Monday, August 29, 2005

Isaian Theodicy

"I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe."
Isaiah 45: 7

Theodicy is the philosophical problem of understanding how evil can exist in a world created by an all-powerful God who is also all good. Like many problems of the philosophy of God, eighteenth and nineteenth century European thinkers seemed to believe that they were discovering them for the first time (http://chicagomonk.blogspot.com/2005/08/who-made-whom.html), but the ancients were not as naive as we think.

That said, this saying of God's in Isaiah is striking. Here, He uses the specific word bara', a word that is only used with God as subject. It means to create, strictly speaking, out of nothing. So God seems to be saying that He forms light (out of existing chaos in Genesis 1?), but He actually needs to create darkness. In our minds, this might seem backwards. Before there was light there was nothing, and that was dark, was is not?

I would suggest that before there was anything, there was God and God is light. In a sense, in saying "Let there be light," God was imprinting His order upon chaos. But there had been no real darkness because God was all in all.

The problem of theodicy and of evil in general always comes down to a question of freedom. If angels and men are truly free, then they must be able to choose anything whatsoever, even evil. Were we not free to choose hate, then our love, which is the final purpose for our being, would be false. In a sense, in order to open up a space in the universe in which human beings could be free, God decided to create darkness, a place that was not Himself, a space into which He would only manifest Himself if invited by free creatures.

1 comment:

Dave Buysse said...

Father Peter:

In your post of August 29 entitled "Isaian Theodicy," you assert
The problem of theodicy and of evil in general always comes down to a question of freedom. If angels and men are truly free, then they must be able to choose anything whatsoever, even evil.
You begin the post with the following translation of Isaiah 45: 7: "I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe." (New Revised Standard?) You focus on the the difference between "make" (`asah) and "create" (bara' ), noting that only God is used as a subject for bara' . However, perhaps the object of bara' in this verse - (ra`) - is more instructive when considering the "theodicy" of (Second?) Isaiah, particulary if only God can be the subject of that verb.

Would you not agree that ra` is very often translated as evil? The Septuagint uses kaka and the Vulgate the rather unambiguous malum to translate ra` in verse 7 While many Christian translators and exegetes appear to strenuously avoid that meaning, many Jewish scholars appear to find it inescapable. God does not merely "open up a space in the universe in which human beings could be free." The verse states that God creates evil.

Theodicy is an attempt to reconcile the notion of God as simultaneously good and almighty with the existence of evil in the world. You are quite correct that "true" freedom requires the ability to choose to evil. Many people through the ages have been troubled to the point of unbelief by the victims of human evil "permitted" by God. While difficult to understand, I can "accept" human evil and its consequences (as though we actually had a choice) as part of the overwhelming cost of human freedom. What really troubles me, always tempting unbelief, is what some call "natural" evil - from fatal cancer in a young child to the tens of thousands killed in the recent tsunami.

I am certainly no scripture scholar, but I choose to believe that ra` in verse 7 is meant to refer to "natural" evil rather than human "moral" evil. The words of God communicated in Isaiah 45 sound very much like they could have been uttered by the Voice from the Whirlwind in the Book of Job - one can't possibly make sense of God, so don't even try. Perhaps the only good theodicy is no theodicy at all.

DFB

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