The book that I'm reading at the moment has my attention. Even though I thought to swear off theology books for a while this one is different. I won't give it a complete review here because I'm not the least bit objective at the moment. I will say that I highly recommend it.
The book is written in the first person by a character who seems to be a minor disciple in the troupe that follows Jesus in his earthly ministry. What makes the story so fascinating is that the author chases it back and forth across time and space as if the story of Jesus' time on earth were taking place in our day, at least in some respects. If that makes no sense at all to you then you simply have to read it.
What has my rapt attention at the moment is what narrator has to say about theodicy, the question of good and evil, the question that he says, "bends his spine."
Whenever you ask why evil exists, why sin seems profitable or why bad things happen to good people - why, oh God, did a train hit this young man's car? - you have entered the dark realm of theodicy...
...Almost half of Christianity is theodicy. We dress it up with other words - soteriology, atonement, blah, blah, blah - but if you close your eyes and listen to it, you'll recognize the duch by the quack it makes. Atheism generally makes the same sound, too; it just faces the other direction, unhappy with what it hears. We're all out here in the swamp, trying to make sense out of conflicting data. [page 128]
The word theodicy, he explains, comes from the Greek words theo for God and dikaioo for "to justify." In contrast to what we think religion is all about, our own justification, it is really our vain, impossible task to justify God. It is our desparate attempt to understand how He can be in control of all that is when our very existence seems to be ruled by chaos, to understand how He can love us when every human life, EVERY HUMAN LIFE, is touched by suffering. It's the question that bends my spine as well.
Last night I found out that the nineteen-year-old daughter of a dear friend just died. I didn't know her very well; you could count the conversations I've ever had with her on one hand. But I can honestly say that every time I spoke with her I was impressed with her. She was bright, confident, witty and genuinely concerned with others. I was sure that no matter what she'd choose to do in life she would be successful at it. But this weird accident cut her life short.
Questions of theology in general and theodicy in particular become something altogether more real when the void claims one so young with so much promise; all the more when that someone is your daughter or your sister or your friend. All the theories and principles fade to the background against the anguished cry, why, God, WHY? How does this possibly serve your great purposes?
We just huddle closer against the dark and mix our tears together and sob our prayers. What more can we do?