why Job suffered.*

            Pretty sure it does.

            *Second, even if the reader is given a glimpse of that backstory, the point of the book is that Job never got that and that it was inaccessible to human wisdom, even to the most theologically informed.*

            Seems like a distinction without a difference.

            *God does not answer the “why” question.*

            On that we agree.

          • J, you’re missing CM’s point – hard. In the story of Job, Job never knows anything about a backstory. That is a narrative device available only to the reader!

    • “Plus, there’s the inconvenient fact that god *isn’t* smarter than us: There were only 2 forbidden trees in Eden–Knowledge and Eternal Life. And we already ate from one of them.”

      It’s interesting that by the time you get to Genesis 6:5, God sees that “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”. And yet this is before God had issued ANY commandments regarding what is right and wrong (except for the ‘don’t touch that tree’ warning).

      It suggests that even though there is a hunger for knowing right and wrong, like the line from the movie, “you can’t handle the truth!”. Adam and Eve’s first response of shame and fear (when they ate of the tree) indicates that even they thought they were now operating above their pay grade.

  2. Other scriptures do not hesitate to name and describe these forces of chaos and to describe a cosmic battle that is ongoing between God and chaos.

    Which scriptures do you refer to?

  3. We simply have to understand mystery in this life and be able to embrace it. Are we going to tell God what he should have and demand he reveal all to us ? Do we not live by faith and not sight ? Are you telling the creator he did a lousy job by not explaining his every motive to us ? Some sound like spoiled children demanding an answer that is not their right to demand. Gods answer to Job is probably the best summation of the fact that I am not God no matter how much I want to be.

    • *We simply have to understand mystery in this life and be able to embrace it.*

      Why?

      *Are we going to tell God what he should have and demand he reveal all to us ?*

      Yes. Why not?

      *Do we not live by faith and not sight ?*

      You drive with your eyes closed?

      *Are you telling the creator he did a lousy job by not explaining his every motive to us ?*

      How about option C: That he did a so-so job and we’d like elucidation about the parts that don’t make sense?

      *Some sound like spoiled children demanding an answer that is not their right to demand*

      Why isn’t it my right?

      *Gods answer to Job is probably the best summation of the fact that I am not God no matter how much I want to be.*

      God’s answer to Job–whose suffering is authored by god at the start of the story–is ‘shut up, that’s why.’ Not exactly a god worth worshiping.

      • I suppose there isn’t anything that anyone can say that will ever answer or satisfy your questions. All I can recommend is that you meditate on Isaiah 55 8-11.

        • I’m supposed to believe that was written by god or something?

          Point is, I’m pretty sure I have pretty good answers to most of my questions above. There are some really confused people in this world, but I don’t count myself among them.

          • Clay Crouch says:

            I guess we’ll know one day. Or not. But these are the things I find worthy of exploration and wondering.

  4. “It’s God’s will” doesn’t satisfy us anymore. Humankind is evolving and we have apparently eclipsed that notion. We need further elaboration to be able to concur and enjoin that will. That doesn’t make us as smart as God. It doesn’t even place us at the same table. It just means we as a race have passed infancy and have more questions. If the answer to the problem of evil is like any of the other big questions, it is not an either / or. It is put to us to reconcile the light and the dark without a comfortable, easily sorted, intellectual analysis. We must hold the opposites on the same altar and not flee. That is the call. It has been said, and I fully agree, that we don’t necessarily resolve our most besetting conflicts and we don’t answer our most difficult questions; we simply live through them. We become bigger, stronger, deeper, better, kinder, but only slightly the wiser. At that point, “It’s God’s will” doesn’t seem quite as evasive as it used to. It is a grown up admission of our obvious smallness in a vast, unfathomable scape. We figure some of it out. Some of it we submit to. To whom shall we go? The one we are fighting with is the one with the answers. Enigma is the calling card of reality. How to download an app? I’m sure I can find a ten year old to help me with that one. How God can be good and create this mess? Only He will answer that in me and I’m sure I will live with that intuition. That glimpse. That shadow. He wants us to be made in His image because He wants to be made in ours.

    • *That doesn’t make us as smart as God.*

      Why doesn’t it? Where do you get the idea that god is smart? As I say, there were only 2 special trees in Eden: Eternal Life and Knowledge. There weren’t 3–Eternal Life, Knowledge and Super Knowledge.

      • j,
        You’re a funny guy. Are you making the assumption that he didn’t create the universe? If so then ok. Maybe He’s not all that,?intellectually speaking. But if he created all this stuff that the greatest scientific minds on the planet, with the beneficial contributions of all the Einsteins before them, look at and say, “Hmmmm”, then that alone qualifies as fairly high functioning. What you say is funny to me because of my assumptions. I believe He created the universe and that sells me on how smart he is and how dumb I am.

        • Given that we humans are able to comprehend this creation wherever we apply ourselves, that pretty strongly militates toward the gods *not* being smarter than us.

          • The greatest physicists admit that the more they are learning the more they realize how very, very little they know. That’s why they are theorists.

          • Patrick Kyle says:

            j,

            Your argument presupposes that God ‘inflicts’ suffering upon us and undeservedly so. I view it from another angle. We have broken fellowship with God and Creation, and are reaping the fruits of our own evil. Most evil and suffering is the result of human sinfulness. Wars, poverty, injustice, famines, slavery, infidelity, lies, theft, murder, torture, discrimination, hatred, pride, even many illnesses and diseases especially in Western cultures. And if the proponents of Climate Change are to be believed, even weather disasters are partially man made. Pollution, destruction of the environment, extinction of plant and animal species. None of this is God’s doing. Yet how quick we are to bring the charge against Him, even though, as has been said, ‘We s**t and fell back in it.’

            Also, unlike many here, I believe immortality was ‘baked in the cake’ back in Genesis so old age and the accompanying decrepitude are the result of our own sin.

            No doubt you will cite earthquakes and tidal waves and other such phenomena that we have no control over as evidence of God’s unfairness. But, I think at the end of the day you have an axe to grind with God, or at least the church, so I’ll save my breath and you can let us all know how that is working out for you.

          • David H says:

            J: As a physicist myself, I can assure you that for all the wealth of knowledge we’ve accumulated, it’s still nothing even close to boast about. As ChrisS stated, the more we know, the more we know we don’t know. For instance, look at a star in the night sky. It looks like a nice, simple little white dot. However, as you zoom in on it, you start to see little details, and solar flares, and all sorts of complicated things.

            And then, more importantly, you have general ideas like the “uncertainty principle” and other strange quantum phenomena, which basically say we CAN’T know everything (and it’s not just a matter of not having good enough “technology” at the moment–it’s a theoretical limit imposed upon us by nature). Kind of ironic, eh?

          • One (day late) more point. Creating and discovering are very different. I may know nothing of aerodynamics and the mystery of human flight but with the right tools I could take apart a plane and tell you how it was put together. Does that put me on a par with the inventors of that plane? No. It makes me a grease monkey. I would still know nothing about air pressure, wind dynamics, thrust, etc.

          • And an excerpt from Richard Rohr’s daily meditation:
            Our supposed logic has to break down before we can comprehend the nature of the universe and the bare beginnings of the nature of God. Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist who was a major contributor to quantum physics and nuclear fission, said the universe is “not only stranger than we think, but stranger than we can think.” Look at any of the Hubble telescope pictures to get a taste for this strangeness. We now know that 95% of the universe is “dark energy”–even though we can’t define it–and that there are 200 billion other impossibly immense galaxies! Stars and planets now seem uncountable.

            The doctrine of the Trinity is saying the same thing: God is not only stranger than we think, but stranger than we can think. Perhaps much of the weakness of the first 2,000 years of reflection on most of our doctrines and dogmas is that we’ve tried to understand them with a logical or rational mind instead of through love, prayer, and participation itself. This is how God brilliantly remains in charge of the whole process. In the end, only lovers seem to know what is going on inside of God. To all others, God remains an impossible, distant, and uninteresting secret, just like the stars and planets.[3]

    • “It’s God’s will” doesn’t satisfy us anymore. Humankind is evolving and we have apparently eclipsed that notion.
      More importantly, we have evolved past the “will to power”. Unfortunately, the Nietzschian ubermench was the divine archetype for bronze-age peoples. Today, we view such actions as radically misanthropic (with the exception of Ayn Rand acolytes, who tend to apply just such will to power in social and economic theory). When a person is going through suffering, the worst reply in our age is “it was God’s will”. We associate that kind of response with everything from domineering brutality to terrorism.

      • Robert F says:

        Just this last week a young woman said to me, as she talked about crying herself to sleep at night because of frustration at being underemployed and stuck in a dead-end job despite having specialized medical training, that “There’s a reason for everything…” I’ve always translated that as a roughly secular equivalent to “It’s God’s will”, and I actually have heard it said quite frequently by young, non-Christian people in response to terrible suffering, though usually that of others. This case was an exception.

  5. Burro [Mule] says:

    Charles Williams was the only Christian writer I know of who directly faced the issue of the culpability of God in his essay The Cross. Of course all this suffering and agony is God’s fault. We never asked to be created, after all. God is directly responsible. We should pass the death sentence on Him. Yeah, just let the world spin around its orbit all pointless and Godless and shit. That’s better than having to deal with a guilty God.

    Oh, wait a minute. He already served His sentence…

    • Robert F says:

      Barth said the same. It’s in the “Church Dogmatics” somewhere, but I can’t give chapter and verse.

    • Mule, here’s a video of N.T. Wright singing a folk song about that: Sydney Carter’s “Friday Morning,” where one of the thieves on the cross is blaming God for all manner of evil.

      https://vimeo.com/41887103

      “You can blame it on to Pilate, you can blame it on the Jews,
      You can blame it on the Devil, it’s God I accuse.

      You can blame it on to Adam, you can blame it on to Eve,
      You can blame it on the apple, but that I can’t believe
      It was God that made the Devil and the woman and the man,
      And there wouldn’t be an apple if it wasn’t in the plan.”

      • “It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me
        I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.”

  6. As the last Augustinian standing on this blog, I gotta take the hit. :-/

    The ultimate reason that there is suffering in the world is that we brought it upon ourselves. Perhaps not directly and individually, but humanity in general, in our first parents, and in our own lives, tend towards cruelty and selfishness. Sure, bad things happen to us that we may not have directly brought upon ourselves, but there is no human being – but One – who ever suffered totally innocently.

    I will caveat what I have said with this – this is something to be discussed and debated abstractly. This is NEVER to be trotted out as a direct correlation in any particular incident (as Job’s counselors did, and as John Piper does today). This was never something we were meant to dwell on. The Lutherans are correct in this – the only and ultimate answer to suffering is to be sought only on the Cross.

    • Finished lunch? Got a strong stomach?

      Do a Google Image search. Keyword “anencephaly.”

      I’ll wait.

      • Why do you feel the need to be so mean ? It does nothing to further honest discussion where people can have different ideas. Maybe you could mask your smugness in silence.

        • Ah, so it’s freedom to disbelieve quietly, but disbelief is to be cast out of the public square, huh?

      • Yes, J, simply citing a tragic problem is not a blatant appeal to emotion but a philosophical masterstroke. I guess you are as smart as God.

      • Damaris says:

        J, it sounds as if you assume that everybody reading and commenting here has no experience of suffering, that they needed a tragic picture to open their eyes to the fact that the world is a hard place. That is likely to be a faulty assumption. Among the people reading your comments are certainly a few who have suffered tragedies as great as you’ve mentioned and yet still trust in God. They probably can’t explain to you exactly why they do; it’s the result of a relationship, of knowing someone well enough to trust him even when he can’t be understood. It’s not necessarily the result of argument.

        • Robert F says:

          Dostoevsky said something like, “My faith is not unacquainted with suffering and trials. My Hosanna has already passed through the furnace of doubt.”

    • Well given what he did to the Donatists, we can agree that Augustine knew a thing or two about just how it was that people suffered. And then there’s this:

      “Any woman who acts in such a way that she cannot give birth to as many children of which she is capable makes herself guilty of as many murders.”

      Good old Auggie.

      • Tell ya what. You don’t assume I believe *everything* that Augustine believed and have all the same hang-ups that Augustine had, and I won’t assume you to be only a stereotypical strawman atheist in return.

        Deal? 😉

  7. Mike, you wrote:

    *If the narrative that begins Job explains everything then why didn’t God just tell Job the backstory and be done with it?*

    Indeed: Why didn’t he? Why would god LIE to Job?

    • No. It’s because the backstory does not, would not, and could not be an answer that Job could comprehend or appreciate.

      The simple narrative at the beginning of the book only tells the reader that something was going on behind the scenes, a heavenly involvement and interaction between God and forces of chaos. As a wisdom tale it encourages to imagine what such an interaction might look like in human terms but it in no way serves as any kind of explanation. The ultimate point is that Job’s experience was inexplicable.

      • *No. It’s because the backstory does not, would not, and could not be an answer that Job could comprehend or appreciate,*

        Yes. There’s a reason. We are told it. But god tells a different ‘reason’. Well no, actually he doesn’t: he says to Job ‘Shut up, you have no right to ask or complain.’ So, a lie.

        *The ultimate point is that Job’s experience was inexplicable.*

        No. God lied. It’s right there. Maybe you need to have a higher opinion of scripture.

        • J, I see we’ve reached an impasse. We interpret the story of Job differently.

          What would you say the message of the book is, then?

          And why would the Jews have included it in their Bible?

          What would you suggest they think we should learn from it?

        • Christiane says:

          perhaps we humans aren’t yet ABLE to comprehend fully, we are placed ‘in time’ and cannot see the ‘big picture’

          there are surely reasons why we cannot see too far ahead on the road, and why we are protected from full knowledge of what the future holds for us . . .

          maybe ‘mystery’ is more of blessing than we know . . . a part of our humanity is that we ‘wonder’ about the great secrets of our existence so we WANT to know the answers and we are geared to seek them out . . . in German, the word for ‘mystery’ is ‘geheimnisvoll’ which means ‘full of wonder’ . . .

          perhaps ‘knowledge’ of some things is kept from us for our own good, not to ‘frustrate’ us but to give us an opportunity to ‘wonder’ . . .
          But impatience and hubris and all our pride get in the way, don’t they?

          You want to know ‘answers’ ?
          Grow still and listen to the quiet around you.

          • David H says:

            I’m sure many of the questions we have for/about God are similar to an object living in a 2D-plane wondering what it means to look “up”. Some things just don’t even make sense in our current state…

          • Comment deleted.

  8. OldProphet says:

    Great response CM For once we agree on something. This person J is just being contrary. Man, I need to relax with some Amontillado and pit on my “Winchester Cathedral” 45 and chill out.

  9. Christiane says:

    “Si enim comprehendis, non est Deus.”

    Sermo 117.3.5:
    http://augustinus.it/latino/discorsi/discorso_152_testo.htm

    “If you think you understand, it isn’t God.”
    (Søren Kierkegaard)

  10. Christiane says:

    an old Hasidic story:

    : “Rabbi Akiva was accustomed to saying “Everything Hashem does is for the good”. Once Rabbi Akiva was traveling with a donkey, rooster, and candle and when night came he tried to find lodging in a nearby village only to be turned away. Although Rabbi Akiva was forced to spend the night in the field, he did not lament his fate. Instead his reaction was “Everything Hashem does is for the best”. (It is interesting to note the difference between Rabbi Akiva and us. If for example we were learning for a long time, and we couldn’t find a place to sleep wherever we were, we would have complaints against Hashem that this is the reward we get for learning?! Yet Rabbi Akiva who obviously learned more and better than us had no such feelings). A wind came and blew out his candle, a cat ate his rooster, and a lion came and ate his donkey, and again Rabbi Akiva’s reaction was “Everything that Hashem does is for the best”. That night a regiment came and took the entire town captive, while Rabbi Akiva who was sleeping in the field went unnoticed and thus was spared. When Rabbi Akiva realized what happened he said, “Didn’t I tell you that everything that Hashem does is for the best”?” Rashi explains that if the candle, rooster or donkey would have been around, the regiment would have seen or heard them and would have also captured Rabbi Akiva.”

    http://www.neveh.org/price/price2.html

    • Sounds like fatalism to me – what a load of tosh – it’s a worry when people ascribe everything that happens to them as God’s will. God is obviously some kind of monster if that’s the case, just ask those women who’ve been raped and abused, the children subjected to abuse of all kinds, the men who’ven been murdered for believing in something other than the state or in the “wrong” God. If that’s the kind of God one has to be believe in then I refuse.

      • Christiane says:

        Hi CB
        when I taught school, one of our male teachers was in the library one day and shared that his mother-in-law’s death probably saved his daughter’s life . . . his daughter was a student at Va. Tech during the time of the massacre there, and when her grandmother died, she left school to come home for the funeral services, and it was during this time that the massacre occurred in the very building where she had many of her classes

        I remember that this was one time a conversation left me speechless:
        the teacher said at the funeral he felt a great sense of thanksgiving to his mother-in-law for ‘saving his child’s life’ . . . and then he said he wondered how her academic year would now go because a number of her professors who were to evaluate her were dead

        Coincidence?
        not to that father, no . . . there was no way you could convince him that his mother-in-law’s timing in dying did not save her grandaughter’s life . . . no way

        Fatalism? not to him . . . his daughter lives, and he was grateful for what he saw as ‘gift’

  11. charlie says:

    Great discussion.

    My take on this has always been: if I can understand it, then that would make me God….and I’m not; therefore, I will trust in a God of mystery and truth–even though there is not complete ‘understanding’ on my part. There are things about me that are a mystery to others, God is entitled to the same, I believe.

    Tagging on to Christiane: Psalm 46:10 Be still (cease striving) and know that I am God. (implication being….that we are not! This is peace)

  12. DennisB says:

    On top of all this, the viewable world is temporary, the unseen, the eternal.
    Justice & purpose needs to be measured in light of eternity not in light of the temporal.
    The Orthodox say change is still occurring after death thru eternity. So people who die early
    aren’t missing out.