Hauerwas and the “Problem” of Evil (Why Theodicies are Not the Answer)

The following is from Stanley Hauerwas’ acclaimed God, Medicine and Suffering. My students this semester in theological bioethics are reading it, and it is raising a host of unsettling but important issues to discuss.

Hauerwas points out the inadequacy of theoretical theodicies (justifications of God in the face of suffering), and in doing so offers Christians a timely reminder  as they formulate “responses” to suffering. Whether suffering be over the sea in Japan or in one’s living room with a sick child (I had two of my own children in the hospital this winter), theoretical responses to suffering are not the answer, even though they may be the ones we think must be offered.

Only after the seventeenth century did the problem of evil become the central challenge to “the coherence and intelligibility of Christian believe per se”  . . . That Christians now think the problem of suffering renders their faith in God unintelligible indicates that they now are determined by ways of life that are at odds with their fundamental convictions.

For the early Christians, suffering and evil . . . did not have to be “explained.” Rather, what was required was the means to go on even if the evil could not be “explained”—that is, it was important not to provide a theoretical account of why such evil needed to be in order that certain good results occur, since such an explanation would undercut the necessity of the community capable of absorbing suffering. [...] Continue reading