18 July 2008

the triumph of god over evil [1/4]

William Hasker, The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008).

The dialogue regarding God, suffering and evil has been long and often confusing (especially for many people who are struggling to find answers to their particular situations).  Indeed, most treatments on the topic tend to err by being overly theoretical and philosophical that they do not lend any support or comfort to the suffering, or they are so comfort-minded that they accomplish little more than simple reassurance and some quick counseling.  While I concede the need for either of these two options at particular points in time, neither really gets to the heart of the problem - to construct an understanding of God and the world which answers the problem of evil in the world while also maintaining the image of God which is envisaged by Scripture (and the church).

To this end, Hasker provides a solid step forward.

In the introduction is found this caveat: "To put it more briefly: a Christian response to the problem of evil should not be focused too exclusively on evil" (10).  At this point I realized that I would appreciate the author's perspective on the subject (and direction of the book), for he is quite right that too often we approach the topic (and many other theological/biblical discussions!) without adequately considering the biblical data.  Although this is a philosophical treatment to the discussion Hasker clearly writes from the position of Christian theism, a commitment which keeps him heading in the right direction on this point.

What Hasker is attempting to do in the present work is create a theodicy regarding the nature of the world of suffering.  Since a number of different understandings and definitions of this exist, he clarifies his approach as one which "seeks to provide a justifying reason for the existence of the evil in the world, a reason such that, if it obtains, God is not morally at fault for permitting the evil" (20, emphasis in original).

He begins by offering a review and evaluation of the current "state of play" in the work being done on the question of suffering - an overview of various arguments and defenses.  One of the first and fundamental questions which he raises in the book concerns the fundamental nature of these other options and defenses: "It seems clear, furthermore, that the most important question that needs to be asked about these arguments concerns their cogency as judged in the light of assumptions that are congruent with the religious worldview that is being called into question" (16, emphasis in original).

Finally, Hasker reviews his own theological disposition to approaching the problem of suffering.  As an open theist he works from the understanding that God does not control every aspect of creation - that there are elements which act outside of his will.  Although no open theist would deny that suffering can be explained (or that anyone would find comfort in these other models), I personally believe that issues surrounding suffering and evil provide opportunity for the openness model to demonstrate one of the strongest aspects of their position.  And Hasker indeed capitalizes on this in various points throughout the book.

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