THEODICY (/θiːˈɒdɪsi/ ), in its most common form, is an attempt
to answer the question of why a good
God permits the manifestation of
evil . Some theodicies also address the evidential problem of evil by
attempting "to make the existence of an all-knowing , all-powerful and
all-good or omnibenevolent
God consistent with the existence of evil"
or suffering in the world. Unlike a defense, which tries to
demonstrate that God's existence is logically possible in the light of
evil, a theodicy attempts to provide a framework wherein God's
existence is also plausible. The German mathematician and philosopher
Gottfried Leibniz coined the term "theodicy" in 1710 in his work
Théodicée _, though various responses to the problem of evil had
been previously proposed. The British philosopher
John Hick traced the
history of moral theodicy in his 1966 work, _
Evil and the
Love_, identifying three major traditions:
* the Plotinian theodicy, named after
Augustinian theodicy , which Hick based on the writings of
Augustine of Hippo
Irenaean theodicy , which Hick developed, based on the
thinking of St.
The problem was also analyzed by pre-modern theologians and
philosophers in the Islamic world. German philosopher Max Weber
(1864–1920) saw theodicy as a social problem, based on the human
need to explain puzzling aspects of the world. Sociologist Peter L.
Berger (1929–2017) argued that religion arose out of a need for
social order, and an “implicit theodicy of all social order”
developed to sustain it. Following the
Holocaust , a number of Jewish
theologians developed a new response to the problem of evil, sometimes
called anti-theodicy, which maintains that
God cannot be meaningfully
justified. As an alternative to theodicy, a defense has been proposed
by the American philosopher
Alvin Plantinga , which is limited to
showing the logical possibility of God's existence. Plantinga's
version of the free-will defence argued that the coexistence of God
and evil is not logically impossible, and that free will further
explains the existence of evil without threatening the existence of
Similar to a theodicy, a cosmodicy attempts to justify the
fundamental goodness of the universe, and an anthropodicy attempts to
justify the goodness of humanity.
* 1 Definition and etymology
* 2 Reasons for theodicy
* 3 History
* 3.1 Ancient religions
* 3.1.1 Biblical theodicy
* 3.4 Origenian theodicy
* 3.5 Relatively minor theodicies
* 3.6 Islamic world
* 4 Alternatives
* 4.1 Jewish anti-theodicy
* 4.2 Christian alternatives to theodicy
Free will defense
* 4.4 Cosmodicy and anthropodicy
* 4.4.1 Essential kenosis
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 Bibliography
* 8 External links
DEFINITION AND ETYMOLOGY
As defined by Alvin Plantinga, theodicy is the "answer to the
question of why
God permits evil".
Theodicy is defined as a
theological construct that attempts to vindicate
God in response to
the evidential problem of evil that militates against the existence of
an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity. The word _theodicy_ derives
from the Greek words Θεός _Τheos_ and δίκη _dikē_. _Theos_
is translated "God" and _dikē_ can be translated as either "trial" or
"judgement". Thus, theodicy literally means "justifying God".
In the _
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy _,
Nick Trakakis proposed
an additional three requirements which must be contained within a
* Common sense views of the world.
* Widely held historical and scientific opinion.
* Plausible moral principles.
As a response to the problem of evil, a theodicy is distinct from a
defence. A defence attempts to demonstrate that the occurrence of evil
does not contradict God's existence, but it does not propose that
rational beings are able to understand why
God permits evil. A
theodicy seeks to show that it is reasonable to believe in
evidence of evil in the world and offers a framework which can account
for why evil exists. A theodicy is often based on a prior natural
theology , which attempts to prove the existence of God, and seeks to
demonstrate that God's existence remains probable after the problem of
evil is posed by giving a justification for God's permitting evil to
happen. Defenses propose solutions to the logical problem of evil ,
while theodicies attempt to answer the evident problem.
REASONS FOR THEODICY
Max Weber interpreted theodicy as a social
problem, and viewed theodicy as a "problem of meaning". Weber argued
that, as human society became increasingly rational , the need to
explain why good people suffered and evil people prospered became more
important because religion casts the world as a "meaningful cosmos".
Weber framed the problem of evil as the dilemma that the good can
suffer and the evil can prosper, which became more important as
religion became more sophisticated. He identified two purposes of
theodicy: to explain why good people suffer (a theodicy of suffering),
and why people prosper (a theodicy of good fortune). A theodicy of
good fortune seeks to justify the good fortune of people in society;
Weber believed that those who are successful are not satisfied unless
they can justify why they deserve to be successful. For theodicies of
suffering, Weber argued that three different kinds of theodicy
emerged—predestination , dualism , and karma —all of which attempt
to satisfy the human need for meaning, and he believed that the quest
for meaning, when considered in light of suffering, becomes the
problem of suffering.
Peter L. Berger characterised religion as the human
attempt to build order out of a chaotic world. He believed that humans
could not accept that anything in the world was meaningless and saw
theodicy as an assertion that the cosmos has meaning and order,
despite evidence to the contrary. Berger presented an argument
similar to that of Weber, but suggested that the need for theodicy
arose primarily out of the situation of human society. He believed
that theodicies existed to allow individuals to transcend themselves,
denying the individual in favour of the social order.
The term _theodicy_ was coined by German philosopher Gottfried
Leibniz in his 1710 work, written in French , _Essais de Théodicée
sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l\'homme et l\'origine du mal _
(_Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the
Origin of Evil_). Leibniz's _Théodicée_ was a response to skeptical
Pierre Bayle , who wrote in his work
Dictionnaire Historique et Critique _ that, after rejecting three
attempts to solve it, he saw no rational solution to the problem of
evil. Bayle argued that, because the
Bible asserts the coexistence of
God and evil, this state of affairs must simply be accepted.
Voltaire criticised Leibniz's concept of theodicy
in his _
Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne _ (_Poem on the Lisbon
disaster_), suggesting that the massive destruction of innocent lives
caused by the
Lisbon earthquake demonstrated that
God was not
providing the "best of all possible worlds".
Voltaire also includes
the earthquake/theodicy theme in his novel, Candide.
The Catholic Encyclopedia _ (1914), Constantine Kempf argued
that, following Leibniz's work, philosophers called their works on the
problem of evil "theodicies", and philosophy about
God was brought
under the discipline of theodicy. He argued that theodicy began to
include all of natural theology , meaning that theodicy came to
consist of the human knowledge of
God through the systematic use of
In 1966, British philosopher
John Hick published _
Evil and the
Love_, in which he surveyed various Christian responses to the problem
of evil, before developing his own. In his work, Hick identified and
distinguished between three types of theodicy: Plotinian, which was
named after Plotinus, Augustinian , which had dominated Western
Christianity for many centuries, and Irenaean , which was developed by
Irenaeus , a version of which Hick
subscribed to himself.
In his dialogue "Is
God a Taoist?", published in 1977 in his book
_The Tao is Silent _,
Raymond Smullyan proves that it is logically
impossible to have sentient beings without allowing evil, even for
God, just as it is impossible for him to create a triangle in the
Euclidean plane having an angular sum other than 180°. So the
capability of feeling implies free will, which in turn may produce
evil, understood here as hurting other sentient beings. The problem of
evil happening to good people is not addressed directly here, but both
reincarnation and karma are hinted at.
“Writings and discourses on theodicy by Jews, Greeks, Christians,
and Eastern religions have graced our planet for thousands of
years.” In the
Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2000 BC to 1700 BC) as
“in Ancient Mesopotamian and Israelite literature,” theodicy was
an important issue.
Dr Philip Irving Mitchell of the
Dallas Baptist University notes that
some philosophers have cast the pursuit of theodicy as a modern one,
as earlier scholars used the problem of evil to support the existence
of one particular god over another, explain wisdom, or explain a
conversion, rather than to justify God's goodness. Professor Sarah
Iles Johnston argues that ancient civilizations, such as the ancient
Mesopotamians , Greeks , Romans , and Egyptians held polytheistic
beliefs that may have enabled them to deal with the concept of
theodicy differently. These religions taught the existence of many
gods and goddesses who controlled various aspects of daily life. These
early religions may have avoided the question of theodicy by endowing
their deities with the same flaws and jealousies that plagued humanity
. No one god or goddess was fundamentally good or evil; this explained
that bad things could happen to good people if they angered a deity
because the gods could exercise the same free will that humankind
possesses. Such religions taught that some gods were more inclined to
be helpful and benevolent, while others were more likely to be
spiteful and aggressive. In this sense, the evil gods could be blamed
for misfortune, while the good gods could be petitioned with prayer
and sacrifices to make things right. There was still a sense of
justice in that individuals who were right with the gods could avoid
Theodicy and the
The biblical account of the justification of evil and suffering in
the presence of
God has both similarities and contrasts in the Hebrew
Bible and the New Testament. For the Hebrew Bible, the
Book of Job is
often quoted as the authoritative source of discussion.
On the question of the absolute or relative form of the issue of
theodicy prevailing in biblical theology as such, the prevailing
account is predominantly in the relative form of theodicy in general.
Book of Isaiah in chapter 45 states;
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil:
I the LORD do all these things. — Isaiah 45:7
However, the Hebrew word רַע for "bad" has a wide range of
meanings as it does in English and can be interpreted as misfortune,
or calamity as with the New American Standard
Bible or the English
Standard Version This can be used improperly to attempt to deny
God's omnibenevolence, but this fails to take into account the
potential for a variety of the depths of the love of
God towards those
who are and are not his people. That
God punishes those who are guilty
and deserve it does not make him unloving, but in fact is an appeal
that is all too common when questioning theodicy, viz. justice. It is
an appeal to justice to suggest that
God is not omnibenevolent,
particularly that since evil exists and
God should stop it if he
could, or cannot at all. This assumes that the fullness of what can be
known is available, but for the Christian, the Scriptures assure him
or her that the allowance of evil is for a greater purpose: that God's
name shall be honored. What is more, God's allowance of evil is
essential to the outworking of redemptive history, nay the gospel
itself and is referred to the "Greater-Good" defense.
This is somewhat illustrated in the
Book of Exodus when Pharoah is
described as being raised up that God's name be known in all the earth
Exodus 9:16. This is mirrored in Romans' ninth chapter, where Paul
makes an appeal to God's sovereignty as sufficient explanation, with
God's goodness experientially known to the Christian.
The Protestant and Reformed reading of
Augustinian theodicy , as
promoted primarily by
John Hick , is based on the writings of
Augustine of Hippo , a Christian philosopher and theologian who lived
from AD 354 to 430. The catholic (pre-reformation) formulation of the
same issue is substantially different and is outlined below. In Hick's
approach, this form of theodicy argues that evil does not exist except
as a privation —or corruption of—goodness, and therefore
not create evil. Augustinian scholars have argued that
the world perfectly, with no evil or human suffering.
Evil entered the
world through the disobedience of
Adam and Eve and the theodicy casts
the existence of evil as a just punishment for this original sin .
The theodicy argues that humans have an evil nature in as much as it
is deprived of its original goodness, form, order, and measure due to
the inherited original sin of
Adam and Eve , but still ultimately
remains good due to existence coming from God, for if a nature was
completely evil (deprived of the good), it would cease to exist. It
God remains blameless and good.
In the Roman Catholic reading of Augustine , the issue of just war as
developed in his book _The City of God_ substantially established his
position concerning the positive justification of killing, suffering
and pain as inflicted upon an enemy when encountered in war for a just
cause. Augustine asserted that peacefulness in the face of a grave
wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin. Defense
of one's self or others could be a necessity, especially when
authorized by a legitimate authority. While not elaborating the
conditions necessary for war to be just, Augustine nonetheless
originated the very phrase, itself, in his work _The City of
In essence, the pursuit of peace must include the option of fighting
with all of its eventualities in order to preserve peace in the
long-term. Such a war could not be pre-emptive, but defensive, to
Thomas Aquinas , centuries later, used the authority
of Augustine's arguments in an attempt to define the conditions under
which a war could be just.
Irenaeus (died c. 202), born in the early second century, expressed
ideas which explained the existence of evil as necessary for human
Irenaeus argued that human creation comprised two parts:
humans were made first in the image, then in the likeness, of God. The
God consists of having the potential to achieve moral
perfection, whereas the likeness of
God is the achievement of that
perfection. To achieve moral perfection,
Irenaeus suggested that
humans must have free will. To achieve such free will, humans must
experience suffering and
God must be at an epistemic distance (a
distance of knowledge) from humanity. Therefore, evil exists to allow
humans to develop as moral agents. In the twentieth century, John
Hick collated the ideas of
Irenaeus into a distinct theodicy. He
argued that the world exists as a "vale of soul-making" (a phrase that
he drew from
John Keats ), and that suffering and evil must therefore
occur. He argued that human goodness develops through the experience
of evil and suffering.
In direct response to John Hick's description of theodicy, Mark Scott
has indicated that neither
Augustine of Hippo nor
Irenaeus of Lyons
provide an appropriate context for the discussion of Hick's theistic
version of theodicy. As a theologian among the
Church Fathers who
articulated a theory of _apokatastasis _ (or universal reconciliation
Origen of Alexandria provides a more direct theological comparison
for the discussion of Hick's presentation of universal salvation and
Irenaeus nor Augustine endorsed a theology of
universal salvation in any form comparable to that of John Hick.
RELATIVELY MINOR THEODICIES
Michael Martin summarizes what he calls “relatively minor”
* The Finite
Theodicy maintains that
God is all-good
(omnibenevolent ) but not all-powerful (omnipotent ).
* The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy, a traditional theology,
argues that the creation is the best of all possible worlds.
Theodicy holds that evil came into the world
because of humanity's original sin.
* The Ultimate Harmony
Theodicy justifies evil as leading to “good
* The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State
Theodicy has been
reckoned a “complex theodicy.” It argues that a person’s state
is deemed evil only when it is undesirable to the person. However,
God is unable to make a person’s state desirable to the
person, the theodic problem does not exist.
Theodicy believes that people suffer evil
because of their wrong-doing in a previous life.
* The Contrast
Theodicy holds that evil is needed to enable people
to appreciate or understand good.
* The Warning
Theodicy rationalizes evil as God’s warning to
people to mend their ways.
Mu\'tazila theologians approached the problem of theodicy within a
framework of moral realism , according to which the moral value of
acts is accessible to unaided reason, so that humans can make moral
judgments about divine acts. They argued that the divine act of
creation is good despite existence of suffering, because it allows
humans a compensation of greater reward in the afterlife. They
posited that individuals have free will to commit evil and absolved
God of responsibility for such acts. God's justice thus consists of
punishing wrongdoers. Following the demise of
Mu'tazila as a school,
their theodicy was adopted in the
Twelver branches of Shia
Most Sunni theologians analyzed theodicy from an anti-realist
metaethical standpoint. Ash\'ari theologians argued that ordinary
moral judgments stem from emotion and social convention, which are
inadequate to either condemn or justify divine actions. Ash'arites
God creates everything, including human actions, but
distinguish creation (_khalq_) from acquisition (_kasb_) of actions.
They allow individuals the latter ability, though they do not posit
existence of free will in a fuller sense of the term. In the words of
God creates, in man, the power, ability, choice, and will to perform
an act, and man, endowed with this derived power, chooses freely one
of the alternatives and intends or wills to do the action, and,
corresponding to this intention,
God creates and completes the action.
Ash\'ari theology, which dominated Sunni Islam from the tenth to the
nineteenth century, also insists on ultimate divine transcendence and
teaches that human knowledge regarding it is limited to what was has
been revealed through the prophets, so that on the question of God's
creation of evil, revelation has to accepted _bila kayfa_ (without
Ibn Sina , the most influential Muslim philosopher, analyzed theodicy
from a purely ontological, neoplatonic standpoint, aiming to prove
that God, as the absolutely good First Cause, created a good world.
Ibn Sina argued that evil refers either to a cause of an entity (such
as burning in a fire), being a quality of another entity, or to its
imperfection (such as blindness), in which case it does not exist as
an entity. According to Ibn Sina, such qualities are necessary
attributes of the best possible order of things, so that the good they
serve is greater than the harm they cause.
Philosophical Sufi theologians such as
Ibn Arabi were influenced by
the neoplatonic theodicy of
Ibn Sina .
Al-Ghazali echoed the
optimistic theodicy of Leibniz in his dictum "There is nothing in
possibility more wonderful than what is."
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi , who
represented the mainstream Sunni view, challenged Ibn Sina's analysis
and argued that it merely sidesteps the real problem of evil, which is
rooted in the human experience of suffering in a world that contains
more pain than pleasure.
Ibn Taymiyya argued that, while God
creates human acts, humans are responsible for their deeds as the
agents of their acts. He held that divine creation is good from a
casual standpoint, as
God creates all things for wise purposes. Thus
apparent evil is in actuality good in view of its purpose, and pure
evil does not exists. This analysis was developed further with
practical illustrations by
Ibn al-Qayyim .
In 1998, Jewish theologian
Zachary Braiterman coined the term
anti-theodicy in his book _(God) After Auschwitz_ to describe Jews,
both in a biblical and post-
Holocaust context, whose response to the
problem of evil is protest and refusal to investigate the relationship
God and suffering. An anti-theodicy acts in opposition to a
theodicy and places full blame for all experience of evil onto God,
but must rise from an individual's belief in and love of God.
Anti-theodicy has been likened to Job\'s protests in the
Book of Job .
Braiterman wrote that an anti-theodicy rejects the idea that there is
a meaningful relationship between
God and evil or that
God could be
justified for the experience of evil.
Holocaust prompted a reconsideration of theodicy in some Jewish
circles. French Jewish philosopher
Emmanuel Levinas , who had himself
been a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany, declared theodicy to be
"blasphemous", arguing that it is the "source of all immorality", and
demanded that the project of theodicy be ended. Levinas asked whether
the idea of absolutism survived after the Holocaust, which he proposed
it did. He argued that humans are not called to justify
God in the
face of evil, but to attempt to live godly lives; rather than
God was present during the Holocaust, the duty of
humans is to build a world where goodness will prevail.
Professor of theology David R. Blumenthal, in his book _Facing the
Abusing God_, supports the "theology of protest", which he saw as
presented in the play, _The Trial of
God _. He supports the view that
survivors of the
Holocaust cannot forgive
God and so must protest
about it. Blumenthal believes that a similar theology is presented in
the book of Job , in which Job does not question God's existence or
power, but his morality and justice. Other prominent voices in the
Jewish tradition commenting on the justification of
God in the
presence of the
Holocaust have been the Nobel prize winning author
Elie Wiesel and Richard L. Rubinstein in his book _The Cunning of
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe of Chabad
Lubavitch sought to elucidate how faith (or trust, _emunah_) in God
defines the full, transcendental preconditions of anti-theodicy.
Endorsing the attitude of "holy protest" found in Job and Jeremiah,
but also in Abraham (Genesis 18 ) and Moses (Exodus 33 ), Rabbi
Schneerson argued that a phenomenology of protest, when carried
through to its logical limits, reveals a profound conviction in cosmic
justice such as we first find in Abraham's question, "Will the Judge
of the whole earth not do justice?" (Genesis 18:25). Recalling Kant's
1791 essay on the failure of all theoretical attempts in theodicy, a
viable practical theodicy is identified with messianism . This
faithful anti-theodicy is worked out in a long letter of 26 April 1965
to Elie Wiesel.
CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVES TO THEODICY
A number of Christian writers oppose theodicies. Todd Billings deems
constructing theodicies to be a “destructive practice”. In the
Nick Trakakis observes that “theodical discourse can only
add to the world’s evils, not remove or illuminate them.” As an
alternative to theodicy, some theologians have advocated “reflection
on tragedy” as a more befitting reply to evil. For example, Wendy
Farley believes that “a desire for justice” and “anger and pity
at suffering” should replace “theodicy’s cool justifications of
evil”. Sarah K. Pinnock opposes abstract theodicies that would
legitimize evil and suffering. However, she endorses theodicy
discussions in which people ponder God, evil, and suffering from a
practical faith perspective.
Karl Barth viewed the evil of human suffering as ultimately in the
“control of divine providence ”. Given this view, Barth deemed it
impossible for humans to devise a theodicy that establishes "the idea
of the goodness of God". For Barth only the crucifixion could
establish the goodness of God. In the crucifixion,
God bears and
suffers what humanity suffers. This suffering by
God Himself makes
human theodicies anticlimactic. Barth found a “twofold
justification” in the crucifixion: the justification of sinful
humanity and “the justification in which
God justifies Himself”.
Christian Science offers a rational, though widely unacceptable,
solution to the problem by denying that evil ultimately exists. Mary
Baker Eddy and
Mark Twain had some contrasting views on theodicy and
suffering, which are well-described by
Stephen Gottschalk .
FREE WILL DEFENSE
Theodicy and the
Bible and free will theodicy
As an alternative to a theodicy, a defense may be offered as a
response to the problem of evil. A defense attempts to show that God's
existence is not made logically impossible by the existence of evil;
it does not need to be true or plausible, merely logically possible.
Alvin Plantinga offers a free will defense which
argues that human free will sufficiently explains the existence of
evil while maintaining that God's existence remains logically
possible. He argues that, if God's existence and the existence of
evil are to be logically inconsistent, a premise must be provided
which, if true, would make them inconsistent; as none has been
provided, the existence of
God and evil must be consistent. Free will
furthers this argument by providing a premise which, in conjunction
with the existence of evil, entails that God's existence remains
consistent. Opponents have argued this defense is discredited by the
existence of non-human related evil such as droughts, tsunamis and
COSMODICY AND ANTHROPODICY
A cosmodicy attempts to justify the fundamental goodness of the
universe in the face of evil , and an anthropodicy attempts to justify
the fundamental goodness of human nature in the face of the evils
produced by humans.
Considering the relationship between theodicy and cosmodicy, Johannes
van der Ven argued that the choice between theodicy and cosmodicy is a
false dilemma. Philip E. Devenish proposed what he described as "a
nuanced view in which theodicy and cosmodicy are rendered
complementary, rather than alternative concepts". Theologian J.
Matthew Ashley described the relationship between theodicy, cosmodicy
In classical terms, this is to broach the problem of theodicy: how to
God in the face of the presence of suffering in God's
creation. After God's dethronement as the subject of history, the
question rebounds to the new subject of history: the human being. As a
consequence, theodicy becomes anthropodicy — justifications of our
faith in humanity as the subject of history, in the face of the
suffering that is so inextricably woven into the history that humanity
This theodicy rethinks God's omnipotence by saying God's power is
constrained by God's love. Essential kenosis says that love comes
first in God. Philosophically, this means that love is logically
prior to power in God's nature.
This view allows one to affirm that
God is almighty, while
simultaneously affirming that
God cannot prevent genuine evil. Because
out of love
God necessarily gives freedom, agency, self-organization,
natural processes, and law-like regularities to creation,
override, withdraw, or fail to provide such capacities. Consequently,
God is not culpable for failing to prevent genuine evil. Thomas Jay
Oord's work explains this view most fully.
Problem of hell
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