Friday 24 June 2011
By Kevin MarkWhere the Hell is God?By Richard Leonard SJ, HiddenSpring/Paulist Press/Rainbow Book Agencies, $17.95, PB, 87ppThe recent catastrophic tsunami in Japan and the disastrous floods in Australia are stark reminders of a provocative issue for Christians: how can we continue to believe in a loving God in the face of such suffering? In technical terms this is known as theodicy: how to reconcile the existence of an all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful God with the existence of evil in our world.Such questions gain a personal urgency when we encounter terrible suffering in our own lives or the lives of those we love. This was certainly the case with the author of this brief but challenging book.Dr Richard Leonard is an Australian Jesuit best known for his film criticism. Director of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting, his previous books include Movies that Matter: Reading Film through the Lens of Faith (Loyola Press, 2006).In 1988, Fr Leonard’s 24-year-old sister Tracey, a nurse working with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, was severely injured in a car crash, resulting in quadriplegia. His mother exclaimed “where the hell is God?”, hence the title of this book.Fr Leonard and his family subsequently received correspondence from religious people, intended to comfort them, but which offended their beliefs. For example: “Your family is really very blessed, because God only sends the biggest crosses to those who can bear them.”In this book Fr Leonard tackles head-on seven such approaches to theodicy he believes to be mistaken, and presents alternatives he holds as true to the Christian Gospel.For instance, he challenges the notion that God directly wills us pain, death, suffering and disease, or punishes us with bad things. He believes this presents God as little more than a tyrant. “There is a huge difference between God permitting evil and God perpetrating such acts on us.”He also rejects the belief that God sends accidents and suffering in order to teach us. While we can learn and grow from suffering, “it does not become God’s will that we grow as a result of a shocking event”.This is not a book for all readers who are confronted with such issues. Fr Leonard is passionate and forthright in tackling approaches he thinks are erroneous, for example, a bishop who celebrates a Mass to pray for rain. Not all believers are capable of the sort of nuanced thinking, and living with mystery and enigma, that Fr Leonard has come to.But for those who are prepared to undertake an adult wrestling with challenging concepts, Fr Leonard presents approaches to the crucial issue of evil and suffering that aim to be true to the God that Jesus embodied in his life and teaching.