Three days ago, The New York Times published an op-ed by Harvard professor James Wood, noting that the tragedy in Haiti makes hash of theodicy and of the notion of a powerful and beneficent God. Well, Times readers couldn’t let that one go by, and so several of them wrote back. Of course they can’t reconcile the notion of a good God with natural disasters, but they try anyway:
We do not know the answer to this conundrum except to say that is the nature of freedom in an imperfect world and that is the mystery of the providence of God. God will work all things for our good even if we don’t understand. That is what faith is: the moment we say we understand, there is no longer any faith.
I love that last sentence. The guy says that we don’t understand anything about God, but he’s absolutely certain that “God will work all things for our good”! How does he know that?
This from a professor at Harvard Divinity School:
The bishop’s theology is neither mystifying nor contradictory, and in fact represents one version of a view held by many Christians and other religious people: namely, that God is deeply present in and through the events of the world — often inscrutably, but always powerfully and lovingly — and though we cannot for the life of us see how, even catastrophes include divine presence and power.
Mr. Wood may not share this view, but he has no right to scorn it, especially from a safe harbor.
Of course he has a right to scorn it! In fact, he has a duty to scorn it.
What Haiti tells us is exactly nothing about God but everything about ourselves: we are mortal and vulnerable, every one. For some, this is the beginning, not the end, of religious devotion. Is it not imperiously condescending to those Haitian Christians gathered to worship in the rubble to say that “no invocation of God beyond a desperate appeal for help makes much theological sense”? Such a worshiper might counter: suffering and death come to all, even to a God who in his love took on our mortal, vulnerable condition as his own.
James Wood neglects the two fundamental themes of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures: the Exodus and the Resurrection. Both suggest that catastrophe is never the final word and that human beings should never be without hope. A fair reading of history suggests that such hope is not misguided.
What these letters prove, as if we need more proof, is that being smart doesn’t mean that you’re rational. There is no evil, no disaster, so great that the faithful can’t rationalize it as the plan of a loving God. Could some of them please tell us what circumstance would convince them that either there is no God, or that the one who exists isn’t so benevolent after all?