“Second-person Accounts and the Problem of Evil”
Stob Lecture, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, November, 1998
Summary: Christians look at the problem of evil differently from non-Christians in at least this way: Christians may rightly believe they have been directly encountered by God (a “second-person experience’) or can so easily imagine such an encounter that second-person accounts of other people’s second person experiences are almost as vivid to them as if they had themselves had the experience. AND, second-person accounts and experiences (e.g. in the case of Job) may make a huge difference. The common interpretation is that Job never does get explanation from God. Maybe that’s so if what’s meant is a discursive account. But he does get “satisfaction.” Or “reassurance.” What he gets is an impressive enough encounter with God that his heart melts and he repents. He saw something in God that reassured him very, very deeply. In a second-person encounter we experience some things that cannot easily be put into propositions. What it is like to be loved by somebody. To be touched, to be surprised, to detect somebody’s mood from the tone of her voice. These things are hard to describe from a first- or third-person point of view. You need encounter with the person of another: “Now my eye SEES thee!” Apparently the context of the whole speech of God in the end has been face-to-face encounter with Job. Job had thought he had been betrayed by God. But there is something in the face-to-face that reassures and satisfies. “The sight of the face of a God whose mothering love is directed even towards rain and ravens is also an explanation of Job’s suffering.” If you saw powerful goodness and love in the face of a person–directed at you–that you had felt betrayed by, you would change your mind. You would feel “stricken, abashed, ashamed, and repentant–just the sort of emotions we find in Job.” So there is an explanation of Job’s suffering: the explanation is that God has allowed it without compromising his love or goodness.