The Doors of the Sea: A Review

David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?

In the long history of Christianity, theodicy is comparatively young. Different generations find different doctrines more troublesome. Once, pagan philosophers looked askance at Christianity’s affirmation of the body and material creation; the idea that base physical matter could be brought into union with the Absolute was repugnant to them. Today, Christianity must contend with a different set of assumptions. The Enlightenment taught us to think of the cosmos as a vast machine; if it is so, and if it is designed and maintained by God, why doesn’t it always bring about goodness and justice, but often chaos and evil? The problem of human suffering tends to provoke a negative response to the theist’s portrait of reality. Its prominence as an object is probably due to the fact that it provokes a moral and visceral rather than merely intellectual reaction. It is a problem that cannot go unaddressed.

The Doors of the Sea is a short book (just over a hundred pages) expanded from an article written by David Bentley Hart in 2004 for the Wall Street Journal. Hart was prompted, as usual, by observations about the ongoing debate between Christians and atheists and serious deficiencies in the understanding of both sides. In The Doors of the Sea, he starts by reviewing the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and the impression it made in the press. Some nontheist journalists, he noted, insensitively used this tragedy as an opportunity to bash the Christian belief in a good God; simultaneously, some Christians offered untimely (and, Hart believes, misguided) remarks about all suffering being permitted as a part of God’s perfect plan.

Hart finds neither position satisfactory. The prominent nontheist critiques he quotes do not begin to understand either philosophical theism or Christian theology, he remarks, but they cannot be simply dismissed. Beneath the false dilemmas they pose, between divine goodness and divine omnipotence, they point to a real moral horror at evil and desire for justice that Christianity itself inculcated into western civilization. These feelings are legitimate and deserve a better and more coherent response from Christians than they normally receive.

Hence, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? (2005)

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Embracing the Leper: On Cosmic Evil

I know very little about evil. I have lived comfortably the past twenty-three years; I am sound in mind and body; I have never been persecuted or slandered; no one has ever beaten or robbed me or threatened anyone I love.

So I am never quite sure how to react to the evil I read about in the world. Lately, four ongoing crises have been often in my mind:

  • The Ebola outbreak in West Africa (~1000 dead)
  • Fighting in east Ukraine (~2500 dead)
  • The latest conflict in Gaza (~1800 dead)
  • The persecution of Christians and Yezidis in ISIS-occupied territories (casualties unknown)


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Weekly(ish) Miscellany III

Weekly(ish) Miscellany III: November 18-December 29, 2013

An Explanation

I got married November 30. Hopefully that statement adequately accounts for the long absence. I did most of the writing below prior to the wedding, but nothing was really finished, so I abandoned myself to the busyness of the season rather than try to post anything.

Key Scriptures under contemplation

Matthew 2

“Out of Egypt I called my son.” I spent some time contemplating this line this morning. The source of this prophecy is Hosea 11:1, which, rather than being an explicitly messianic passage, references Israel’s exodus from captivity as it glorifies God for his “tutorship” of his chosen nation, which has nevertheless proved obstinate and wayward. Matthew is clearly revealing Jesus as true Israel, the righteous child of God who fulfills Hosea 11 for being unlike the wandering son Israel described in that passage. The next recorded episode is his baptism (as the Red Sea crossing, the nation’s baptism, follows the exodus).

C. S. Lewis in God in the Dock (an excerpt of which was Saturday’s Advent reading) describes the Christ story as one of “descent and resurrection,” the Resurrection being simply the turning point in the larger story, in which humanity and all creation is retrieved from death, in which the finished work of man is exalted from the slime to which he had sunk. The briefly-described Egypt saga places Christ on this path of descent, continuing from the cosmic descent of his incarnation. Yet he descends that God the Father may call him out of the land of exile and captivity—and call him “my son.” Now that he has taken on Israel, Christ, the lamb, can take Israel and all humanity to the cross and fulfill Hosea 11:1 as Israel never could.

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