Since I wrote “Against Justification” yesterday, I thought it would be fitting today to talk about one of my hobbyhorses, which is the way people talk about theodicy, or the problem of squaring the presence of evil in the world with a good God.
It seems to me that we get this completely backwards. I mean, yes, at the intellectual level it’s an important topic to think about, and it’s good that these arguments are there (for myself, I’m completely convinced by “free will” theodicy and I can write more about that if you want), and it’s good that we think about this stuff.
But the problem is that to even try to answer the question of theodicy is, it seems to me, to take the Gospel backwards.
The Jesus of the Gospel is utterly uninterested in giving explanations of why people suffer. He’s just interested in healing people’s sufferings. The entire logic of the Gospel is not about explaining evil, but crushing it and saving us from it.
It seems to me that we shouldn’t ask ourselves the question “Why does a good God let suffering and evil happen?”
I think we need to instead ask something like this question: “There is suffering and evil in the world–now what are you going to do about it?”
Christianity not only says that there is a (albeit mysterious) reason for the suffering and evil in the world, it says that all of this suffering and evil in the world has been taken by God Himself and utterly destroyed, so that when the Universe is finally realized all will be radiant and glorious and every tear will be wiped from every eye. It says that all suffering and evil is born by the only one who can bear it, who helps you bear it, and can even help you turn it into good. It says that suffering and evil in the world is, indeed, a grievous injustice that cries out for all men of good will to combat it, and it enrolls you in God’s Army in this cosmic battle against evil, a battle where victory is certain.
The reason why I think this is important is not just because I think it’s better apologetics (though I do), it’s because it matches up with the way Christianity is actually properly experienced. When people suffer, they become more religious, not less. Christianity is a salve for people who are broken down and beaten and despairing and crying out for justice. When we let suffering and evil become an obstacle to our Christianity rather than a reason for it, I think we might be entering into the realm of a bourgeois, natural religion, where everything is just fine in your life, and religion is a part of your life that’s over there, and a thing you do in order to placate the gods and check metaphysical boxes so that your bourgeois life can keep humming on its merry way, such that when suffering and evil happens it’s God who’s somehow to blame because he didn’t fulfill His end of the bargain.
Christianity is not an explanation for why things are. It is an encounter with the man on the Cross, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Behold this broken form, crowned with thorns, and kneel at the altar of his mighty Cross, and kiss his pierced, bloody feet. That’s your theodicy.