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Asketerion Review: Eleonore Stump's Wandering in Darkness, Narrative and the Problem of Suffering

The question of the compatibility of suffering in the world with the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient God is perennial. Few, if any, escape the discomfort of the questions it can raise in their faith. The Old Testament can read like a litany of divine punishment and human suffering and is often misread or ignored by generations who have slid into a woolly deism—“He is there, watching, but rarely, if ever, intervenes.” The notion of ‘the strong arm of God’ is distasteful to us (how easily we forget that it is we who fall and cause suffering, not God), and the notion of innocent suffering in particular is one that even Catholics, these days, can struggle to accept. After all, we live in an age where the cancellation of suffering is the urgent call of the times—whether by euthanasia or abortion or gender ‘reassignment’. The exigency of removing pain, by any means (even if it ultimately results in more pain), has become the unnegotiable standard of the modern day secular world. Suffering has no meaning; it is to be abolished. And yet, as fallen humanity, we can never abolish it on our own terms.

 

Suffering puzzles us. And yet God teaches us, directly through scripture, much about the mystery of suffering, and his and our role in it. Just as the Son taught in parables, the Father teaches us through stories. The Bible shows humanity at its messiest, and gazes honestly at the face of suffering in all its forms. Teasing out the meaning of these stories for us is not child’s play, and nor should it be. While the stories are timeless and simple on one level, God knows they must be read across time and place by generation after generation. For their interpretation we need the magisterium, we need holy theologians and philosophers.

 

Eleonore Stump’s book, “Wandering in Darkness, Narrative and the Problem of Suffering” is a profound and deeply meditated work on this very issue. She leaves no theological or philosophical stone unturned in her analysis of suffering, which she bases around four biblical figures: Samson, Job, Mary Magdalene and Abraham. We cannot recommend this book strongly enough. She provides dazzling and well-rooted insight into all of these stories and the nature of suffering itself.

 

The Asketerion is honoured to have the author's permission to reproduce here the chapter on Abraham. Eleonore is both a brilliant and quiet light within the Church. We are very blessed to have her.