Tuesday, March 06, 2018

I'm afraid of the dark

One of the challenges of theodicy is that different people seem to be wired differently. Some people take comfort in knowing that everything, including–or especially–the bad things are inside God's will, while other people find that utterly appalling and take comfort in the belief that bad things are outside God's will. Some Christians find Calvinism the most consoling theology while others find it the most repellant. I wonder to what extent that's a temperamental. Take the freewill defense or Boyd's cosmic warfare theodicy. Compare it to this reaction:

My experiences in life and in medicine have not always reinforced religious faith. For many years, I had difficulty believing that God even exists, much less pays attention to the human condition. Although I now believe that it is "more likely than not" that there is a God, my doubts regarding his involvement in the world are legion, often oppressive. 

The most serious barrier to belief, for me, remains the problem of pain, especially as I have seen it in the suffering of children. For a long time after my first leukemia patient died–she was a beautiful, frightened, four-year-old redhead named Amy–I had difficulty believing in God. One night in the hospital, she held my hand tightly and asked, "Am I going to die"? Perhaps sensing the affirmative in my hesitation, she added, "But Doctor C., I don't want to die. I'm afraid of the dark". 

The answers of my theologian friends–that freedom is the highest good, that divine self-restraint is of paramount importance in the celestial controversy between good and evil, that it is our response to suffering, not the pain itself, that matters–ring hollow within the echoing walls of a morgue at the autopsy of a child. Donna Carlson, "My Journey of Faith in Medicine", R. Rice, Suffering and the Search for Meaning (IVP 2014), 126-27. 

Many freewill theists act as though the assumptions of the freewill defense or cosmic warfare are self-evident, but to outsiders, these are deeply implausible. My point is not that this disproves freewill theism singlehandedly, but it punctures the facile, intuitive appeal. You can see how impatient Dr. Carson is with that those bromides and platitudes. 

We also need to distinguish between theodicies which people adopt in the abstract, and what happens when they experience evil and suffering up close and personal. Certain theodicies logically pair off with certain theological traditions. If you espouse that tradition, you automatically espouse the attendant theodicy. But that may be before you've had occasion to put it to the test in your own experience. Some people revise their theology and theodicy when evil comes knocking. They may revise it for the better or the worse. 

In some cases, there are knee-jerk objections to a particular theodicy by people who haven't thought it through. If their objections were subjected to probing analysis, they might reconsider. 

In addition, people work with what's available to them. Take Rabbi Kushner's finite theism. But he's Jewish, and what is more, he's on the more liberal end of the spectrum, so given his starting-point, does Judaism, or his brand of Judaism in particular, even have the resources to furnish a better theodicy? 

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