This is a little series of posts I put out in 2010, at the time they were helpful for a number of people, I hope that continues to be true today.
Continuing to look at how to engage with the "deChurched" we look to the issue of theodicy. This post is not an exhaustive conversation on the question of why is there evil in the world if there is a God (aka - the question of theodicy ), rather it is to help ignite conversations between those in the Church and those who have left the Church. This is a rather lofty topic and I anticipate you have thoughts of your own as well, consider this an invitation to share those thoughts.
Before I go any further it should be noted that I do not know a single person who can explain this mystery. I know there are people who have thoughts on the topic, but I have yet to discover if there is any sort of consensus on this issue. If you are reading this and looking for the answer to the question of theodicy, I am afraid I will not meet your expectations.
In that same vein, this is also not a post about what I believe about theodicy questions. Rather, this is a post to offer tools which have helped me begin conversations with people of all kinds and tools which I hope might be helpful in your conversations with people you encounter.
Generally speaking, when theoldicy issues come up in a conversation I have with a "deChurched", agnostic, or atheist the other person has a very logical and methodical argument. These arguments are generally very tight and the person seems sold on the logic they present. So, as one about to engage in conversations it is worth noting that people think very deeply about this issue. I recently got an email that was three pages long on written by a "deChurched" person on this topic and that instantly said to me, "this is a passionate issue to this person."
When I have engaged conversations on theodicy with the "deChurched" I have found great bridge building when I ask a lot of questions. Not questions to trap or questions intended to lead down a path that you think leads to a certain "logical conclusion". No, questions of authentic curiosity are the type of questions I am talking about.
"Why do you think there is violence in the world?"
"Do you think humanity, at our core, is inherently good or evil?"
"What sort of ethics do you follow?"
"Where or how did you come to learn this?"
Questions like these are not perfect but they do not need to be. The intent is to open conversation and get at the heart of the matter (which I believe is what each of our God images are).
As you engage in conversation I promise you will be challenged and encounter questions that may cut to the core of your own theology and God image. That is a good and wonderful thing. Allow the conversation to open you up and share what you believe and where/how you come to believe this.
As for me personally, I have found great success in reading a lot of Rene Girard, anthropology books, Walter Wink, behavioral economics, and evolutionary psychology. These sources give me many more areas to pull into the conversation from additional questions and metaphors to science experiments and illustrations. I would invite you to find resources that address the issues of theodicy and weave them into your own thought/question asking. There is only so far in the area of theodicy that one can go on their own without help and I hope we Christians would continue to seek help from God and our neighbors.
I know this is rather vague, but it is important that we do not have all the answers especially in areas of such a great mystery. If you do have the answers and you are trying to 'convince' others of your answers, I am curious to know how that is going? If you are not having any 'success' I wonder what would happen if we stopped trying to convince people with our words and invite them into a relationship with our actions.