Preface to the Second Edition


In her 2003 book, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, Susan Neiman has quoted Hanna Arendt's rather sarcastic description of theodicy as being "…one of those strange justifications of God or of Being, which ever since the 17th Century, philosophers felt were needed to reconcile man's mind to the world…" Neiman herself goes on to state that "Theodicy in the narrow sense allows the believer to maintain faith in God in the face of the world's evils" and that "Theodicy in the broad sense, is any way of giving meaning to evil that helps us face despair." The aim of my book, despite its brevity, has been not only to do both but considerably more.  It is not enough to be reconciled to the world or to simply face despair. Nor is it enough to maintain faith in God: too often this belief has been an excuse for doing little about evil. Instead of reconciliation with the world or mere maintenance of belief, we must strengthen and deepen our theological motivations for conquering evil in all its forms.

While the term "theodicy" may be relatively new, (see Appendix for more on that) the attempt "to justify God's ways to man" has been part of an effort that reaches far back in human history—even beyond the biblical Book of Job back to the various creation myths and other stories of ancient times—and yet again, forward into recent times. But it seems that none of these attempts, no matter how elaborate, have proved satisfactory when we have to face the really hard questions concerning evil in all of its forms. Over and over again theodicy has turned out to be "the moment of truth" for theology, and when judged by that standard, it seems that most theologies have failed. 

     Why is this? I believe that the failure has been because, in our desperate attempts to find a solution, we have too often ended up denying the reality of any one or more of four crucial components.

Some (and this usually has been the fault of many religious thinkers) have seemed to deny the reality of evil, or at least its importance, often because it is seen as being but a temporary phenomenon to be ignored with the counsel that "this too shall pass."  After Auschwitz and the other genocides of recent memory, such a denial is hardly tolerable today.  

Others, for very similar reasons, but usually expressed in more philosophical terms, have even denied the reality of the world.  The impermanence of all things in this world, indeed, perhaps of the whole universe itself, too often exerts a strong temptation not to take anything all that seriously, either in life or in death.  But, again, except for those who would retreat into a kind of world-denying idealism, such a strategy can be seen only as an escape from reality itself.

Then there are those who would deny the reality of human freedom, hence any human responsibility for evil in the world.  Although this view may have the advantage of seeming to get us "off the hook", so to speak, still, if it were consistently followed, would also fatally undercut, even more preemptively than the first set of denials, any efforts to make this world a better place. 

Finally, there are those who would deny the reality of God, which although it might seem to offer a quick solution to the problem —by taking the theos out of theodicy—still leaves us with the riddle of dikê or justice, trying to figure out why this world might or should be an even better place, or why it is so often as terrible as it is.

     What then makes me think that this effort, in this small book, will have been any more successful?  My answer to that, in addition to insisting on the reality of the four components or entities listed above, is to argue in favor of two radical suggestions. 

The first of these (which might be seen as a philosophical position based on scientific theory) is that free will has its origins in the evolutionary ramifications of indeterminacy or chance. If this can be shown to be the case, then evolution itself may be the key, or indeed "the missing link", that previous theodicies have been lacking. So if this proposition proves to be plausible, then, perhaps for the first time, we may be able to see a causal connection between the inevitability of what seem to us to be catastrophes in nature and the possibility of human freedom. In other words, what I propose is that there is a necessary and fundamental connection between the so-called "acts of God" and the emergence of free will.

     The second suggestion is that we take more seriously the theological idea that God, as both the ground and the goal of evolution, is deeply involved in the evolutionary process itself, so much so that we might say that the sufferings of this world and of humanity are in some very real sense, also the sufferings of God. While this idea of a "suffering God" remains a very controversial topic within theological circles, for those who are familiar with the more radical trends in theology that have taken place in the past century or so, particularly since World War II, this suggestion will come as no surprise.  In this regard I have drawn on some more recent writings on the subject, which also accounts for some rather extensive changes made especially in Chapter 8 of this new edition, so extensive that if I had a chance to re-title this book, I would not hesitate change the mystery in my original working title ("Evil, Evolution and the Mystery of God"—which on second thought seemed to me perhaps a bit too sweeping or pretentious) to "the Suffering of God".

     If these two suggestions, along with some observations taken from physics and contemporary theories in cosmology (some of which have had to be updated yet again since this book's first printing), have led to some rather drastic reinterpretations of other traditional Christian beliefs, so much so as to make this book appear to be too radical, or even heretical, I would also suggest that the reader stop and think about the history of theology's relationship to our knowledge of the natural world. It was the great 13th Century Franciscan theologian, St. Bonaventure, who is said to have claimed that to understand the whole of God's revelation we have to read two books: not just the Holy Scriptures, but "the Book of Nature" or Creation as well.  It is not a question of either religion or science, but rather of finding God in both.

The problem is that the apparent harmony that existed between the two in the medieval mind has been severely disrupted ever since the time of Copernicus and Galileo. Prior to then, believers tended to interpret Nature through the lens of biblical language, failing to sufficiently appreciate that the language of the Scriptures (understood not so much as dictated by God but rather as the inspired reflections of those who received God's special revelations) has been largely determined by the world-views of the times in which they were written. Unfortunately, especially for religious beliefs, today the situation needs to be largely reversed.  Contemporary science has given us a radically different picture of the world, one that has rendered much of the scriptural language obsolete, if not largely incomprehensible, for all but those who are willing to reenter the mental world of the ancient past. Accordingly, in this book, one of my aims has been to translate the fundamental religious concepts and spiritual values contained in the Scriptures into language that at least begins to make some sense in view of the understanding of Nature current in the contemporary world.

As for the sources of or major influences on my thinking, although this is not a book about the evolutionary thought of the Jesuit priest and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, my dependence on his ideas will be obvious to all those who are familiar with his thought. I have also drawn liberally from the "process theology" inspired by the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead and his followers. While I have also added some useful insights gathered from more existential thinkers, especially Gabriel Marcel, I have also drawn here and there from ideas and themes found in a host of other writers, most of whom are not quoted but at least mentioned, if not in the text, then in the bibliography. Nevertheless, I must confess that this book still remains "teilhardian" to its core, especially in its attempt to present an approach to the problem of evil that reflects the convergence of what Teilhard believed were the triple hallmarks of truth: coherence, fecundity, and a psychological dynamism—this latter especially needed in the face of evil when it comes to spurring us to action.

However, I must admit that, in producing this second and newly revised edition of this book, I also have been spurred by a number of much more recent authors.

     First, there is Rabbi Harold Kushner and his 1982 book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Although his book was first published two years previous to mine, its continued popularity and his personal encouragement after reading mine have spurred me on in my efforts to understand a suffering God, and to explain more fully why these bad things happen when they do—this despite our different theological interpretations regarding the identity and role of that Jesus whom Christians call "Christ".

     Next has been  theologian Terrence Tilley and his scholarly 1990 critique, The Evils of Theodicy, in which he denounced classical theodicy as a strictly theoretical subject for academics that is liable to make things worse rather than better. This has given me a renewed determination to show, in a less academic format, how theodicy can, and must, avoid all these evils that Tilley described.

     Then there is the work of Cambridge University physicist, turned Anglican clergyman, John Polkinghorne, whose ventures into the realm of science and religion, and especially his affirmation of the linkage between human freedom and the world of quantum physics in his 1995 Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity, has confirmed, to my mind, the paradoxical relationship between free will and chance.

     Finally, there is Neiman's book, which I have already mentioned and which has convinced me more than ever that in this "post-modern" world, even after the collapse of "the evil empire", a rational explanation of the world's evils, even if it has long eluded us, must be sought. It has become all too clear, especially since the disaster of September 11, 2001, that an appeal to strictly religious or "faith-based" solutions are apt to be more a cause of evil than its cure.

While I have incorporated the insights of quite a few others in this new revision, I have tried to do so in ways that avoid cluttering up the text with footnotes or endnotes—as was unfortunately the case with the first edition. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge the help of Dr. Raimundo Panikkar in my treatment of Asian philosophies in Chapter 4, of Dr. Robert Francoeur in dealing with matters of biology and genetics in Chapter 6, and, most recently, Dr. William Stoeger, SJ, of the University of Arizona and the Vatican Observatory, for his help in keeping up with cosmological data and theories in Chapter 9 of this newest version of this book.

Again, I will stress that this is a book that was originally intended more as a meditation (or a series of meditations) than a treatise, but which because of the difficulty of the subject, needs to be read slowly and pondered. Accordingly, despite the necessity of sometimes going into more detail on some matters of scientific, philosophical, or theological importance, nevertheless, the reader will need to try to keep, as much as possible, the bigger picture in mind.  With this object, I deliberately designed each chapter to in some way anticipate the final outcome—something like the procedure of a mason who builds, not by throwing up completed pre-fabricated walls or panels, but patiently adds a course or two of stones or bricks along one side of the structure at a time, then moves to another side to support what he has already done. If this approach seems a bit repetitious at times, it is also deliberate.

I also want to thank the many friends who patiently read through and discussed with me various parts of the original draft, sharing with me their own reactions to it in the light of their own sorrows and joys.  Among them were Fr. George Zabelka, Chuck and Brigit Geroux, Srs. Dorothy Smith, SSJ, and Donna Kushtusch, OP, and Gretchen Sullivan and still others, who, like my own father, Richard B. Kropf, were mentioned in the original list of acknowledgments or in the epilogue, have since passed on to their eternal reward. I also want to thank John H. Wright, SJ, and the other reviewers of this book, whose encouragement and critiques, I hope, have made this latest revision even better than the first.


R W Kropf 

August 2004           


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