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The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?

The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? [Kindle Edition]

David Bentley Hart
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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"Outstanding" The Wall Street Journal "This eloquent statement of a Christian facing, once more, the devastations of what is too easily designated "the natural order" is a lucid exposition of what may and may not be said in the name of Jesus Christ about personal and corporate human suffering." Douglas John Hall "In a lifetime of struggling both personally and pastorally with the problem of evil and suffering, I have come across no brief study more immediately relevant than this one... Hart mounts a searing attack on all accounts of horrendous evil that allow observers to offer packaged comfort while contemplating the suffering of others from a safe distance. His critique of the Reformed tradition should be required reading for those of us who have been shaped by it. Above all, in his "rage against explanation," he shows us how we can be true pastoral companions to those who suffer." Fleming Rutledge "Although David Hart is by training a theologian (one of America's finest), he is also a man of letters. In the terrible wake of the recent Indian Ocean tsunami -- and in the face of a world looking for, even demanding, answers -- his is precisely the voice that is needed, a voice as articulate, incisive, and ultimately inspiring as that of C. S. Lewis." John Betz

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As news reports of the horrific tsunami in Asia reached the rest of the world, commentators were quick to seize upon the disaster as proof of either God’s power or God’s nonexistence. Expanding on his Wall Street Journal piece, “Tremors of Doubt,” published the last day of 2004, David Bentley Hart here returns to this pressing question: How can the existence of a good and loving God be reconciled with such suffering? Hart clarifies the biblical account of God’s goodness, the nature of evil, and the shape of redemption, incisively revealing where both Christianity’s champions and its critics misrepresent what is most essential to Christian belief.

Though he responds to those skeptical of Christian faith, Hart is at his most perceptive and provocative as he examines Christian attempts to rationalize the tsunami disaster. Many people want a divine plan that will make sense of evil. Hart contends, however, that the history of suffering and death is not willed by God. Rather than appealing to a divine calculus that can account for every instance of suffering, Christians must recognize the ongoing struggle between the rebellious powers that enslave the world and the God who loves it.

This meditation by a brilliant young theologian will deeply challenge serious readers grappling with God’s ways in a suffering world.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 697 KB
  • Print Length: 119 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (15 July 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001E9732Y
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #261,688 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound and provocative 5 Sep 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A succinct and profound essay on what may and may not be said about suffering from the standpoint of Christian theology. Hart takes aim at both 'opportunistic' atheistic attacks on Christianity and well-intentioned but misguided Christian 'explanations' of evil. In setting out his argument, Hart refers to many of the intellectual giants in the Christian tradition, but he explains subtle ideas carefully and lucidly. This is not an easy book and it demands at least a second reading. Fortunately it is relatively short! I for one will be reading more from this authoritative interpreter of the Christian tradition.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
In this book, Hart starts off by discussing the problem of evil with relation to the Tsunami, and comparing them to Voltaire's famous criticism. This is only the beginning, as after a short while he discusses the far more profound version of the problem of evil (Dostoevsky's) and some more general aspects of living as a Christian in the fallen world. His arguments are so persuasive that one struggles to reject any of them. The only criticism of Hart I have ever heard is that he writes in such a way that one cannot disagree with him (Rowan Williams), and this is evident in this book, which is exceptionally well written. Hart could show anyone why the problem of evil is both the biggest problem, and one that every Christian has to live with.
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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, excellent! 20 July 2005
By Marjorie - Published on
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. :)
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply outstnding 13 Sep 2005
By R. Furlong - Published on
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.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Poetic While Theologically Profound 4 Jan 2009
By G. Kyle Essary - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified 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.
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, poetic, beautiful. 19 May 2006
By Derrick A. Peterson - Published on
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 80 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to work. 12 Sep 2005
By Mark Maisonneuve - Published on
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 ...
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But the New Testament also teaches us that, in another and ultimate sense, suffering and death - considered in themselves - have no true meaning or purpose at all; and this is in a very real sense the most liberating and joyous wisdom that the gospel imparts. &quote;
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Voltaire sees only the terrible truth that the history of suffering and death is not morally intelligible. Dostoyevsky sees - and this bespeaks both his moral genius and his irreducibly Christian view of reality - that it would be far more terrible if it were. &quote;
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what we call hell is nothing but the rage and remorse of the soul that will not yield itself to love. &quote;
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