» faith and reason

Tuesday, 30 October A.D. 2012 @ 10:03 PM

Nevertheless, since we are finite beings, it can be very hard to keep this in mind when faced with severe suffering. The arguments of philosophers and theologians, however logically impeccable, seem cruelly abstract and cold when compared to the agony of the parents of a raped and murdered child. But then, reason is abstract and cold. Atheists are always telling us how we need soberly to follow it where it leads us, even if it were to break our hearts by telling us that there is no hope for cosmic justice, no hope for seeing lost loved ones ever again, no hope for a life beyond this one. Then, when a Thomas Aquinas reassures us that in fact no matter how bad things get in the life, reason assures us that God can set it right, they feign outrage at such cold-hearted logicality. Some people just can't take yes for an answer.

In any event, it is precisely because of the abstraction and coldness of reason that a kind of faith is needed where evil is concerned. Not because faith is emotional. Faith is not emotional; it is rather an act of the will. And again, not because faith contradicts reason, for it doesn't. Rather, faith in God in the face of evil is nothing less than the will to follow reason's lead when emotion might incline us to doubt. The intensity of the pain one feels can make him want to shake his fist at God, like Job. Yet reason says that the pain is part of an overall plan which we cannot yet fathom, but one in which God can bring out of that pain a good compared to which it will pale in insignificance. Hence reason tells us: have faith in God. We will not always be able to understand what that plan is, or how this or that particular instance of suffering fits into it. We have some general clues here and there--for instance, the fact that certain goods, like patience, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice, cannot be had without certain evils. But we don't know the details. And yet, why should we expect to know them? If there is a God of the sort the arguments I've described point to, and if the soul's ultimate destiny surpasses the cares of this life in the way its immortality implies, then these matters are so far beyond our ordinary experience that it would be extremely surprising if we could fully understand them.

—Edward Feser, from The Last Superstition