Theodicy isn’t one of my favorite words. For starters, it’s one of those seminary words that just doesn’t come up in every day usage. I can’t recall having heard it more than once or twice per decade in church.
Yeah, I know, I go to a dumbed-down church…but I started Catholic, went for a while to the catholic half-way house of the Anglicans, and now am a confessional Baptist. This word is not used much in any of these churches, at least those I attended.
My dictionary defines the word as “a system of natural theology aimed at seeking to vindicate divine justice in allowing evil to exist.” It would be simpler to call it “the problem of evil.” As in, why does an all-powerful, all-knowing God, who is “good,” allow evil to flourish? As usual, it is a fair dart, more like a spear, thrown at believers by atheists and agnostics.
A recent debate on this topic is written up rather nicely at First Things by Anthony Sacramone: “Why Do the Heathen Rage?”. The point around which the essay is written is the sheer unfairness when one child is saved from disaster, while many others perish. Where was God? Out for a lunch break? From the First Things essay:
…there’s the “already” of salvation history—He is risen—and the “not yet.” And the “not yet” entails suffering in this passing age—suffering that is often unjust and seemingly pointless, but in the hands of a sovereign and Good God a tool to conform his children to the image of his Only Begotten, the true purpose of their predestination. (So as not to be misunderstood, because suffering falls within the permissive will of God, and can even be used by him for ultimately good ends, is no excuse for complacency; the alleviation of pain, done in the name of Jesus, is, like preaching and teaching, a heralding of the kingdom and a diffusion of hope.)
Now, a sovereign God does not displace secondary causes in Christians’ thinking about how the world works. Shifting tectonic plates do give rise to earthquakes and tsunamis. But Christians also believe God continues to intervene in the affairs of his creatures and does so to remind them that the world and its horrors are not beyond his purview, and that the saved child and the answered prayer is a foretaste of the age to come, in which every tear shall be wiped away and the body will no longer be an occasion of sin or pain.
But a foretaste only. Which is why sometimes only one child is saved. And why only Lazarus is raised from the dead. They are signs of the “already,” while the rest endure the “not yet.” Hints, whispers, and still small voices until the full number of the Elect have come into the Kingdom and the very last fundamentalist Darwinian has raged.
In war, we talk of “Indian Country,” meaning hostile territory where one must assume that all persons are out to kill you. Well, brothers and sisters, the world itself is Indian Country, Satan’s domain. While all persons may not be gunning for you, understand this: you’re under a sentence of death, a big ol’ fatwa, with Satan his own self writing the damning thing in our blood.
The conclusion of the First Things author? It boils down to faith; that our faith in the risen Christ will see us through to the other side, to God’s side, and away from Satan’s domain. Our faith that those of us chosen (or who choose; leaving aside any arguments between John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius), will lead us to salvation.
Strangely enough, this is what my wife and I discussed over some very fine food today, and while I’m more “learned” than she is, her faith is as a supernova, mine a sputtering candle. So I listen; the Spirit talks through her.
Her take? Even Satan, as one of God’s higher creatures, had free will, and it is our free will that traps us in evil. And that God’s purpose in keeping us poor creatures in the trap for all these centuries?
To refine us, as a metal in the fire, so that we, as as a species, will become worthy to sit at the throne.