The concept of theodicy emphasizes the fact that the world seems to contain many undesirable realities that would have been stopped by any being that has the ability to do so, hence the “problem of evil” ( Ricoeur and Pellauer, 1985 ). Thus, there is a need for an explanation to reconcile the idea of the problem of evil with the existence of God. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good, it is vital to understand how and why that same God allows evil to exist and the reason why bad things happen to good people. This paper evaluates the problem of evil in religious studies and philosophical traditions and attempts to establish reasonable solutions.
The Starting Point
Any strong explanation of evil must necessarily comprise and start with similarly strong explanations of God and creation that focus on the following arguments. First, the word “God” in religion does not simply refer to the highest “thing” in the universe; rather, it is associated with something that is not a “thing” “in” the universe in the first place ( Ryan, 2012 ). On the other hand, God refers to that which is entirely separate from and fundamentally supreme to the cosmos. Any explanation that may try to affirm anything about God tries to picture God as similar to human beings or any other being and the only time human beings can give an unequivocal meaning concerning God is when they are denying. Second, whatever God willingly brings out of nothing is, as a result, not necessary. In fact, this is the primary definition of “creation.” Finally, if God had decided against creating, He would still be God. All these statements aim to highlight the fundamentally supreme and incomprehensible nature of God. Meaning, the dissimilarity between God and His creation is always greater than similarity. Therefore, the supremacy of God is the appropriate starting point in religious studies when trying to analyze the existence of evil.
Delegate your assignment to our experts and they will do the rest.
Omnipotence versus Benevolence
One of the major challenges in most religions, particularly the Abrahamic ones, is to reconcile the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God with the presence of evil in the world. Many scholars argue that one has to either drop omnipotence and stick to benevolence, or give up benevolence and hold on to omnipotence ( Surin, 1982 ). In other words, you cannot have both at the same time. Suppose, for example; God was both all-good and all-powerful; then, it would be impossible for evil to exist. The fact that evil is present in the world would imply that God is powerful enough to remove it, but decides not to since He is not all-good, or He is not powerful enough even though He is all-good and wants to eliminate it.
One approach to this dilemma would be to state that evil is a “privation” of the good ( Ryan, 2012 ). Hence it is not actually present. However, such an argument brings about more philosophical problems. It would be difficult to explain to one who suffers evil, particularly one who is innocent, that evil does not really exist. Suppose, for instance, that an innocent man has been framed and therefore has to spend the rest of his life in prison, or a girl has been kidnapped, and the mother is suffering. It would be unreasonable to tell such people that what they are suffering is merely virtual, and that evil does not exist. While it has been embraced by some philosophers today, such a statement is not satisfying, and one has to consider other possibilities.
God is infinitely above and independent from His creations so that He is not bound by anything He has created. In other words, God’s superiority and dissimilarity with creation are so magnified that human reason, and any sense of truth and good, cannot be considered to be a valid mirror of God. God’s nature remains to be forever unachievable and hidden behind his actions. The implications for the problem of evil here are significant and somewhat a continuation of the argument that evil does not exist. Given that human sense of what is good and evil cannot be said to be God’s – since He is radically supreme over created things – then what human beings consider to be evil may be, after all, good in God’s eyes. In other words, the classes imposed by human beings on actions and circumstances as good and evil may not even exist according to God.
Evil According to Doctrine
If the complexity of the radical superiority of God is not justified by a particular doctrine of analogy, then God would not even be bound by His Word ( Ricoeur and Pellauer, 1985 ). Otherwise, He would be compelled to disclose the truth to the human race. Meaning, if it were God’s will, then people would be allowed to commit murder without fear of retribution. Therefore, there may be certainty concerning the problem of evil only when something about God’s nature is denied. When it is said, for example, that “murder constitutes an evil action,” then it may be established that the word “evil” has an analogical meaning as well as an unequivocal meaning.
While it is challenging and almost impossible to arrive at a final statement concerning the problem of evil, God’s omnipotence is not undermined while simultaneously arguing for His benevolence, since He did not create out of necessity in the first place. By creating, God exposes His omnipotence. When God does not eliminate evil, it is not a sign of lack of benevolence on His part; rather, He is reluctant to get rid of beings who, like Him, are free. Hence the idea of analogy still stands. God knows that human beings are vulnerable to corruption and would abuse their freedom. He is also aware of human intention even before they act, but these actions are made out of free will. This argument that God sees the actions of human beings but does not predetermine them, effectively affirms the belief that He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good.
It is the free will that God has given to human beings that allows for the existence of evil. However, He knows that whatever the extent of evil in the world, he is powerful enough to bring it back on course. God’s foresight allows him to accept rejection and also knows how to use this rejection to draw human beings closer to Him at a greater and much intimate depth. Further, when bad things happen to good people, say a woman is robbed in the streets, it is as a result of the free will accorded to the robber by God. Religion barely promises anyone, whether innocent or guilty, a good life. Human beings have to struggle in this world. Instead, it promises a perfect eternity for believers. This eternity starts after death and does not entail evil as long as one does not promote evil in this world. It follows that any religion that denies the existence of evil or the radical supremacy of God is short of accuracy. In the end, bad things happen to good people, and God remains to be all-good as well as He is all-powerful.
Ricoeur, P., & Pellauer, D. (1985). Evil, a challenge to philosophy and theology. Journal of the American Academy of Religion , 53 (4), 635-648.
Surin, K. (1982). The impassibility of God and the problem of evil. Scottish Journal of Theology , 35 (2), 97-115.
Ryan, T. (2012). The Problem of Evil and the Existence of God. Verbum , 9 (2), 69-72.