Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Tsunamis and Theodicy: Remembering Lisbon, 1755

The news from South Asia continues to be very bad. I will assume you know where to go for the news.

There is a possibility that the tsunami disaster may become the Lisbon earthquake of our time. In 1755, an earthquake of similar magnitude (estimated 9.0) to the Sumatran earthquake struck off the coast of Portugal; the loss of life from the earthquake, fire, and tsunamis exceeded 60,000. Europe was traumatized, and many began to question the goodness of the Providence of God, most notably Voltaire in "Candide."

The bloggers at Mirror of Justice have asked for responses:
It seems to me that if we want a moral anthropology rooted in the Incarnation to be taken seriously, we must try to offer an explanation of a world in which tsunamis rip children from their mothers' arms.
I will leave this task to others, not because theodicy is impossible or offensive, but because I would do it as badly as Job's comforters did. Plus, I just don't feel up to it; I feel considerable sympathy today with those who ask "why?"

I will give this link to an article by Richard Swinburne, in my opinion the greatest living Christian philosopher. It is a demanding article; he's a real philosopher in the analytic tradition. But this final paragraph is clear enough:
A theodicist is in a better position to defend a theodicy such as I have outlined if he is prepared also to make the further additional claim — that God knowing the worthwhileness of the conquest of evil and the perfecting of the universe by men, shared with them this task by subjecting himself as man to the evil in the world. A creator is more justified in creating or permitting evils to be overcome by his creatures if he is prepared to share with them the burden of the suffering and effort.
World Vision is mobilizing relief efforts, as are many others.

UPDATE: Mirror of Justice summarizes responses here. See also a thought-provoking post from Ann Althouse.

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