62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2005
This is the best work on theodicy I've ever read; and I mean book ON theodicy instead of a book OF theodicy-- Hart's main thesis is that any attempt to reconcile God's infinite goodness with the evils of the world by nature goes against the Christian revelation of the Father who is all light, in whom there is no darkness, in the face of an exceedingly dark world which has separated itself from God. I thought throughout some parts of the book that it would be better if he would expand a bit (as C.S. Lewis in _The Problem of Pain_ and others did) on how it was possible for Adam (created with no inclination towards evil, and certainly no corrupted gnomic will in the sense that we have one) to choose self over God and thereby create a rift between God and man. However, I realized by the end that to do so would be to trivialize-- it is wrong to cooly explain away evil when one should instead attack it and call it out for what it is. Nevertheless, more mentions of the fall, I think, would have made an already fantastic book even better (as, without the fall, the spiritual battle between God and the devil becomes mere Manicheanism. This was, however, addressed a few times in the book, though perhaps not in terms that a theologically illiterate reader could understand or even pick up on.)
I recommend this book to anyone, Christian and non-Christian... I don't understand why Hart is not better known among American theologians, and particularly in the English-speaking Orthodox world, which should be rejoicing that we finally have our own C.S. Lewis-like theologian, instead of just pretending that Lewis was ours. :)
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2005
Do not be misled by the title. Hart provides the most sensible and satisfactory logic on the role of God in creating and disposing of tragedy. He disposes of Mackie's famous "if God is indeed omnipotent, he manifestly is not good, and if he is good he manifestly is not omnipotent. En route he deals with Voltaire, Dostoevsky, Calvin, fundamentalists, original sin and many other ideas. I have read it twice and I will go back to learn even more. Not a hard read but you must pay attention.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
David Bentley Hart is unquestionably one of the most brilliant theological and philosophical minds in America today. This is a fine introduction into his thought through the medium of an important topic.
The purpose for writing this book was to expand the thoughts of a NY Times article that Hart was asked by a friend to write following the tragedy of the 2004 Christmas Tsunami. The monstrous event was followed by hasty responses from people of various philosophical and religious traditions. From one perspective, some atheists wrote that this was clear evidence that God does not exist, as though the multitudes of religious believers worldwide had never considered the gravity of evil in the world, and the implications for such a reality on their belief. From another perspective, some theologians were claiming that God predestined such a catastrophe and that the piles of infant and children bodies were somehow a testimony to God's sovereignty and glory. In light of these seemingly polar opposite arguments (despite their similar theological view of god), Hart responds by expounding on the Christian intellectual tradition against these two opposing views. Hart clearly reserves his greatest criticism for those theologians who distort the Christian tradition to portray God as not subversively working against such tragedy, but willing and using such tragedies.
Hart discusses Voltaire's response to the Lisbon earthquake (a similarly tragic event), positioning it within its historical context, highlighting Voltaire's disdain for the typical theological answers offered to him by those who had a heightened sense of theological optimism and claimed that every evil had a good purpose. Hart then discusses how the god who wills and has a purpose in such tragedies must also be rejected, if not through denying his existence, at least in by denying him allegiance. Hart builds this argument through the thought of Fyodor Dostoevsky (particularly through the words of Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov). Few would disagree that the words of Ivan Karamazov present the problem of evil as well as anyone before or since. I will leave for you to read how Hart shows that such an argument by Ivan Karamazov is inherently Christian at its core whether Ivan would admit it or not.
In the second section on Divine Victory, Hart is concerned to argue that God is free of blame for natural evil, while not diminishing the anger that every Christian should feel at such an event. Hart, focusing on the traditions of Maximus the Confessor, Isaac the Syrian and Thomas Aquinas, does an outstanding job of showing how the Christian intellectual tradition stands together with those who are angered and in deep pain concerning such events.
The book is short, although some have complained that the language makes it too dense to read despite its brevity. I would disagree, and whereas I accept that reading Hart may require keeping a dictionary at hand, such a challenge should not dissuade the reader from finishing the work and pondering his argument.
Unfortunately, the brevity of this work also means that not all questions about the theological aspects of Hart's argument can be resolved. As such, I would suggest the theological reader also read Hart's The Beauty Of The Infinite: The Aesthetics Of Christian Truth.
I would also suggest that the reader have a basic understanding of philosophy and theology before reading the book. The terminology may be unfamiliar to some who are not familiar with these fields and thus they would find the reading more difficult than it is intended to be. This would not diminish my willingness to suggest the book to those thinking through this issue. Few authors have made such a compelling case in such a succinct and beautiful manner.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2006
Christian theodicy (that is, its defense of an all good, omnipotent, omniscient God in the face of the nihilant evil and suffering of the world) in its variegated forms has the unfortunate tendency to be cold, sterile, and hopelessly esoteric. Hart's book provides an illuminating critique of standard theodicic rebuttals within the world of Christendom, but also a staunch and unrelenting deconstruction of standard atheistic aggrandizing of the "failure" of the Christian system due to misunderstood theological tenants on both sides (that is, both Christian and atheist).
Hart views with a critical eye the notion that the world process as it stands, evil and all, is part of some diligent calculus on God's part, some equilibrium of the "best possible world," or a necessity for God to show his grace. In this brushtroke of his mighty pen he chastizes epigones of Leibniz, Calvin, and others by working through the complaints of Voltair, Dostoevsky, and Mackie. Hart points out that if this were the case, that God has either made this evil for the greater good, or that evil actually has in itself a higher purpose, God would not be the God he is without the evil of this world. His Goodness would necessarily be reactionary, comparative, not essentially good or pure, always caught in the undulating dialectic of good/evil where God, though champion over evil, is the Good Savior only in reference to evil. Rather Hart points out that a truly biblical conception names no purpose to evil, superimposes no grant of life to death. Evil is in fact the ultimate meaninglessness of sin, and has no instrinsic purpose. The death of a child, the rape of a mother, the malignancy of a car crash, have no ultimate machination or design, but are all rendered ultimately meaningless as they are the privation of God's goodness. Hence God's goodness is not a dialectical goodness always paired as that good which overcame evil, but rather evil, in the ultimate illumination of God's effulgent glory, is defatigated and palliated into the nothingness that it truly is. To answer one question below, however, in regards to Noah, Hart is not denying that God might turn evil (or denying the Old Testament, as a reviewer below ponders) for the purpose of the Good, merely that evil has no ultimate design in the tapestry of God's economic plan.
There have been a number of critiques faulting Hart for what is otherwise an impressive utilization of the spectrum of the english language. For its part, they who would chastize Hart in this way are correct in pointing out moments of obscurity due to the poetic flourish of language often pervading the text. And I sympathize in part with those who find Hart's language pompous and perhaps isolated from a more general audience, as a reviewer above notes there ARE ways to state Hart's arguments otherwise than through obscure words. These are, of course, things to be considered (and I would recommend a dictionary as a compliment to Hart's compendious vocab) Nonetheless I find it a somewhat irritating and unfair analysis that seems much akin to faulting a painter for the complexity of brushtroke used in the architecture of a sunset, or the hyaline beauty of a midnight sky. Surely it is an unjust criticism to say Hart was writing "to impress other theologians or his mother" (as a somewhat pretentious reviewer notes above) Could not also his exuberance and excess of language be due to a love for poetic analysis, an enlightened aesthetic appreciation of the wax and wane of language's metaphorical landscape? God forbid we should learn something as we read! Whether or not Hart goes overboard with his word choice is debatable, and just how much the clarity of the arguments suffer as a result is also hard to determine, but at any rate I would urge readers not to pass up this book because of a smattering of difficult words.
This is all in all a fantastic book that both provokes and satisfies. Hart is truly a fantastic theologian with an ability for complex thinking (see his The Beauty of the Infinite for a truly staggering read) and it is very refreshing to have an approach to theodicy that doesn't seem to disrespect through the intrepidity of its logic, the utter cthonic nothingness,the morose and horrifying events of this fallen reality. Highly recommended. I can think of no other book that crams so complex and beautiful a Christian response to evil as this.
58 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2005
I bought this book on the basis on a favorable review in the Wall Street Journal. After plowing through it once and hoping to do so again, I can say that with college dictionary in hand you will definitely improve your vocabulary.
Umbratile? Gelid? Lachrymose? According to my Random House College Dictionary, shadowy, icy, and tearful could all have been substituted without ill effect. Sentence structure seemed to vary according to the confidence Mr. Hart had in his arguments - the better he felt the more direct the statements. As a lawyer friend often says in negotiations, "I know you don't disagree. But do you agree?"
For best effect be sure to have a working knowledge of theological terms (soteriological, telology, ontological) and a passing acquaintanceship with Calvinism.
There is a reason a clear and engaging writer like C.S. Lewis is widely known and Mr. Hart is not. This is book written, I think, to impress other theologians, or maybe Mr. Hart's mom. There are golden nuggets, but you will work for them.
Now if you will excuse me, I see that I forgot to look up apotropaic and delitescent ...
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2010
If you believe there is a God-planned reason for every instance of suffering in life you will not agree with this book. However, that does not mean that it is a bad book. Agreeing or disagreeing with an author's conclusion does not make a book good or bad. What happens in between, the route you take to get there, is what really matters. Whether or not one is challenged to THINK is what really matters, and David Bentley Hart succeeds in a way that is most praiseworthy.
Developing from an article written for the Wall Street Journal shortly after the December, 2004 tsunami that crushed Southeast Asia, David Bentley Hart was soon asked by First Things to expand his provocative argument into a 2500 word essay. Not being satisfied with that, Eerdmans offered Mr. Hart a book deal to further elucidate his many pregnant ideas about the relationship between God, nature, and evil. Hence we have our current publication.
The main thought that will capture the interested reader is that Hart argues, powerfully I might add, that suffering and death have no ultimate meaning. Far from being a necessary precondition to some greater good that leaves us feeling ambiguous about evil, and being crushed by the burden of having to "thank" God for it in our times of trouble (or at least solemnly resign ourselves to its manifestations), we are instead given permission to revolt against its sinister presence by naming it God's enemy, something to be disowned, and to relish in its defeat on the cross.
Those who are of a Calvinist or Edwardsian persuasion will feel the wrath of Hart's words who shows nothing but contempt for the idea that God authors evil for the display of his own glory:
"If all that occurs, in the minutest detail and in the eternity of its design, is only the expression of one infinite volition that makes no real room within its transcendent determinations for other, secondary, subsidiary but free agencies (and so for some element of chance and absurdity) then the world is both arbitrary and necessary, both meaningful in every part and meaningless in its totality, an expression of pure power and nothing else. Even if the purpose of such a world is to prepare creatures to know the majesty and justice of God, that majesty and justice are, in a very real sense, fictions of his will, impressed upon creatures by means both good and evil, merciful and cruel, radiant and monstrous--some are created for eternal bliss and others for eternal torment, all for the sake of the divine drama of perfect and irresistible might."
Hart takes his insights from both scripture and literature arguing that the "higher harmony" so many believers profess is a shallow metaphysical optimism that in the end provides a moral case for atheism. He draws insights from Dostoevsky's Ivan who asks, "Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."
The moral rage Ivan feels against the idea that God needs evil to occur in order to establish a glorious utopia is where Hart starts, and he argues that this is a thoroughly Christian attitude towards the reality of suffering and death.
Reading this book is not for the theologically faint of heart. Even the highly educated reader will have to consult a dictionary from time to time keep up with Mr. Hart's impressive vocabulary. The philosophical ideas are weighty, however some of his arguments sometimes fall into straw men (Calvinism doesn't profess to teach God "directly" controls everything--it makes room for secondary causation).
However, it does make a strong case for a Christian view committed to free will theism and the Christus victor view of the atonement. It's rhetoric and argument are forceful and thoughtful and will leave any serious thinker about the problem of evil contemplating its conclusions. Moreover, the book is mercifully brief, not because it is badly written, but because there is an overabundance of powerful ideas to comprehend.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2009
A very thoughtfully written book by a frighteningly intelligent man. When confronted with very real evil in the world, the joy that is found in Easter can and always does overcome it. Hart beautifully illustrates this. Yes be prepared to work to understand some of his writing, but do not complain, working to understand will make you more intelligent and help you really learn and know what is being said. With this in mind, his writing is just fun. I don't think you'll encounter many people with more breadth and depth of knowledge of history, literature, philosophy, language and anything else Hart happens to talk about. A very engaging, realistic book with an equally engaging and realistic message of joy.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2007
On the first day of my vacation with my family, I just read The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart (Eerdmans, 2005). I could not it put down. I recommend it to any reader who wants to delve deeper into the problem of evil. Hart wrote this wonderful little treatise, subtitled "Where was God in the Tsunami", in the wake of the Indonesian Tsunami. Out of his deep faith and informed mind and with profound honesty and eloquence, Hart responds to the horrors of that 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Chris Tilling reviewed and recommend the book on his web blog, Chrisendom, and his enthusiasm was so unrestrained that I immediately ordered my copy.
Against the backdrop of two manifestations of Natural Evil (the 2004 tsunami, and the Lisbon earthquake/tsunami/fire of 1755) and Dostoyevsky's portrayal of Moral Evil in The Brothers Karamozov, Hart thoughtfully weaves his "elucidation" of God's goodness, evil's reality, suffering, and redemption. With his multiple scathing denunciations of Calvinistic determinism (which he calls absurd) and eloquent dismissals of all other standard Christian theodicies (many of which he unapologetically identifies as "blasphemous flippancies"), Hart shows his utter contempt for much of what passes as Christian explanations of the problem of evil.
The truth, Hart helps us to see, is to be found in the context of free-acting evil, the understanding of the cosmos as entropic and death driven, the coexisting of two Kingdoms (life/light and death/darkness ... but Hart is no dualist!), the suffering that results from this state of affairs, and the glory that awaits a final consummation.
Hart's thoughts closely parallel many of my own; he comes nearer than anything I've ever read to the concepts that make sense for me. There are still significant differences, and Hart would doubtless include mine in the category of "rational theodicies" which he uniformly rejects. Nevertheless, I continue to pursue a sensible theodicy, encouraged and re-inspired by Hart's superb book.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is an excellent short little book that cogently expresses the proper Christian response to evil, challenging both atheists and sub-par Christian responses through theodicy. Having read The Brothers Karamazov or at least the sections Hart mentions would be a great thing to do before reading this book as that will make his argument much more meaningful. The brilliance of this work is that Hart explicates the New Testament's view of evil (both 'natural' and human-caused) as being in opposition to God's plan of redemption in Christ. Instead of trying to place evil within God's "Great Plan," Hart argues, rightly in my view, that through the event of the Incarnation and Easter, God came down in human flesh to defeat sin, suffering and death in the flesh, defeating death through death. At the end of this book, Hart states that this is not so much a work of apologetics as it is an elucidation of the proper Christian view of these issues. A quick a truly excellent read. Hart's prose captures the imagination and strengthens the spirit.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2006
I have bought countless copies of this book as gifts. It is a stunningly beautiful, elegant, rigorous meditation. The prose alone is worth the price, but what so impressed me was the powerful articulation of the orthodox Christian understanding of good and evil. There is no mawkish sentiment, no appeal to pure emotion, no obscurantism. I have never encountered another book that, in so short a space, made me see how internally coherent and how revolutionary the Christian vision of reality is. The book is also a kind of poem to the beauty of creation, and a haunting lament over its sufferings.
One of the reviewers below grows a bit petulant over a scattering of large words in the text, but that's a silly complaint against so distinguished a stylist. Hart uses the exactly appropriate word in any given context, and the euphony of his sentences is majestic.