Theodicy is an attempt to justify God or the ways of God before the bar of reason or experience. When calamities occur we often see two kinds of theodicies: some defend God’s honor and glory and love by pointing to the sinfulness of humans, while others tend to defend God’s ways by appealing to mystery or to “we just don’t know but we know God is good.” Both of these are instances of the same species: one defends God’s justice and love while the other defends God’s love and justice. Many lack the very point Brian Zahnd recently made in his post about windbag speeches, which is what many, many theodicies are — just windbag speeches. Instead of saying “It’s our fault,” which surely taps a problem, or instead of saying “No way God is behind that,” which also taps on the problem, perhaps we should learn to see the whole from the angle of the cross, and God’s solidarity with suffering in order to transform death into life.
This much I am sure of: The satan has reappeared in the story in the form of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Their insistence on talking and explaining has inevitably led to accusing and tormenting blameless Job. Finally Job can stand it no more and explodes…
I’ve had all I can take of your talk.
What a bunch of miserable comforters!
Is there no end to your windbag speeches?
What’s your problem that you go on and on like this?
(Job 16:2-3 MSG)
Yeah. Windbag speeches. What is your problem? Why go on and on like that?! It’s just plain cruel.
A cruelty rooted in defending the false comfort of theological certitude.
Or was it just the cruelty of talking too much?
And just in case you’re somehow inclined to defend the Eliphaz gang, don’t forget this…
After God had finished addressing Job, he turned to Eliphaz the Temanite and said, “I’ve had it with you and your two friends. I’m fed up! You haven’t been honest either with me or about me — not the way Job has.” (Job 42:7 MSG)
And how does God defend himself in the “whirlwind speeches”?
As far as I can tell he doesn’t — unless it’s by way of implication. Is God implying something like this: “Look, I’m the Creator. And if there is something wrong, I know about it and I’ll do something about it. I know the buck stops here.” Is that what God is implying? Perhaps. I’m not sure.
I am convinced that the closest thing we have to a Christian theodicy is simply this:
The world is full of unjust suffering. This is true. But God has not exempted himself from it. In Christ, God has joined us in the reality of human suffering. If the question is “Where was God?” — the Christian answer is, “There, upon the cross, joining us in solidarity with our suffering.”
I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer was on to something when he said, “Only the suffering God can help.”