The first half of the book:
This is a book about theodicy: i.e. the vindication of God, and his defence from the accusations of his critics. Hart opens with a flurry of contempt against atheistic exploitation of the Tsunami to serve its cause. But this serves merely to set the scene, to point in the general direction of the real issue, which is the challenge posed to Christian faith by the suffering of the little ones. There is little engagement with these atheist writers: apparently they are scarcely qualified to even enter the ring. Hart is just whetting our appetite.
He then casts about for any truly worthy exponents of atheistic arguments-from-suffering. He finds two: first Voltaire, and then, supremely, Dostoyevsky. If you were suspecting that we might be leaving the Tsunami behind in our pursuit of worthy antagonists, you would be right. In fact the Tsunami warrants barely another mention until the last ten pages of the book. It was, apparently a springboard into the more general theological discussion. Hmm.
Voltaire railed eloquently against the horrors of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. He rejected the deist doctrine of his era that evils such as this were a necessary part of ‘the greater good’, calling it an immoral nonsense. But although Voltaire was sparring with deism – a bastard child of Christian faith and not the thing itself – yet his rebellion and others like it are inspired in part by dimly-remembered elements of the true gospel message. Christians do well to let themselves be searched by these critiques, since, intriguingly, ‘sometimes atheism seems to retain elements of ‘Christianity’ within itself that Christians have all too frequently forgotten’ (p.25).
As evidence of this, Hart surveys ‘Christian’ responses to the Tsunami, and finds them ‘more unsavoury’ than those of the atheists! While he finds these Christian responses mutually incompatible, he detects a common element: ‘each…seemed to wish to believe that there is a divine plan…that accounts for every instance of suffering…in a sort of total sum’ (p.29). He notes their ‘apparent need to produce an apologia for God that precluded the possibility of an absurd or pointless remainder in the order of creation and redemption’ (p.35), a need which allowed no room for important NT themes such as that of the victory of God over evil and death. For Hart, the gospel liberates by teaching us that ‘suffering and death…have no true meaning or purpose at all’ (p.35).