Generous Orthodoxy  




Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The New Yorker takes on the perpetual problem of suffering and God

The widely admired critic James Wood has an article in the June 9 issue of The New Yorker about the problem of evil and suffering. It is pretty good as such articles go. Wood, raised as a Christian, understands at least some things about the faith and, unlike the New Atheists, he is polite about it. He's right to say that the enterprise of theodicy (the attempt to explain God and suffering) is essentially jejune. He is also right to say that the Bible depicts an intervening God on every page, a fact that many theological liberals choose to ignore. He's right, in listing the typical responses from average Christians, to brand them glib at best and monstrous at worst. And His "rage against explanation" (David B. Hart's phrase) is commendable.

However, there are some problems with his essay-review (the book he is putatively reviewing is Bart Ehrman's God's Problem). Like so many other essayists on this subject, he does not dig deeply enough into the best of the Christian tradition. If he has read Hart's peerless book about the issues raised by the tsunami (The Doors of the Sea--Eerdmans), he does not indicate it. He seems to think he has discovered something new when he says that the story of the woman taken in adultery was not originally part of the Gospel of John (in the ineffable words of Dick Cheney, "So?"). And he has little to say about the central place of the crucifixion of Christ.

I have been working on a chapter about this intractable problem of evil and suffering, the greatest of all. I have finished the first draft. It has taken me two years. The problem remains the great unanswerable dilemma of existence. There is no satisfactory "answer" to the problem. For Christians, there is only solidarity, resistance, and witness. Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa comes closest. Here is the link to Wood's article (I don't know how long it will remain accessible to non-subscribers):

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2008/06/09/080609crbo_books_wood?currentPage=all