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.