Theodicy

A Good God in a Wicked World: Considering the Problem of Evil, Part 3

By Jonathan Moreno. From DBSJ 22 (2017): 75-90. Republished with permission. Read the series.

An Answer

The purpose of this section is to present a viable theodicy.36 However, before embarking upon this endeavor, it will be helpful to temper expectations by briefly considering the parameters and limitations of any conclusions that are drawn.

The Parameters of the Answer

A complete and acceptable answer to the problem need only demonstrate that the presence of evil in the universe creates no internal contradictions within a given theological system. A satisfactory solution is not required to alleviate every tension caused by evil or to provide the specific reasons for every instance of evil. The Christian’s answer need only prove that all his theological beliefs are sufficiently harmonized.

The Limitations of the Answer

An additional consideration preliminary to formulating a theodicy is the recognition of its limitations. The answer to the problem is limited by mankind’s finiteness and inferiority.

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A Good God in a Wicked World: Considering the Problem of Evil, Part 2

By Jonathan Moreno. From DBSJ 22 (2017): 75-90. Republished with permission. Read the series

The Complexity of the Problem

Grappling with the problem of evil is a notoriously dubious endeavor due in part to the complexity of the problem. Therefore, if any viable solutions are to be reached, the specific kind of evil must be recognized and defined, and the theological system in which that evil resides must be identified.

Two Kinds of Evil

The first step toward a profitable discussion of the problem of evil is to identify the kind of evil under consideration. The two categories of evil in the universe are identified as moral and natural. The former is the sin that mankind commits (e.g., murder, rape, neglect, deceit, etc.). The latter is the amoral events and circumstances that come about in nature that cause suffering or pain for God’s creatures (e.g., earthquakes, hurricanes, drought, etc.). In Genesis 3:17–19, Moses presents natural evil as the result of moral evil. Due to Adam’s rebellion and disobedience in the garden, all nature bears the weight of the curse (Rom 8:19–22). John Frame writes:

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A Good God in a Wicked World: Considering the Problem of Evil, Part 1

From DBSJ 22 (2017): 75-90. Republished with permission.

by Jonathan Moreno1

Introduction

Elie Wiesel trusted in God. As a boy, he believed that Yahweh cared deeply for him and his people. All that changed in the grueling death camps of Nazi Germany. Elie was a Jew. Subjected to the horrific atroc­ities of Auschwitz, his faith was shattered as his God seemed to sit idly by while countless victims suffered through the darkest evils imaginable at the hands of wicked men. In the preface to his memoir Wiesel writes:

In the beginning there was faith—which is childish; trust—which is vain; and illusion—which is dangerous. We believed in God, trusted in man, and lived with the illusion that every one of us has been entrusted with a sacred spark from the Shekhinah’s flame; that every one of us car­ries in his eyes and in his soul a reflection of God’s image. That was the source if not the cause of all our ordeals.2

How could a good God exist in a world filled with such mindless cruelty? In the face of crippling evil, many have concluded with Wiesel that God is dead. If there truly was a good and powerful God, he would never permit such suffering and pain. Therefore, since evil exists, God does not.

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Right, But Still Dead Wrong

Sometimes, you can be right about something, and yet still be completely wrong.

When I was a criminal investigator with the Military Police, I had a case involving a Sailor who might have faked his promotion and been receiving extra pay for the past three years. That’s a lot of money. Add to it that your cost of living allowances change depending on your rank, and you’re looking at even more money. This was a good case.

Everything pointed to the conclusion that he had forged paperwork, and somehow gotten it past Personnel. We interviewed the Personnel Officer for several hours, wondering how it could have been done. We had the admin guys calculate a dollar figure. We briefed the Staff Judge Advocate, who began salivating with glee and plotting a general courts-martial. We were just missing the one thing. We needed confirmation from a training school back in Texas that they did not promote the guy.

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A History of the Problem of Evil - Modern Philosophy, Part 2

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Hume (1711-1776)

Leading up to Hume, theodicy grew to be an increasingly central issue not only in theological discussion but also in philosophical inquiry—for some (such as Leibniz) it was a primary stimulus. Hume’s empiricism brought no less emphasis on the topic but did, however, generate dramatically disparate conclusions. Countering in particular the teleological concept, Hume attacks theism mercilessly. While epistemology may be his primary battleground, the problem of evil attracts much of his attention. It is notable that for Hume arriving at a theodicy was not his ambition, rather he sought to obliterate traditional notions of God. Having already countered to his own satisfaction a priori arguments for God’s existence, Hume attacks what he believes to be the last bastion of grounding for belief in God—the teleological idea.

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A History of the Problem of Evil - Modern Philosophy

Read the series so far.

Calvin (1509-1564)

Calvin resolutely disregards human volition as a means of absolving God for evil’s existence, and thus rejects earlier mainstream theodicies. In Ockham, however, Calvin finds an agreeable response to the problem, and builds upon Ockham’s foundation—his conception of good. Calvin minces no words when describing the root of good:

The will of God is the supreme rule of righteousness, so that everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it. Therefore, when it is asked why the Lord did so, we must answer, Because he pleased. But if you proceed farther to ask why he pleased, you ask for something greater and more sublime than the will of God, and nothing such can be found.1

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