Theodicy 101

Theodicy is a word that gets kicked around every now and then when bad things happen like the Tsunami in Japan or the earthquake in Haiti. A few words about it from Wikipedia:
Theodicy (from Greek theos - "god" + dike - "justice") is the theological and philosophical studying of the nature of God, in the face of evil in the world. Traditionally, theodicies attempt to resolve the evidential problem of evil and reconcile God's traditional characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence and omniscience (all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing) with the occurrence of evil in the world. Although such arguments have existed for centuries, the term theodicy was coined in 1710 by Germany philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in his work, Théodicée.
Here are a few of the theodicies proffered over the centuries:
  • Leibniz attempted to demonstrate that the evil in the world does not conflict with the goodness of God and that, notwithstanding its many evils, the world is the best of all possible worlds. His view was that since Scripture clearly asserts both the perfection of God and the presence of evil, we must take up an attitude of acceptance in the face of their coexistence.
  • Augustine argued that evil exists as a result of free will of either humans or angels and, as a result, all evil is either sin or the punishment of sin. Aquinas agreed with Augustine and suggested that evil must exist for the appreciation of goodness: if there is no suffering, freedom from suffering cannot be truly appreciated.
  • Irenaeus argued that human creation was split into two parts: humans were made first in the image, the like likeness, of God. The image of 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. Therefore, evil exists to allow humans to develop as moral agents.
I tend to settle in on the Augustinian view yet I do see some merit in the idea that evil might be necessary to contrast with goodness and help us grow as human beings. My concern in all these views is how God is sometimes suggested to be the author of evil and when bad things happen he is blamed for the pain. What do you think?


  1. I think God created everything,
    If not, He wouldn't really be sovereign, but this is a hard topic indeed!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Ma. Perhaps when God created human choice he gave up a bit of micro-sovereignty while not giving up sovereignty on a macro level?

  2. I'm saving your reply in my quotes file. The micro / macro level thing. And speaking of quotes, when I think of evil and suffering...theodicy...I think of the scene in the Brothers Kromanov where one brother is railing at the other brother about evil in the world...honing his focus mainly on the suffering of children. He found that suffering...the suffering of an innocent child...the most horrible. Quote follows:
    Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

    "No, I wouldn't consent," said Alyosha softly.

    Most of us cannot imagine how God can consent to evil/torture/suffering matter how wonderful the final result will be. Yet, we know in our heart that God is good...and there's the rub. Theodicy in a nutshell. If God is good how can he allow suffering? If God allows suffering how can he be good?


    1. Thanks for that great insight Cindi! The interesting aspect of the conversation is that God allowed his very own son to come into the world and die the way that he did. And when He did, in a sense, the ultimate good was crucified by man. Perhaps the issue is not whether God is good but whether He is Love?


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