In The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? David Bentley Hart confronts important questions about spirituality, faith and the omnibenevolent God. He uses the recent devastating tsunami of East Asia in 2004 to illustrate his claims and concepts. The existence of evil in the world, Hart explains, is not under the control of God. The official Catholic view of evil is that evil owes its existence to a parasitic relationship that it shares with the living. The author struggles to understand how an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God can allow terrible natural disasters, like the 2004 tsunami, to cause so much suffering to human beings. He believes that despite the fact that God has total divine sovereignty, many things that happen are out of God´s control, such as hurricane, tsunami or sin and murder. The New Testament and the Bible do not seem to share the same temperament as the author because the Holy Books seem to claim that God is in control of our lives (Hart, P.66). The New Testament explains that evil exists in the incarnation of Satan and that humans who would save their souls should follow Jesus´ instruction. Jesus instructs, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John14:16).” The Bible seems to ignore free will and disagrees with any conceptions of God other than the God decried in the monotheistic Abrahamic religions. The author reasons that learning to trust in God, in one’s own conscience and to have confidence in individual faith are the best tools for deepening your understanding of God (Hart, P.70). The author believes that genuine faith is characterized by optimism and hopefulness. He argues that God should have no association with malevolence, pain or anguish because suffering has no place in a spiritual world. The common depiction of God as a righteous deity who is perfect and never wrong is questioned. In his book, he insists on the need to re-evaluate one’s faith in God and the nature of God’s will when it comes to cases of suffering and the death of the innocent. David Hart´s book is a bold exploration of many of the religious themes hardly ever discussed, such as God´s role in natural disaster, suffering and evil.
The book questions the actions and character of God on several occasions; it is as if he wants to understand the motivations behind God´s actions. He begins with an attack on the character, God, asking if God is accountable for the deaths of the people from the 2004 tsunami natural disaster. The author decides that God should not have allowed innocent people to die and suffer needlessly. Hart is dedicated to defining and confronting all conceptions of God in all disguises. He takes delight in arguing with theology specialists over the matter of good vs. evil. At the beginning of this book, he shows optimism and faith when he explains that the fact that all manners of evil, despite their nature, are eligible for alteration to God’s good end (Hart, P.35). No evil doer or wrong doer is imperceptible to the forces of good and is likely to correct their evil actions if corrected and disciplined. Hart genuinely questions God’s actions regarding the tsunami in order to better understand his relationship with the divine.
Ignoring all the scriptures in the Bible which discuss and explain the quality of God’s omnipotence as a Supreme Being, Hart goes on to question the nature and motivations of God´s actions. The author finds it logical that Christians consider pain and suffering to be a part of life and not the intervention of God. According to the author, grace performs its purpose on the condition that the believer let go of the curiosity and need for total understanding of God’s nature (Hart, P.68). For instance, sometimes people lose sight of the important things in their life because they have stopped experiencing pain, but one of the strengths of religion is that faith will help the believer to safety and healing. Hart is sceptical of all new innovations and new adaptations that change the church. However, he dismisses Calvin like religion because it is far too esoteric and doctrinaire (Hart, P.94). One would argue that life´s struggles, pain and difficult moments make life worthwhile and strengthen one´s faith; yet in cases where the suffering is beyond bearing, one is left to ponder why God would allow it to happen. But there is no answer, except that God doesn´t have any control over natural disasters, suffering and sin and evil.
In this book David Bentley Hart lays open ancient arguments about God´s role in the universe. He, obviously a believer, struggles to understand why God allows humans to suffer so needlessly. Some of the most basic concepts discussed involve simple questions about human suffering and God´s role in the universe. The author is, however, very critical of the pseudo-spirituality that he finds commonplace in the present day. He thinks that too many follow scripture and Church dogma without ever examining the true nature of religious principles. Too often believers only really evaluate their faith when they are faced with tragic experiences or disaster. On normal occasions, this kind of believer disregards complex questions and lacks the drive to re-evaluate their faith in God. The author uses an example from literature to explicate his point: In the classic Russian novel The Brother Karamazov lies a clue to understanding God. Ivan Karamazov has lived a life surrounded by incidents of juvenile torture and murder amidst politically insignificant implications and accusations. In the story, Ivan prays to God for a day in heaven free. He desires only to be where there are no tears and all sins are immediately exonerated. This prayer is essential to Ivan in order for him to continue on with his life. Ivan has never seen heaven and has little assurance of its promise, but he decides to accept on faith that heaven exists and that God can offer him help and safety. Through this vision, Ivan finds relief from the agony and horror he has suffered. Hart uses Ivan´s story to explain the symbolic relationship and promise of God that faithful people will go to heaven. In the Brother´s Karamazov Ivan turns down the opportunity to enter heaven, arguing that it isn´t necessary as going to heaven will not change the fate of the impoverished children he has watched be tortured. As Hart responds to Ivan’s question, he indicates the prominence of the Augustinian view of evil whereby evil is a parasite that attaches itself to the living. In this view evil is not under the control of God and shares a parasitic relationship with humans and other living things.
While most of Hart´s theories and opinions fit nicely with Christian dogma, tradition and belief, at times the author´s opinions are a bit outlandish. According to the author, Christians believe that agony, demise and evil lack eventual essence and spiritual sense and pose little threat to good Christians. However, innocent people are forced sometimes to suffer and be miserable. Hart explains how free will excuses God from any responsibility because free will places the responsibility on the individual. Free will allows humans to come and go as they please, and therefore humans are responsible for their own salvation. Many today will have a hard time listening to this kind of ancient religious mysticism because these claims are unobservable and cannot be proved right or wrong but must be accepted on faith. He argues that the world is not in its God-destined form, but it is in a form fallen from grace with God. The misfortune commenced with the fall of Adam and Eve, whereby death and transgression became the dominant themes for all human life. The author emphasises that God is summoned to confrontation by the actual and independent force of rebelliousness, another claim which many today will have a hard time accepting. Questioning is a form of rebelliousness, like action, but questioning is not a sin. Adam and Eve rebelled, but because of their free will they were expelled from Eden and not punished by God. God´s mercy is great. Some of the author´s claims are a bit outlandish and fabricated, but overall Hart makes good use of Christian tradition, dogma and debate to clarify and elaborate upon his points.
Some Christians will disagree with Hart’s perspective of free will and God´s total divine sovereignty because many do not believe in the doctrine of free will. He justifies his belief in free will with examples of God´s mercy. He provides a sketchy argument about the fall of human beings and how this act has propagated the present moral crisis. Evil, which originated from one choice, can be explained by free will. The fact that individuals can make bad choices is part of free will. However, natural disasters are obviously out of mortal and immortal control, and hence cannot be associated with human-independent will and choice. If there was a possibility of human-independent will causing these natural disasters, then it would be logical to conclude that any person couldn’t use personal opinions to explain complicated, scientific mysteries. As outlandish as it is, Hart provides a starting point for those wanting to formulate a personal argument about religion, God and natural disaster events.
In conclusion, The Doors of the Sea has awakened fresh sentiments about God´s benevolence and role in the universe. Hart’s view of religion and God takes a fundamentalist approach. Some would label the author blasphemous and unseemly, while others would view him as a free-thinker and a humanist. This book reflects on the need for people to re-evaluate their faith and to avoid the habitual sycophantic attitude towards religion. Blind acceptance of any manmade or natural disaster that is alleged to be a part of God’s plan and therefore cannot be questioned is unhealthy, wrong and dangerous. Hart argues that we need to question the acts of God but that does not mean we have to turn our backs on faith to do so. Hart is not advocating an atheist or faithless approach; however, religious fundamentalism does not allow God´s will to be questioned, and as history has shown, those who do are often condemned and ostracized for having the gall to defy the will of the Church.
Hart, David B. The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdamans Publishing Co., 2005. Print.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan House, 1984. Print.
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