This morning, I posted the following observation in a tweet:
We will only begin to appreciate the power of the problem of evil when we take the time to consider thick and detailed stories of suffering.
We will only begin to appreciate the power of theodicy when we take the time to consider think and detailed stories of hope and redemption
Underlying that dual observation is a recognition of the power of story. As a case in point, in 2009, I saw Christopher Hitchens debate four Christians in Dallas, TX. (In fact, the first article I ever wrote for a blog was titled “Atheism in Dallas” and it appeared in March 2009 on The Christian Post website. I later reposted it here.)
The one thing I remember about Hitchens’ withering presentation is that it centered on a story, the horrifying case of Josef Fritzl who kept his daughter a prisoner under his house and raped her for close to thirty years. Hitchens described how Fritzl’s daughter would hear him coming down the stairs to rape her and how God never responded to her prayers. In riveting fashion, Hitchens described Elisabeth wincing with every squeak of the staircase as her father descended into the dungeon to victimize her again. The question, of course, is how could God remain unresponsive to Elisabeth’s prayers? The answer, for Hitchens, is that no true god could remain silent. And thus, God does not exist.
While I have a vague recollection of the arguments made by the Christian apologists that day (William Lane Craig, James Denison, Doug Wilson and Lee Strobel as well as the very partisan “moderator”, Stan Guthrie) they were all cerebral and lacked an emotional weight to lodge deep. By contrast, Hitchens’ narration of abuse concealed an iron hook that lodged deep within my memory, such that I remember it vividly more than a decade later: indeed, I shall not likely forget it until the fog of dementia winds its way through my neurons in thirty-plus years.
Now that is the power of story. And on that occasion, the dais featured a powerful storyteller of evil. One can only wish that it has featured an equally powerful storyteller of hope and redemption.