In reading a book of essays by the Polish writer, Adam Zagajewski, I came across his essay, a paean really, to the artist Jozef Czapski. And the same time, the essay gave me a new word to think about: theodicy, a vindication of divine justice in the face of the existence of evil.
Zagajewski wrote, “He never stopped pondering the questions that were key to his efforts, ceaselessly abandoned, and renewed, to construct a theodicy.”
Czapski lived in Paris as an expatriate. As a thinker and an artist, he drew many other expats to his living room to discuss the world news and atrocities. He was an officer in the Polish army, both during the 1st and 2nd World War and had lived through them by a series of miracles or happenstance. He lived, somehow, but the pain and suffering of others drove him to fury.
The quote above by Zagajewski struck me because of the depth and the thought. Questioning the possibility of a divine intelligence operating, somehow, in the chaos of the world is a huge task. It’s a task I come to over and over, wondering, working through my understanding of the divine, wondering how so much suffering exists because of so much of that which seems “evil.”
It seems to me that most of the ills done by people come out of the conflict of who they are, at base (whatever that consists of) overlayed by how life has treated them – through parents, teachers, clergy, wars, abuse passed down through generations; through passions, I suppose one could say.
And yet, passion drives mystics as well as abusers.
While not claiming to be a mystic, I’m certainly passionate. And I’ve been thinking about that word for several days after my older sister said, “Well, dear sister, there is probably nothing about which you have ever felt neutral.”
She went on to say my passions have probably given me the drive to do all the things I’ve done, but what she said has stayed with me. I’m not neutral. It’s true. A passion to know; a passion to do; a passion to experience.
My theodicy, I suppose, comes out of a study of human psychology, my own and others’. I don’t believe we come into the world evil. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s what I believe. And if we don’t, what then propels evil? If we say the devil, then we don’t take responsibility for our own ability to be corrupted, our own anger, our own hurts, our own need to destroy in whatever way that comes.
And if neither “God” nor “Satan” does, who? Why? How to reconcile a God of love with what we see around us? And yes, I know many people have written and thought and pondered and produced answers. Which may or may not serve and may or may not help.
Perhaps it’s each of our tasks to develop a theodicy, struggle with it, turn it over and examine it, accept no easy answers. Perhaps in our human life, it is all we can do.