Monday, November 5, 2007

Suffering, evil and God

My last year in seminary I took a wonderful class on suffering and evil. I say wonderful, but the class was in fact excruciating--some of the readings we did were wrenching, and though we read many theories on theodicy, there really were no satisfactory answers. In a semester in which most of us were stressed out from the job quest and our approaching graduations and ordinations, it seemed all the more intense.

It was, nonetheless, a great class in the way it made me think and stretch my theology. So this book review in the New York Times caught my eye. The authors of the books reviewed are a study in contrasts--one a biblical scholar whose work contributed to his loss of faith, the other a philosopher who spent much of his career writing as an atheist but who came to faith later in life. Neither of them can answer the question of why God allows evil in the world, why a good God lets the people God loves suffer, but it is interesting to me how these unanswerable questions affected their beliefs.

As for me, at the end of my class I had no more answers about evil and suffering than I had when I started. What I concluded, however, was that how we respond to evil and suffering matters more than understanding why it exists. If we can resist evil, if we can show mercy and work for justice, if we can respond to suffering with the kind of love and compassion God models for us, perhaps that's the best we can hope for.

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