The pseudonymous Larry Niven blogging as the <a target=”_blank” href=””>Rust Belt Philosopher</a> often attacks various defenses of the theodicy problem. I haven’t been reading his blog for much more than a month but it seems possibly he locates the best and most potent objections to Christian belief in the failure, in his view, to solve the theodicy problem adequately. On one former post I had commenting his comments on theodicy he remarked that I’d “offered nothing new.” Well here is something, perhaps, new.
Theodicy centers on the question of why does the Christian God who has been declared to have significant power in the universe and who is claimed to be Good then allow evil and unearned suffering to be subjected to the innocent. I will now attempt to present what might be considered a narrative defense of this question.

Why is Dicken’s Tiny Tim allowed to suffer, Dickens is writing stories and we will, for now, assume that the story has in mind the furtherance of good and furthermore as author commands complete control over his story. Why does any number of good characters in narratives by any number of authors allow minor characters to suffer undeserved evil? Dickens is not unique. Any number of minor (and major) characters undeserved suffering in novels in which the end of the author was to expose and explore truth and beauty. The crux of the narrative theodicy response that the suffering of the underserved is justified by the demands of the larger narrative. Yet at the same time, unlike in a writers narrative, the protagonists have free will. They can make moral choices and as a result can fail to rise to fulfill the role to which they were fit.

In the book about the life of <i><a href=”;tag=pseudopolym05-20&amp;link_code=as3&amp;camp=211189&amp;creative=373489&amp;creativeASIN=0881411809″ id=”static_txt_preview”>Father Arseny, 1893-1973</a></i> toward the end of the book (which contains fragmented stories from people whose lives where touched by Fr Arseny) there is a report of a particular saintly woman, Mother Maria of whom Fr Arseny hears her final confession. The person recounting this story fragment is confused as to why Fr Arseny was so affected by her confession and life’s story for to him here story seemed mundane and ordinary. Fr Arseny explains that at this point in his life, as his own mortality was near, he was so very thankful that God gave to him the chance to hear her story and her example, which was a continual narrative of her putting her own concerns and desires aside for the sake others linked at the same time with a continual turning towards God. My suggestion here is that the suffering of those around her (whom she helped) provided grist for her life’s story <i>for the benefit</i> of Fr Arseny and his story, which being shared helps the rest of us.

Modern materialism rejects the notion that there is purpose in the unfolding of our lives and in history. Dame fortuna for the materialist reigns supreme. So the question of a narrative theodicy requires some justification for rejecting dumb luck as the only meaning for our lives. The question is not to test the narrative model against the materialist model per se (at least to begin) but first to examine if the narrative model is internally consistent.

Judeo-Christian tenents from Genesis and other writings offer that we are both made in God’s image <i>and </i>suggest that narrative is a key feature of both God’s plan and our nature. The notion of God’s unfolding narrative with Israel is not foreign to the text or the interpretative tradition. In the narrative of the man born blind in the Gospel of John the answer to why he might have suffered for decades as a blind man was answered in effect that it was so because he was to take part in <i>this narrative </i>unfolding today, i.e., so that Jesus might heal him. The justification for his being blind was his role in the narrative of Jesus life. Charles Taylor in <i>the Secular Age</i> recounts many of the reasons and mechanisms that arose through the previous four or five centuries that meaning has been leached from our view of history and the world around us.

This is all I have time for tonight, so at this point discussion may be fruitful. Hopefully there may be enough here to chew on.

Filed under: ChristianityEthics & MoralityMark O.Religion

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