Theodicy: Free Will and Natural Evil Essay
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A theodicy is simply a justification of God’s ways. Theists are generally compelled to express a theodicy in response to the unfortunate, painful, evil events and circumstances found in our world. A theodicy is necessary only if we believe in a God who is inherently good, thus requiring an explanation of the apparent discontinuity between a good God and evil in the world. In order to express my own theodicy, I will discuss the forms of evil in the world and their various manifestations as well as whether or not creation as a whole is a “good” expression of the creator God.
I will also discuss how eschatology affects our view of evil and God’s part in allowing or interfering with evil. Finally, I will discuss which theodicy I find most complete and why, as well as some of the strengths and weaknesses of my own theodicy. Evil in the World Expressing a theodicy requires a basic understanding of evil which can be referred to in light of that expression.
The problem of evil has been dealt with in three separate classifications during our class time and reading; moral, natural and gratuitous evil. Moral evil is an evil event or circumstance caused by a human.
Examples of moral evil would be murder, lying, stealing and greed. Moral evil results as the consequence of the decisions made by human beings exerting their free will. War, oppression and slavery are prime examples of moral evil perpetrated by human beings. Natural evil includes the pain and suffering resulting from the forces of nature or the actions of humans. Natural evil can be found associated with weather events such as tornadoes and hurricanes, or geological events including volcano eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.
There is some crossover between moral and natural evil, in that, humans may experience natural pain and suffering as a result of another’s actions. Some of these gray areas might include diseases such as AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases, acid rain or mercury poisoning. Gratuitous evil transcends the line between moral and natural evil. Some events are so horrendous and cause such massive suffering they exist outside the boundaries of the evil encountered on a daily basis and call into question, even for committed theists, why a loving God would allow such events to continue or to happen at all.
The prime example of gratuitous evil in the twentieth century was the Holocaust. Six million Jews were exterminated by the Third Reich before and during World War II, causing many survivors to question the existence of God altogether. The holocaust would undoubtedly fall in the realm of moral evil as well as gratuitous evil. The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 is natural evil gratuitously expressed. More than 225,000 people in twelve different countries were killed as a result of rising waters. Natural disasters in highly populated countries such as China and India have killed more than one million people in a single event. Doctrine of Creation
The doctrine of creation is often discussed in relation to modern science and its influence upon the empirical method of scientific study. The doctrine of creation, in its simplest form, is the belief that “God freely chose to bring the world into existence… (and) Since God is good, his creation is also good…” The implications of the doctrine of creation upon theodicy manifest themselves in our concept of sin (or evil) and how it was introduced into the world as well as God’s involvement (or lack of involvement) in natural evil. Augustine believed God created only good things, so every created thing is good in its most pure essence.
For Augustine, evil exists as a function of the exercise of human free will. Further, Augustine believed in the concept of deprivation which describes evil not as the presence of something which is the opposite of good, but the absence of good itself. The Augustinian theodicy asserts that creation was perfect in the beginning and evil is a result of the rebellion of creation against God. An alternative view would assert creation as innocent and morally immature, precluding the necessity of a perfect beginning in favor of a process of exposure to temptation and participation in evil in order to gain true spiritual maturity.
The belief that God and creation are inherently good brings into question the existence and place of natural evil in the world. Critics of theism might say a good god and natural evil are incompatible, therefore disproving the existence of God. While no one defense answers this question adequately, I am partial to Plantinga’s counter: “possibly what we call natural evils are due to the actions of significantly free but nonhuman persons (e. g. rebellious spirits). ” The existence of these nonhuman persons need not be proven; the possibility of their existence is enough to refute the argument that God and natural evil are incompatible.
Eschatology “Eschatology… is the theological study that seeks to understand the ultimate direction or purpose of history as it moves toward the future, both from an individual perspective (What happens when a person dies? ) and from a corporate perspective (Where is history going, and how will it end? ). ” Is it necessary to believe in an afterlife in order to express a theodicy? I believe the answer is both yes and no. The ancient Hebrews did not seem to exhibit a conceptualization of an afterlife as Christians do today.
The concept of “The Day of the Lord” served as the eschatological consummation of both religion and history. To the Hebrews the afterlife consisted of participating in the redemptive story of Yahweh which would ultimately end in the establishment of God’s rule over the earth with the Hebrews as the guide and example for the rest of the world. There are vague references to Sheol as a place some of the dead may exist, but this language is highly figurative and may simply be an artistic expression of the ultimate destination of all souls (such as Valhalla for the Vikings) and not an actual place where life continues.
So for the Hebrews an afterlife was not necessary for theodicy. Today’s Christians expect an ultimate consummation of God’s reign on earth as well as a personal form of afterlife where the essence or soul of an individual continues beyond death. This concept plays heavily into most theodicies. The assumption being that the reward of an afterlife is enough to justify any amount of moral evil an individual might endure during their earthly existence. For a Christian, an afterlife may be an indispensible concept for their theodicy. The promise that God does not wish for any to perish (2 Peter 3:9) fuels the desire to seek a relationship with the Creator.
For Christians, the promise of an afterlife is not the only reason to follow Christ, but it is a primary reason for reconciling the evil in the world with the concept of an inherently good God. My Theodicy My theodicy resembles Eastern Church father Irenaeus in part because of my view of the Genesis story of creation as a highly figurative representation of the purposes behind God’s will to create. Irenaeus believed the original creation was innocent and immature, not perfect as proposed by Augustine.
This view allows for the necessity of evil in order for humans to become morally mature beings. “Moral maturity almost certainly requires the experience of grappling with temptation over time and, according to some, actual participation in evil. ” While Irenaeus’ theodicy accounts for the existence of moral evil, it does not address the issue of gratuitous evil. Gratuitous evil, in my theodicy, exists because of the state of the libertarian free will of humans. Libertarian free will is the capacity of humans to make any decision they wish without the interference or coercion of God.
If evil must exist in order for humans to have the opportunity to wrestle with temptation and choose either good or evil, then at what point do we expect God to intervene and usurp our free will in order to prevent evil. If God intervenes in the most extreme of cases of evil, why not intervene in lesser cases? If God intervenes to prevent evil which results from the exercise of libertarian free will, then free will ceases to be a reality. God created a world where free will could only exist if God allowed any and all free decisions.
This free world must necessarily contain evil in order to provide the opportunity for moral choices. The allowance of free decisions by God might seem careless if not for the intrusion of God into human space. As a Christian, I believe Jesus Christ was God incarnate on the earth and that Jesus experienced life as a human including the temptations, suffering and rejection inherent in that life. Beyond the importance of this story in the salvation history of Christians, the incarnation provided a vivid example of God’s willingness to suffer alongside humans both as human and as God.
If God in Jesus suffered on Earth, then it is not unfounded to believe that God suffers as a result of present evil beyond this Earth and into God’s very existence in and beyond our universe. If God suffers presently as a result of the evil choices perpetrated by humans then we are not alone amidst the evil of this world and can take more than simple comfort in the knowledge that God knows our plight and moves through it with us, even beyond death. The primary weakness of my theodicy is the existence of natural evil.
I identify with Plantinga in his postulation of nonhuman beings that are rebelling against God and causing the destructive forces of nature. While I don’t believe this is necessarily the case, the possibility of this scenario allows for other explanations of which I am unaware or do not understand. At this point in my journey I am willing to accept the tension between an inherently good God and the existence of natural evil which I do not understand. I believe the one thing God will never do is violate the capacity for humans to make their own free decisions.
God may persuade us naturally or supernaturally to make moral choices, but ultimately, in order for free will to exist, so must the capacity for evil choices. Because I believe God is inherently good, the expression of my theodicy allows me to reconcile what some believe to be discontinuity between the goodness of God and the presence of evil in the world. Bibliography Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, “Holocaust. ” http://hsuezproxy. alc. org:2221/EBchecked/topic/269548/Holocaust (accessed April 24, 2012). Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition. “Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. ” http://hsuezproxy. alc.
org:2221/EBchecked/topic/ 1027119/Indian-Ocean-tsunami-of-2004 (accessed April 24, 2012). Grenz, Stanley J. , David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1999. Peterson, Michael, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach and David Basinger eds. Reason & Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. ——————————————– [ 1 ].
Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, Holocaust, http://hsuezproxy. alc. org:2221/EBchecked/topic/269548/Holocaust (accessed April 24, 2012).
[ 2 ]. Encyclopedia Britannica Academic Edition, Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, http://hsuezproxy. alc. org:2221/EBchecked/topic/ 1027119/Indian-Ocean-tsunami-of-2004 (accessed April 24, 2012). [ 3 ]. Michael Peterson and others, eds. , Reason & Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 276. [ 4 ]. Peterson et al. , 162. [ 5 ]. Ibid. , 150 [ 6 ]. Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 46. [ 7 ]. Peterson et al. , 162.