In his book, Irrational Man, William Barrett referred to theodicy as the great tragicomedy of philosophy. In The Third Peacock, Robert Farrar Capon tackles the subject, with a special emphasis on the comedy.
I am a big fan of Capon’s work (a line from his book Bed and Board gave this blog its name). His wit and his ability to toe the line of absurdity make him a dangerous theologian to tangle with. In The Third Peacock, he takes on the usual attempts to explain evil in the world, and finds each one lacking. In their places, he takes his readers on a theological journey where necessity is replaced by adventure and logic is replaced by love. For those involved in the day to day work of pastoral care, The Third Peacock is worth reading for the way in which Capon’s writing knocks down the tired cliches that tragedy continually drags forth. That’s not to say that Capon provides his readers with an easy one-liner to replace the cliches. Instead, he guides his readers into really thinking about God, His creation, and suffering.
The Third Peacock isn’t only useful to spur thinking on the problem of evil. In fact, the seventh chapter, entitled “The Hat on the Invisible Man,” is pure ecclesiological gold. As a capstone to his argument, Capon lays out one of the best short definitions of the church that I’ve ever read. He slyly rebukes proponents of the church as principally a well-spring of social service and calls for a return to a ministry of Word and Sacrament that takes seriously the reality of Christ’s presence. It’s masterful stuff, and at only 119 pages, it can be read in two or three days. If you’re a pastor, The Third Peacock is ignored at your own peril. If you’re not, it’s enjoyable enough to be read anyways.