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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Theodicy: the suffering God defense

Here's another excerpt from Karen Kilby's paper on theodicy. This bit is about Jürgen Moltmann. I don't myself believe the idea of God suffering answers the problem of evil, and it reminds me of a past discussion on suffering between David Bentley Hart and some others. But back to Kilby ....

[...] Does the introduction of the notion of God’s suffering in fact help to justify God? .... it is hard to see how the suffering of God can in fact help when it comes to dealing with evil. Most fundamentally, if God does stand in need of justification, then to say that God suffers cannot provide it. If I mistreat my children, then the fact that I mistreat myself as well does nothing to make it acceptable. If one wants to say that there is any level on which God is responsible for evil or suffering, whether that be by causing it or by permitting it or by creating a world in which it occurs, it is hard to see how God participating in the suffering would diminish the responsibility.

Furthermore, there is at least some danger of the proponents of a suffering God falling into the same trap as theodicists, in diminishing the scandal of evil, offering a perspective from which all is, on some level, already acceptable. At the very least they seem, like the theodicists, to be trying to bring God and evil into a kind of intellectual resolution, so that the dissonance between our conception of God and our awareness of the evil in the world around us is done away with, the two reconciled in the notion that the suffering is all already there within God. Something like this seems to be going on in Jürgen Moltmann’s references to Auschwitz. Indeed, Moltmann speaks not only of God suffering in Auschwitz but of God in his suffering as a source of comfort to those in Auschwitz. On reflection, this is a rather interesting claim. Moltmann was not himself in Auschwitz. He does not appeal to any specific testimonies that anyone did find this notion a comfort in Auschwitz. He wants to take Auschwitz with full seriousness; and yet in effect he diminishes our vision of the suffering there by asserting that those in Auschwitz were comforted. To put God into the middle of evil and suffering, then, somehow starts to make things acceptable, makes Auschwitz something that can be integrated into and dealt with in our Christian theology; the Christian has put his God in the midst of it and now it is a little tamed, no longer threatening to stop the theological enterprise.

In various ways the insistence that God suffers, especially when presented as something new and important, is in danger of being a cheap move. What Moltmann does might be taken as an illegitimate Christian takeover of Jewish suffering. But it is not only in Christian-Jewish relations that something may be going wrong here: it is also in Christian atheist relations. Asserting the suffering of God offers the theologian too easy a way to wrong-foot the protest atheist: God is made invulnerable to blame since God is now suffering more than anyone. It does not of course cost the theologian anything to attribute any level of suffering to God that she pleases, but it does give her an easy way to be taking suffering seriously and even perhaps to feel that she herself is siding with the victim ...

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