I kept coming across this word ‘theodicy’, which was unfamiliar to me.. I had to look it up.
I discovered that the term is fairly recent, having been invented by the philosopher Leibniz; it refers to the attempt to understand how God can be a being of Love whilst at the same time the world God has made is full to the brim with forceful spiritual evil, and is also overflowing with terrible human suffering— including the innocent suffering of the guiltless and the vulnerable. The holocaust makes the traditional rhetoric about God – that divinity is all loving, all powerful, all knowing – seem like pap designed for the naïve, the credulous, those not really awake in the here and now. As a Jewish rabbi said to me about the catastrophe that befell the Jews, ‘we knew we were bad, but not that bad.’ The abuse of defenceless children, in all the many ways they are harmed from their entry into this world, is another example, and arguably, even worse.
Why does God, if loving, allow evil, and suffering, in the world?
A theodicy supposedly answers this question..
Augustine [of North Africa] provides the paradigm for Western [Roman Catholic and Protestant] Christian theodicy. Irenaeus [of Celtic Gaul] provides the paradigm for Eastern Orthodox Christian theodicy. If I must choose, I reject Augustine and go with Irenaeus.
However, it cannot be as straightforward as that..
Ivan — in Dostoyevsky’s last and best novel, ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ — puts the case against God, an anti-theodicy, with far more power than any theodicy has ever roused. There is a profound, and valid, reason for that. If we could accept there was no God, or that God was not a being of Love, then trying to ‘reconcile’ in the same world divine love with spiritual evil and human suffering would not be so difficult. This problem of love, evil, suffering, all co-existing hurts the human heart. The rational arguments for or against any theodicy, whether supporting the Satanic Augustine or the more illumined Irenaeus, do not stand up against that pain. They come over as rationalisations, as justifications, for the inexplicable and the inexcusable.
Dostoyevsky’s novel seeks to answer Ivan’s case — so real and true to the deep pain in the human heart in regard to God — not by rational counter arguments, but in the pathos of living and in the mystery of heart action. The answer is in the story, when you really live, and when you really act.. The case against God, the anti-theodicy, cannot be answered rationally. Only in life, only in action, does the hurt heart receive any answer.
The young brother of Ivan, Alyosha, who is an untried Christian, listens attentively to Ivan’s anti-theodicy, and agrees with it! Only in life, only in action, only in the terror and beauty, the grief and glory, of passion as lived to the end, as acted to the maximum, will any ‘reply’ by God to the human heart ever be given..
But this was like a shattering lightning flash. Suddenly I realised something essential, basic, to all the passion writings.
Their account of what passion really is, and what passion really is doing, does not start with innocent, childlike, youthful passion. It acknowledges that origin, but only hots up round the more adult passion that is wounded, and by being made to suffer, is deepened. Similarly, the other hotting up is the passion that is thrown into the battle between love and evil for the world.
Suddenly, it hit me hard why this emphasis arose..
The passion writings are not building a new theodicy. Obviously they are closer to Irenaeus than to Augustine, but that is not the point.
The passion writings start with Ivan’s case against God, they begin in Ivan’s anti-theodicy.
They begin, in short, in the pain in the human heart in regard to God. This is the deep pain, the really deep pain, in the human heart.
This is the pain which the passion writings, all of them, take as the valid point of departure.
This is not about, is there a God? The human heart would not be hurt as it is, the human heart would not be broken as it is, if there were no God.
The numinous pain at the root of human existence would evaporate if it could be persuaded, quite simply, there is no God.
The pain deep in the human heart knows something worse than that.
This is about, what kind of God is there, who would allow what is allowed? What kind of God is there, who would allow what befalls us? What is this God doing with us? What is this God doing with the world?
It is not a matter of faith, or not faith. It is a matter of what kind of faith. How can I risk and venture, commit and give, my heart to this God who makes it hurt so much?
Can I trust this God?
Can I entrust my life, the life of all those I love, and the life of all the world, to such a God?
This God, the real God, the God of the deep pain and the God of the heartbreak, is not who or what conventional piety, or theological apology, says God is.
In the heart, we all know that.
The ‘usual’ God we are sold is false.
God is stranger, darker, deeper, more relentless, than anything we would choose, or are prepared for.
We know God’s love, spiritual evil, human suffering, are bound together, and so there is no way to escape the offence, the tears, of the heart.
We do not need any rational answer that could be put into words.
What we need is a different ‘ground’, despite its existential groundlessness, for our leap into the unknown when, against all the evidence, and against all the odds, we put our faith in this God in whom love, evil, suffering, are bound together as a mystery of the heart, divine and human.
We need a different way of coming to terms with the God whom we have to trust, by how we live and act from the heart.
Thus it hit me hard, the passion writings are not any sort of theodicy. They take Ivan’s anti-theodicy as their point of departure.
The heart hurts, profoundly, and gravely.
The hurt in regard to God is valid. Here, and only here, can we begin.
It is fashionable for modern people to stop at this point. Given Ivan’s anti-theodicy — or any host of other similar versions of anti-theodicy expressed post holocaust or post the abuse of children — we might stop, give up and give in, in regard to the heart’s mysterious pain toward God.
The passion writings do the converse.
They begin with this numinous heart pain towards God.
Passion begins where all else ends.
Passion begins with the heart pain about God, and refuses to let that be the end. It goes farther, on and on, to the real end.
Passion says to the broken, those who are finished with the heart, and those who think they have ‘good reason’ to stop with the heart, risking it no more= you are not at the end. You have hesitated, you have stalled, half way. It is from this point onwards it gets interesting for the heart.
In the midst of the heartbreak about God that finishes everyone and everything, passion stirs.
It is irrational, and it is spirited. Passion gets up off the floor, and sees it through to the real end, beyond human heartbreak.
Passion begins where all the rest ends.
We do not want a better theodicy.
We want the living road, the road of action, that starts in anti-theodicy, and finds the abysmal ground of all the terror and beauty, the grief and glory, that our heart is subject to in this world.
The fate that ends it all for so many is where passion really begins.