Sunday Evening Theism
I wish I could offer a fuller response to the post Christopher’s “Sunday Morning Atheism.” He raised, powerfully and cogently, some of the issues that do—or should—plague any believer. Sincerity in a religious endeavor requires acknowledging our understanding of theodicy as insufficient. Considering the existence of both evil and God is necessary—but necessarily leads, at least, to doubt. Yitz Greenberg, a rabbi and historian, has argued that in the (post)modern era, only “moment faiths” are possible: the believer’s life is defined by a series of peaks and valleys as he or she grapples with doubts sown by blunt confrontations with twentieth- (and now twenty-first) century suffering.
He also articulates one of two points I want to raise about what we might call the phenomenology of faith in the modern world: discussing the problem of theodicy, while necessarily, is also difficult unto impossibility. “No statement, theological or otherwise,” he writes, “should be made that would not be credible in the presence of the burning children.” We can substitute the victims of sickle-cell anemia Christopher pointed toward without changing the point. For Greenberg, however, the continuing faith of some who suffer means that instant atheism must be rejected alongside the simple, patronizing consolations of God’s unknown plan. What he points toward is this: there is a knowledge of suffering that Job’s brother lacked, though he was moved; and even that Job lacked in comparison with his dying children. Whatever I write on this topic from the comfort of my desk chair will, by its very nature, be insufficient. But even what Job could have learned or said after his suffering and conversation with God wouldn’t necessarily be borne out or apply to the suffering of his children. I don’t mean to say that theodicy and suffering indicate a relativism at the core of everything—but that the absolute particularity they entail brings us to gaps which words cannot cross.
The second observation is from Michael Wyschogrod’s The Body of Faith; like Greenberg’s comments, it can be broadened from its particular subject to faith and theodicy in the modern world more generally:
The human encounter with God that is expressed in praise is the one response most difficult for modern man, and particularly for the contemporary Jew, to understand. For post-Auschwitz Jewry it is the voice of Abraham contesting the justice of the diving decrees against the corrupt cities of man that speaks most recognizably to the human condition. There has crept into our consciousness a profound anger at God, and this anger is shared by all Jews, even those who will not permit this anger to become conscious. Yet we must recognize that there was a time when men in general and Jews in particular were overwhelmed by a deep emotion of gratitude for the wonderful favors bestowed by God. 
My point isn’t that the Holocaust changed everything; the shift in the relationship with questions of theodicy began well before it. (If anything, it only increased the speed of changes that become noticeable in the aftermath of Lisbon’s 1755 earthquake.) Somewhere, modernity altered the ways—perhaps more importantly, the tone—in which the average believer and non-believer relates to and approaches questions of theodicy. If the old solutions were not already insufficient, that is, they would have been rendered so by our time and place.