Posted by: Jennie Z | April 13, 2009


So in the interest of sharing (and to take a little break from writing my paper), I thought I would write a post on some of the stuff that I’ve been working on.

In my paper, I’m going to be examining theodicy, specifically how traditional theodicies fall short in light of the questions raised by the New Atheists and the atrocities that have taken place in the last few decades. I’m also going to be looking at practical theodicy, and how we can actually embrace and deal with evil and suffering, rather than just trying to justify God or reason it away.

This project has really been a struggle for me, and I think it mostly has to do with the fact that suffering is such a profound reality; it’s sobering to really consider how much evil there is in the world and how deeply it affects the lives of every person, whether they will admit it or not. It’s hard to even know where to begin addressing such a question.

It was definitely easier to choose my topic than it has been to actually write about it. There really never was any question in my mind what I would be writing about; this just feels like something that I’m supposed to be doing. Last fall, I went to New Orleans to see some of my friends, and it was the first time that I had been down there since Hurricane Katrina hit. It’s been three years since that happened, but the destruction and devastation is still written all over that city, as well as on the faces of its inhabitants. There is still debris everywhere, people are still living in FEMA trailers, shops and homes are abandoned. Many of the houses still bear the marks of the search and rescue teams, indicating when they had been searched and by whom, and how many dead were found inside. If you walk through the Lower 9th Ward, you can still see houses with gaping holes in the roofs where desperate people chopped their way through to make it out of their attics, seeking refuge from the rising flood waters. There is not a single person in that city that has not been deeply and irrevocably changed by that storm; everyone has a story, everyone bears the scars.

It is impossible to go there and not be affected yourself. I remember seeing the news, I remember reading about it and watching documentaries (Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke is the best, I think. If you feel so inclined, you should check it out), but none of that compares to seeing it firsthand. And again, remember, I didn’t go down there until three years after the fact. It’s sad, really. I couldn’t even believe it. I spent the few days that I had there talking to my friends, and their friends, and their friends’ friends, and random people about what they went through that Indian summer in 2005, and what they’ve been going through ever since. Their stories were tragic and heartbreaking, but it really made me think, and it really made me want to take up this question of suffering and the existence of a loving God.

As for the fruits of all of my pondering and research…well, you’ll just have to wait until my paper is done, and then you can read it yourself J. In the meantime, I’m curious about everyone else’s experiences. How have you experienced suffering, either first-hand, or through observation? How has it affected you? Did it make you question God? How did you go about seeking your answers, and did you ever find any? Do you think that we can ever have resolution on the question of suffering?

I’d really appreciate any insights that you guys might have…you never know how another person’s point-of-view might prove to be helpful.

Anyway. Good luck on finishing up your papers!



  1. I’m from Cedar Rapids, IA and last summer flood waters devastated my home town. I was in St. Louis at the time and only saw pictures from my friends and from the news stations so I couldn’t really grasp how bad the situation was. I saw it for the first time when I went home for fall break in October and it was really difficult and emotionally overwhelming to see all of the businesses in downtown destroyed or gone, local landmarks like the library, theater, and museums abandoned, and debris piled high in front of people’s houses. I really got a first hand experience at what people in New Orleans and other cities feel with the destruction from Katrina. Cedar Rapids is such a friendly town and was rated one of the best cities to raise children in the U.S. The devastation of the flood raised a lot of questions about why us and how could this happen? Approaching a year since the flood, there is still a lot of work to be done and in this economy not much incentive or ability to rebuild. It is sad to drive through downtown and see so many businesses boarded up, government offices are moved, and the theater and library are still closed. But like in many natural disasters, the community really came together. Hundreds of people worked on sandbagging efforts to help save the hospital and the only water supply left during the flood. Donations came pouring in to help families who lost everything. I was really proud of my town and the sense of solidarity people showed one another. There are still people living in FEMA trailers and struggling to get by. Most of the people directly effected in the downtown area where low income and already at a disadvantage to relocate or rebuild.

    It’s hard. But I really believe in these situations it is not God’s fault. My idea of God is not someone up in the sky who causes all things or even fixes all things. Rather it is a life presence within all of us that calls us to react in compassion and love, to help our neighbor when misfortune hits, and maintain hope and gratitude for all that we do still have and will gain. We have to accept the power of the divine spirit within ourselves and act accordingly, not blame the big guy upstairs or wait for divine intervention. Theresa of Avila has a beautiful poem about being Christ in the world today. In it, she says that we are Christ’s hands and feet, we are the living presence of Christ called to act with love and compassion. When we can change our childish understandings of God and recognize the divine within ourselves, we can move toward a society of justice and peace rather than sitting back and waiting for it to happen or complaining along the way.

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