Suffering and the Search for a Modern Theodicy

By Nordengren, Chase | National Catholic Reporter, February 15, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Suffering and the Search for a Modern Theodicy


Nordengren, Chase, National Catholic Reporter


On a recent evening, I was sitting in front of our local newscast as a local Lutheran pastor was interviewed for the show's signature conversation segment. The pastor was asked to discuss the nature of God's love in the light of apparent evil and tragedies like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. Per the segment's gimmick, the pastor had three minutes. A countdown clock rattled those precious seconds off on the lower right-hand corner of the screen.

Sandy Hook prompted a renewed search for the cause of violence and destruction: Once again, we've begun to examine guns, mental health, video games and every other social cause we can imagine. Public policy should take on these issues with care; in particular, it is now clear the easy availability of powerful firearms greatly magnifies the severity of incidences like these.

Explaining the evil that visited that community, however, will likely require much more than three minutes.

2012 was a rather poor year for theodicy in our public life. Theodicy is the attempt to reconcile the omnibenevolent God with evil and suffering in the world and is a rather crucial part of how we engage with our spiritual life. We ask our pastors and preachers to support us as we suffer, to show us God's love in the midst of that suffering.

Public figures have been no help. In August, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, a former Presbyterian seminarian, attempted to reconcile the realities of rape and unintended pregnancy by arguing victims of "legitimate rape" have biological mechanisms that prevent pregnancy. By December, an ordained minister, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said we should not be "so surprised" at events such as the Sandy Hook massacre when "we have systematically removed God from our schools." Gay marriage in particular has been a source of blame. In 2012, pastors cited God's anger over marriage equality as the source of hurricanes, the September attack on the United States embassy in Libya, and a variety of mass-shooting incidents.

Statements like these are appalling on their face. Beyond that, however, their utter simplicity belies a conceptual problem that might be driving the public away from Christian life.

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