Today our faculty book discussion group continued its discussion of Philip Kitcher’s book, began Charles Taylor’s monumental A Secular Age, as well as a couple of articles by Mackey and Swinburne on the problem of evil thrown in.
If there is one key thought I’d share as regards faith and the loss or lack thereof, much revolves around the depiction of God as a person very much like us, and the correlated problem of evil.
My advice to people of faith is as follows. Don’t try to suggest that appeal to God makes a tragedy into something other than a tragedy. Don’t suggest that an afterlife, or God’s inscrutible plan, or some other unseen factor makes the senseless loss of life into something intelligible.
If one or the other of those doctrines helps you personally, that is fine. It was, indeed, to make sense of such things that the doctrine of the afterlife was first introduced into Judaism. But certainly the two together are somewhat redundant and lead to problematic conclusions. It makes sense, on a certain level, to suggest that God will compensate his faithful martyrs. It may appear to some to make sense to say ‘everything happens for a reason’. But to suggest that it was God’s will for people to be martyred because it is for a greater good, and that the individual in question will be rewarded, seems overkill. If you have to try that hard, it is probably a sign that the solution is not particularly satisfying or effective.
Take to heart the message of the book of Job. Interpreting the suffering of others is always a bad idea. If a particular doctrine helps you work things through yourself, that is one thing. But to offer interpretations of the suffering of others is unlikely to lead anyplace helpful.
I suspect that many people have lost their faith over the problem of suffering and its apparent senselessness. But I also suspect that for many it was the incongruity of the genuinely painful and inexplicable circumstances and pain they were passing through, combined with the confident pat answers offered by the ‘faithful’, that have often been the key catalyst to a loss of faith.
As long as Job’s friends sat with him quietly, I suspect that their presence was a comfort to him. May we be granted the wisdom and strength to follow their example that far and no further.