Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

God, Floods, and Evil

My friend Harold Ernst, a theologian studying at Notre Dame, passes on these comments, regarding our discussion on "Tsunamis and Moral Anthropology":

Rob's concluding challenge, "What do we have to say for God?", draws to mind an
essay of the English Dominican Herbert McCabe, titled simply "Evil," that
appears in God Matters (Templegate, 1987).  It is a philosophical defense,
broadly Thomistic in character, to the kind of "God in the dock" perspective
Rob assumes.  The essay is useful, I think, for bringing some intellectual
clarity to which aspects require, and which do not require, recourse to what
Rob terms the mystery of God "cop-out."  What is more, the tenor of the essay
is methodologically instructive, for it only attempts to answer rational
attacks on the legitimacy of religious belief by rebutting those arguments on
their own terms.  This approach concedes (as Susan does) that such
argumentation cannot rationally prove faith convictions to unbelievers, but
only demonstrate that those convictions are not philosophically incoherent or
irrational (faith is above reason, but not against reason).  As Newman said,
"it is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing."
Two other brief comments, each of which may be a mere quibble given the context
of their overall remarks.  Rob notes the particular poignancy of this natural
disaster occurring at Christmas, for relative to its scale "the divine concern
for humanity promised by the Incarnation seems relatively meaningless."  While
this remark no doubt reflects an understandable degree of immediate despair
over the present enormity of human suffering, it nonetheless suggests a wholly
inadequate appreciation of what God has accomplished by means of the
Incarnation.  We live, after all, in the "in between times" where the kingdom
of God is both "already" and "not yet."  The promise of the Incarnation is
primarily of an eschatological reality, and those who seek to live in imitatio
Christi cannot reasonably expect that our earthly existence will be, as it
were, all beer and skittles.
Susan makes a similar point at the conclusion of her response to Rob, then adds:
"And God weeps along with us at their deaths and at the suffering of those left
behind."  In making this addition she touches on a highly controversial
question in contemporary theology, whether and how God (qua God) might suffer
in solidarity with suffering humanity.  A book length treatment that explores
the historical tradition on this point, and highlights how the contemporary
predisposition for affirming God's suffering is theologically problematic, is
Thomas Weinandy's Does God Suffer? (T&T Clark, 2000).


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