Routledge - Taylor & Francis Group Ltd

The Bible, theodicy and Christian responses to historic and contemporary earthquakes and volcanic eruptions

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Theodicy is defined as the process of seeking to reconcile the reality of human suffering with the notion of a loving God. It is commonly associated with several models first proposed by Leibniz in the 18th century, though theodicy as an intellectual and religious pursuit is much older, with antecedents stretching back to biblical times. It is argued that within Christian theology 'divine retribution' is not only the most prominent theodicy within scripture, but is also the one most frequently adopted historically as the preferred explanation for losses and suffering caused by disasters, including those produced by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Contrary to what some historians of the earth sciences have maintained, we argue that in many societies with a Christian ethos there is little evidence to suggest that religious explanations have ceased to be important. The case is made that a model of 'divine retribution' is not merely a feature of biblical narratives, Christian history and pre-industrial societies, but also continues to guide the ways in which some, albeit a minority, of Christians interpret disaster losses today. An argument is advanced that other Leibnizian theodicies, especially the 'best of all possible worlds' model, are also supported biblically and have been increasingly adopted by Christians to explain disaster losses particularly since the 18th century. In recent decades the nature of theodicy has changed fundamentally. In some cases this has involved the development of theodicies such as the 'free-will defence' which have long existed within the Leibnizian canon, but in other instances theologians have moved beyond this tradition to produce what may be termed 'post-Leibnizian' models, of which the 'liberationist' is the best supported biblically and theologically. Close relationships between 'liberationist theodicy' and liberation theology, which is prominent in many economically less developed countries especially in Latin America, are discussed. Finally, the implications of 'liberationist' theodicy for Christian social action (i.e. praxis) and hazard planning are noted.

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