You can think of theodicy, the attempt to account for suffering in a world purported to be run by a benevolent and all-powerful God, as prompted by the crushing blow to morale great suffering must occasion in a thoughtful soul. A successful theodicy would allow us to think that the world’s not such a bad place as it seems, bolstering morale. A kind of modest, minimal theodicy (as I’d call it) would look not to justify the goodness or power of divinity but to alert us to aspects and moments of our experience that allow us to go on with mended morale. I was reminded of this angle on suffering reading Catlin Lowe’s wonderful entry “What is Needful”in her blog Distinctively Praise the Years.
Ivan [Karamazov] scorns any account that would redeem the suffering of “these little ones.” What redemption? Ever? How? And I want to say that my gratitude in one case needn’t commit me to pious thanksgiving for the crumpled plane still smoldering, for the screaming child, for her screaming mother.
Our lives are leavened (I don’t say redeemed) by such trifles as “tobacco and cologne,” “bells and voices,” poetry, religion, basil in the window, a feather in the path, a pretty face on the train, can work [also] to confirm our horror. (Surely we are living for something more substantive than this . . . ) [Leavening] can work to confirm our horror, or it can be the beginning of a new kind of truth-telling. When we are sad we should know we are sad. And when we are happy we should know we are happy, and we should be willing that our reasons for being happy make no reference to world peace or bare life, do not even strike us as good reasons. What is needful? A good pencil, a good talk, a heron stalking craw in the still-mineral-rich shallows. We don’t know yet.
Let us remember shafts of light glancing on wavelets . . .