“Deconstructing” Theodicy—the Surprising Utility of Profound Disillusionment

A guest post by Jim Reitman

“Ours is not to reason why; ours is but to do or die.” -Alfred Lord Tennyson

Perhaps the hardest interpretive “pill” to swallow in the history of interpretation of Job has been the apparent contradiction between Job’s steadfast faith and God’s blistering sarcasm when He finally appears to confront Job (Job 38-41). Even after Job seemingly bows in deference to God’s challenge (40:4-5), God never explains his suffering and only escalates the irony and sarcasm in his reply (40:6-41:34). What’s up with that?

Let’s look more closely. The KJV “Behold, I am vile” (40:4) misconstrues the Hebrew-the word translated “vile” is best rendered “insignificant,” and we finally get our needed insight into YHWH’s scathing rhetoric: God has just painstakingly informed Job of His intricate design and care in all Creation, placing man in an exalted position of dominion (Job 38-39, cf. Psalm 8). Accordingly, Job’s retort “Behold, I am insignificant” (40:4) amounts to a bold denial of God’s creative/redemptive character; Job still maintains that God has unfairly confiscated his entire estate as he has contended since Job 29-31. Job’s apparent humble submission is thereby unmasked as obstinate pride.

If we think God’s scathing sarcasm is unfair leverage on Job Continue reading

On Theodicy and Practical Theology

How do our ‘answers’ to the questions of evil relate to our ‘practices’, both individually and ecclesially?

John Swinton offers a compelling proposal for a practical theodicy that is able to surmount what he perceives as the severe theological and pastoral limitations of purely philosophical answers to “the problem of evil.” He explains,

I maintain that theodicy should not be understood as a series of disembodied arguments designed to defend God’s love, goodness, and power. We require a different mode of understanding, a mode of theodicy that is embodied within the life and practices of the Christian community. Such a mode of theodicy does not seek primarily to explain evil and suffering, but rather presents ways in which evil and suffering can be resisted and transformed by the Christian community and in so doing, can enable Christians to live faithfully in the midst of unanswered questions as they await God’s redemption of the whole of creation (Raging with Compassion, p. 4).

Our focus shouldn’t rest then on “why” evil exists, instead - relying heavily on Hauerwas here – “how can we build communities that absorb suffering and enable faithful living in the midst of evil.”

Rather than approaching the problem of evil by beginning with the “concept of evil” and the “concept of a loving God”, the proper starting point Continue reading