Attempts to solve the Theodicy problem:
Why doesn't an all-good God prevent evil?
Theodicy: an unsolvable paradox?
The problem of theodicy -- how can such evil and suffering exist in a
universe created by a good, loving God -- is a
centuries-old, unresolved paradox that is inherent in all religions that include
a belief in a
personal all-loving, all knowing, all-powerful, and present God.
In Archibald MacLeish's play, "J.B." the title character expresses the theodicy
paradox eloquently: "If God is God He is not good, if God is good He is not
God; take the even, take the odd..." 1,2
Many Christians and other theists yearn for a understanding of the puzzle. Theologians
and philosophers have been debating the
theodicy paradox for centuries, without making a great deal of progress.
be impossible to solve the puzzle while still believing in a God with
all of the traditional characteristics; it may be necessary to abandon belief in one or
more of God's attributes. Perhaps God is not (or chooses to not appear to be) omniscient;
perhaps he lacks
omnipotence; perhaps he is not a loving, caring deity. We do know that God has
an amazing ability to hate humans; there are dozens of biblical passages
referring to God's wrath, and the torture of unbelievers in
Agnostics and Atheists have used the
conflict over theodicy as
a main indicator that a personal God does not exist. Deists
have used theodicy to argue that God exists but is not currently involved in the
world. He created the universe, set it in motion, disappeared and has not been
Attempts to resolve the theodicy paradox:
Some religions have solved or partly solved this problem. Most do it by
reducing or abandoning one of the attributes of God. A few religious leaders
have admitted that they simply cannot solve the puzzle. This takes courage when
faced with multitudes of people who desperately want answers. The 2001 terrorist
attack of 9/11 brought the theodicy question to the awareness of many Americans:
- Fundamentalist Christian leader: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,
is considered by many to be a main
spiritual leader of the Southern Baptists. He touched on theodicy during an
address at the Seminary's Alumni Memorial Chapel on 2001-SEP-13, two days
after the 9/11 tragedy. 1 He assigned full responsibility for the attacks
on the (then) unknown terrorists. He said:
"We dare not lack the moral courage to call
these acts what they are: murderous acts of mass terror. We dare not dignify the
murderers by explaining their cause. No cause, however righteous, can justify
such acts. And, no righteous cause could produce such acts."
Earlier in his talk, Dr. Mohler touched on theodicy:
"How could a good God allow
this to happen? How can a God of love allow killers to kill, terrorists to
terrorize, and the wicked to escape without a trace?"
He acknowledges that
God is omnipotent -- infinitely powerful -- and thus could have prevented the
tragedy. He said:
"This much we know: we cannot speak of God's decree in a way
that would imply Him to be the author of evil, and we cannot fall back to speak
of His mere permission, as if this allows a denial of His sovereignty and active
will. And we know that God causes all things to
work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to
His purpose." 1,3
He admits that humans cannot know the full truth:
not speak on God's behalf to explain why He allowed these particular acts of
evil to happen at this time to these persons and in this manner. Yet, at the
same time, we dare not be silent when we should testify to the God of
righteousness and love and justice who rules over all in omnipotence. Humility
requires that we affirm all that the Bible teaches, and go no further. There is
much we do not understand. As Charles Spurgeon explained, when we cannot trace
God's hand, we must simply trust His heart."
- Deists believe that God created the universe,
set it in motion, and then withdrew from the scene. He hasn't been seen
since. They regard God as not having omniscience; he has not chosen to
remain aware of what is happening on earth. Most of the writers of the
U.S. founding documents were Deists.
- Zoroastrianism was once the
religion of ancient Persia. It remains a small religion whose members live largely in
India. Their religion has largely settled the
paradox. They promote a cosmic dualism between two more or
less equal forces:
- A powerful, all good God Ahura Mazda, who is
the only deity worthy of being worshipped, and
- An evil spirit of violence and death Angra
Mainyu, who opposes Ahura Mazda.
The resulting cosmic conflict involves the entire universe now and until the
end of time. Humans must choose which deity to follow. Angra Mainyu can
generate great evil, like the terrorist acts during 9/11.
Here, Angra Mainyu would be seen as largely responsible for the terrorist
attack; Ahura Mazda is powerful, but not all-powerful. Thus, he was unable to
stop it. Some religious liberals believe that Judaism (and thus
Christianity and Islam)
picked up its belief in heaven, hell, the final judgment, and
Satan as an all-evil entity, from Zoroastrianism.
- Conservative Christians, Muslims and
others believe in a personal
Satan, an all-evil devil who roams the world seeking whom he might be able to
destroy. Most evil occurrences are attributed to Satan. God is often viewed,
by Christians, as
providing a protective shield around Christian countries. But this is only a
partial answer to the problem of theodicy. It begs the question: if God
is omniscient and omnipotent, why did he not curtail the activities of Satan and prevent him from succeeding in his
plan to cause natural or man-made disasters?.
- Mainline Christian leader: Rev. Jack Rogers, moderator of the 213th General
Assembly of the Presbyterian Church discussed the terrorist attacks with
members of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fruit Heights,
UT. He said that the church as well as the world will never be the same.
"It has been asked that if God is good why do evil things
happen to good people? We don't know the answer to that but we know that
we belong to God and he will give us hope and enable us to go on."
- Jewish leader: Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good
People," concluded in his book that the theodicy paradox can only be solved only by
the traditional attributes of God. 6 Viewing God as all-knowing, all-loving, and
all-powerful leads to internal contradictions. At least one attribute has to
be abandoned. He
suggests that we reject the omnipotence of God. One can then believe in a deity with
only finite powers to influence people's actions, but who remains all-knowing and all-loving. Kushner's God didn't
prevent the terrorists because he didn't have the power to do so. God can
only cry with the victims.
- Atheists have no problem with the theodicy paradox for the simply reason that
they have no belief in the existence of God. Strong Atheists positively deny that God exists.
Atheists are generally moral relativists and conclude that a given act may
be considered immoral by some people, morally neutral by others, and moral
by still others. Within the terrorists' personal belief system, murdering
thousands of people was a moral act because it strikes back against
America -- a country that they often refer to as Satan. If they had a feasible way
to kill 60,000 people instead of 6,000, they probably would have taken it. They were so
motivated by this belief that they were willing to sacrifice their lives
to accomplish their goal. Bad things happen simply because people want to
do them in order to accomplish what they feel is a great moral good. God does not intervene because,
according to Atheists, there is no evidence that he exists.
- Process thought was originally promoted the early 1900s by a
French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson. Alfred North Whitehead and Charles
Hartshorne developed it further. It deals with the interrelationships of
all entities in the universe.
"It has been utilized to provide insights
into aesthetics, biology, economics, education, interpersonal relations,
physics, physiology, political theory, psychology, the relationship among
the world's religions, social law, and theology." 7
One of the three main areas of process thought is process theology. It
teaches that that God affects history indirectly through gentle persuasion
and not directly by coercion. He does not intrude directly in human
activities; he does not violate the laws of nature by creating a miracle.
"God gently persuades all entities towards this perfection by
providing each of them with a glimpse of the divine vision of a better
future. And yet all entities retain the freedom to depart from that
Individuals retain the freedom to reject
God's messages and to engage in mass murder, genocide and other evils.
- Open theism, also called Free Will Theism is an
understanding of the nature of the Christian God. According to Dr. John
"God, in grace, grants humans significant freedom to cooperate
with or work against God's will for their lives, and he enters into
dynamic, give and take relationships with us....God takes risks in this
give-and-take relationship, yet he is endlessly resourceful and competent
in working toward his ultimate goals. Sometimes God alone decides how to
accomplish these goals. On other occasions, God works with human
decisions, adapting his own plans to fit the changing situation. God does
not control everything that happens. Rather, he is open to receiving input
from his creatures. In loving dialogue, God invites us to participate with
him to bring the future into being." 8
In his talk referred to
above, Dr. Mohler refers to "openness theists" who "argue
that God is always ready with Plan B when Plan A fails. He is infinitely
resourceful, they stress, just not really sovereign" in the
conventional sense of the term.
In this belief system, humans are ultimately responsible for many of their
deeds -- good and bad. When faced with a terrible tragedy, God accepts it and attempts to make positive results
come out of the evil. God is not omniscient in the normal meaning of that
word; he cannot foretell the future in detail because so much of the
future is up to a complex interaction of countless decisions by individual
humans, all of whom possess free will. God is only able to adapt to events
and nudge the future along in what he feels is the
correct direction. Openness theism is supported by more than 30 biblical
passages in which God indicates that he does not control the future. In
these passages, he repented of his previous decisions. Openness theism is also
negated by many other biblical passages.
- Limited human perception: Some theologians and philosophers
argue that Theodicy does not exist. There is ultimately no conflict
between evil and an omnibeneficient, omnipotent and omniscient deity. They
would argue that from our limited human viewpoint, we cannot see the broad
picture. God is beyond time and is capable of seeing the past, present and
future. If humans had the wisdom of God, we would not be arguing about
theodicy; we would realize that God always works in a moral manner.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- R.A. Mohler, Jr., "Truth-telling in a time of tragedy: What words dare
we speak, when we dare not be silent?," Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary, at: http://www.sbts.edu/
- Archibald MacLeish, "J.B.: A Play in Verse," Houghton Mifflin,
(1956), Page 11.
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- From Romans 8:28.
- "World Press Conference from Mosque Maryam: The Honorable Minister
Louis Farrakhan responds to the ATTACK on AMERICA," 2001-SEP-16, at:
- Jamie Lampros, "Church faces controversial issues," at:
- Harold S. Kushner, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," Schoken
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- Sheela Pawar, "Basis Synopsis of Process Thought," Center for
Process Studies, at:
- Excerpt from Dr. John Sanders, "The Openness of God: A Biblical
Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God," Intervarsity Press,
(1994). The book includes writings from five scholars.
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Copyright © 2001 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-SEP-15
Latest update: 2008-SEP-11
Author: B.A. Robinson