Theodicy; the Problem of Evil and goodness

Theodicy; the Problem of Evil and goodness

 Definition and background

This article reviews what scholars from different faith have said on the question of Theodicy. My sources include literature reviews obtained from the internet using words; theodicy and religion. I offer my apology from the outset for any misunderstanding or misrepresentations. It is meant to alert the reader to understand the philosophy of humans rather than to discredit any specific interpretation. Reader’s responses including corrections are encouraged and will certainly made public.

Theodicy is the branch of Theology that defends God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil.  Theodicy is considered as an attempted answer to the problem of evil by philosophers of religions.  It tries to explain whether evil exists and if so, why it does exist.  It tries also, to give justification for the ways of God in regard to the existence of evil and human suffering.  It attempts to answer whether a just and loving God, who creates us, can be all-powerful and all-knowing yet permit terrifying evil to happen.  In doing so, Theodicy tries to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering on one hand and the omnipotent and benevolent panivolent God on the other hand.


The Theodicy question has been asked long before Christ.  The ancient Egyptian, in the book of the Heavenly Cow, attributed suffering of the world to rupture in the human kind relationship with the Devine power.  The origin of Theodicy is probably old.  In the book of the heavenly cow, which is an ancient Egyptian text thought to have originated during the Amama; it describes the reasons for the imperfect state of the world in terms of human kind rebellion against the supreme sun Godra
It was Gottfried Leibniz, in 1710, who introduced the term Theodicy.  He argued that this is the best of all possible worlds that God could create and that God can not disconnect the co-existence of both good and evil without making the world worse in some other way. 
Epicurus was probably the first to expand on the problem of evil in a more logical manner.  In 1779 he raised several questions regarding the coexistence of a loving God in one hand and evil on the other.  He reached the conclusion that God’s can not exist with evil and therefore, he denied the presence of Devine power. 

Reasons behind existence of human sufferings presented by scholars of the Christian Faith included the following:

First, as a consequence of the free will which God has created us with, we are expected to make more choices.  In that Christian apologists such as, George A. Boyd, claims that it is compatible with God’s power to allow his free agents to act against his own wishes.  He argues that love can not exist without true free will.  He maintains that God does not plan or will evil in people’s lives.  Evil is a result of a combination of free choices of people.
 Other scholars argue that this free will theory does not explain the reasoning behind natural disasters and diseases.  In response writers such as, C. S. Lewis, mentioned in his book, the problem of pain that a possible reason for natural disasters is that the world is corrupted do to the sin of mankind, and hence is imperfect, causing natural disasters and diseases.
 Another extension to this argument is that the world has fallen from the grace of God and therefore evils and imperfections persist because the world is fallen. 
William A. Dembski argues that the sin of Adams sin recorded in the book of Geniuses, where “back-dated” by God. Hence, applied to the earlier history of the Universe. 

Other scholars presented the theory of after life Theodicy.  This theory deals with individual justice.  It suggests that every individual will be brought back to justice in the hereafter and at that time evil will be defeated.  The criticism of this theory is that it realizes all evil during this earthly life.  In response, scholars suggested that the after life theory does not necessarily trivialize evil in absolute sense, but it does so in relative ness.  This theory would imply that the world is not governed by justice. 

Reasoning for the Theodicy question includes “the limited human knowledge”.  The theory implies that humans can not be expected to understand the ultimate wisdom of God.  It argues that just as little children can not understand the motives for their parents actions, humans can not comprehend God’s well.  This theory predicts that evil may not be that bad, at least in its ultimate end.  For example; wild fires that burn thousands of trees maybe helpful for future young trees to grow. 
Another theory presented by Augustine of Hippo argued that evil is not created by God.  Man therefore, chooses to commit evil through his free will. 

Other scholars presented the theory of the Yen and Yang to argue that evil is complementary to Goodness.  If one disappears, the other disappears also.  Thus, we can not understand confession in absence of suffering.  Security may not be understood either if we do not sometimes face dangers.  This theory is limited in that it does not describe why the suffering happens otherwise.  Therefore, scholars such as, C. S. Lewis, impresses the contingent that evil exists to establish an ethical standard against which goodness is defined. 

Other scholars take another different turn.  They embrace the attitude that spiritual development requires suffering.  As an extension for the theory, free will is seen as a requirement to make decisions, some of which may return hardship to the individual. Arguments against the theory are that evil may not necessarily cause spiritual growth in all occasions.
 In the New Testament it is consistently answered that life is essentially a training ground and test for spiritual development.  The book of revelation and portions of the Pauline epistles state that the greater one’s performance on earth, the greater the reward in the here after.  For example, Mormons believe that they will become demigods of sorts.  Thus personal sufferings in the present life is nothing compared to the potential ever lasting reward one may get as a result in the here after.

In the just world hypothesis, there is a belief that evil exists because people deserve it.  That is you get what you deserve.  This theory however, does not answer why God allows evil to start with.  Luther and Calvin for example, suggested that humanity was inherently sinful.  They further argue that evil occurs because of the fault of man and the original sin of Adam and Eve.  Opponents of this position have argued that it endorses the principal that ends justify the means system of ethics. 

Another measured theory to explain the Theodicy question is the non-interference or open theism theory.  This theory is embraced by Unitarian universal believers and some Reform Judaism followers.  In this theory, it is suggested that in addition to the free will, a working hypothesis for the occurrence of evil is that God made laws such as, physics and chemistry.  Therefore, evil is not a direct consequence of the working of humans.  Proponents of the theory maintain that the fundamental laws of evil are constant and can not be changed by man. 

Another major theory is that of the “dualism”.  It suggests the presence of two rival greats.  They work in straight opposition to each other.  It suggests that Christ is an emissary from God who redeems the world from the devil.  An extension of this theory is the modified dualism theory.  The theory suggests that there are good and evil powers and that evil is terminated by the strength of goodness power. 

Other scholars such as, Rabbi Harold Kushner, embraces the theory of process theology.  They argue that there are things which exist that can not be overridden by God. 

In the bible there is mentioning for God made disasters.  In the book of Isaiah, it is quoted “I bring prosperity and create disaster: I, Yahweh, do all the things” Isaac did not attempt to explain the motivation behind the creation of evil however.  The book of Job, formulation of the concept of evil in the Western Hemisphere has been deliberated.  In it, it is mentioned that God allowed Satin to plague Job, and his family in a manner of ways Job questioned God regarding his suffering which he found to be unjust.  In return, God returned Job’s prior health, wealth and give him new children.  In short the book of Job offers two specific answers for suffering.  First is that it is a test for a later reward.  Secondly, for a Devine reason that God did not choose to reveal it.  In the New Testament

A significant part of the Holocaust theory theology suggested that God places the captive Messiah with the souls of dead laymen.  God declared that the Messiah would appear on earth after a great set of evil skill would occur.
 Some contemporary Christian philosophers provide a variety of answers to the problem of suffering which include the following;
a)    God created the possibility of evil but not evil itself.  Thus free will is necessary for a   higher  goodness. 
b)    God uses short-term evils for long-range goods.
c)    God uses suffering to bring about more corrector
d)    Suffering brings people to God.
e)    The ultimate answer to suffering is Jesus himself, who more than in explanation is our need.

 In Hinduism

 It is suggested that souls are eternal and not directly created by God.  The souls are bound by beginning Avidya (ignorance) that causes a misidentification with products of nature (body, wealth, power) and hence suffering.  Hinduism identifies ignorance as a cause of evil, and thus, ignorance itself is uncaused.  Suffering from natural causes is then explained as a natural occurrences resulting from previous births.

Agnostic beliefs

Imply that the world was created by an imperfect creator in contrast with the superior entity believed in by believers. 

Theodicy in Islam

In Islam, Theodicy is rarely spoken of as such because the reasons behind it are deeply implicit in the Islamic doctrine as part of expected life experiences.
There is another related concept which overshadows this paradigm and which explains Theodicy well. This concept is called “Fitnah” which means “trial” or test.
The literal meaning of Fittna is to “melt” solid substances like gold or silver to separate the pure component from the impure ones. So it is the process needed to separate what is valuable and what is not and therefore identifying the pure and impure components. Any test aims at showing or identifying differences in results such as ranks, what is right or wrong and define success from failure. Therefore, the word Fittna has been used as a mean of test or trial to determine if human response to God’s command is correct or not. It serves as one of the main basic premise of life. In fact you may consider life itself as a period of Fittna, its good and bad are examination tools.
 God makes these tools as means of trials for his creation for multiple purposes. So children, wealth, and position are tools of Fittna to us. A person may steal to satisfy his family means or work harder to improve his family stats. War is a Fittna. A person may flee or fight with courage. Peace is Fittna. A stronger nation may decide to invade another for wealth, power or other worldly gains. To say the truth is Fittna. Prophet Muhammad (PUH) reminded us the best truth is the one given before asked even if it is against the next of kin.
The word Fittna has extended uses. Because many can fail the test of life, the word is used also to indicate failure. The Arabs say “he was afflicted by Fittna which means he failed... Another extended use of the word is the test itself (tribulation). The Arabs say he was Fittned which means he was tried or face a tribulation.
Other extended uses include madness because a made person will fail to do the correct things. Confusing the truth is another extrapolation. Persecution is synonymous with Fitnah in that a person may have to suffer to make the right decision. Similarly Misguided is a word used to indicate Fitnah. By extension, a person who commits association with God is described as being Fitnah also.
 Therefore it now, hopefully clear that the Word Fitnah or trial is clear. They include all Trials of life including evil, goodness, misery and happiness, right and wrong, and sin and virtue.

Relevance of Fitnah/ Trials in Islam:
In  Qur’an, A famous verse says;

“Do the people think that they will be left to say, "We believe" and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars. Or do those who do evil deeds think they can outrun Us? Evil is what they judge. Whoever should hope for the meeting with Allah - indeed, the term decreed by Allah is coming. And He is the Hearing, the Knowing. And whoever strives only strives for [the benefit of] himself. Indeed, Allah is free from need of the worlds. (Qur’an /Surah 29 Verse 2-6).

This is a rebuke in the form of a question, meaning that Allah will inevitably test His believing servants according to their level of faith, as it recorded in the authentic Hadith:
“And We indeed tested those who were before them so that Allah will know those who are true, and will know those who are liars. “
Meaning, He will make know which are sincere in their claim to be believers from those who are lying.
Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, knows what has happened in the past and what is yet to come, and He knows how that which will not happen would have happened if it were to happen.
 “Or think those who do evil deeds that they can outstrip Us! Evil is that which they judge!
Means, those who are not believers should not think that they will escape such trials and tests, for ahead of them lies a greater and more severe punishment.
“Whoever hopes in meeting with Allah,“
Means, in the Hereafter, and does righteous deeds, and hopes for a great reward with Allah, then Allah will fulfill his hopes and reward him for his deeds in full. This will undoubtedly come to pass, for He is the One Who hears all supplications, He knows and understands the needs of all created beings.
“And whosoever strives, he strives only for himself. Verily, Allah stands not in need of any of the creatures.“
Then Allah tells us that even though He has no need of His creatures, He is kind and generous to them. He will still give to those who believe and do righteous deeds the best of rewards, which is that He will expiate for them their bad deeds, and will reward them according to the best deeds that they did. He will accept the fewest good deeds and in return for one good deed will give anything between ten rewards and seven hundred, but for every bad deed, He will give only one evil merit, or even that He may overlook and forgive.
Everything happens only with the leave of God. He creates all potential s, including those for goodness and evil. Creation of the potential for evil is a proof of his supremacy. That is to say you can not hurt any person without his leave.  Perfection requires the demonstration that he creates goodness and it’s opposite; evil.
To us what is important is it’s relevance to our existence. In this regard these potentials are tool to test us.
God warned us to stay away from what is wrong by many ways such as sending messages and messengers. He forgives and rewards the virtue by ten times its weight. His mercy is unlimited. He warned us to focus and preoccupy ourselves by how to avoid sin rather than fixing our sight on why God creates evil. He reminded us that he creates what we do not even know. Simply treat the reasons of existence of evil with the interest to learn what to do about avoiding it. By example worry about how far your car from others rather than focusing on how many car models are moving beside you.
In Islam, humans are created with the inclination to both perfection and imperfection. Let me explain how. 

 How can we fail Fitnah?

 God, in his perfection, has given us a perfectly free will to choose.  The complexity of life necessitates however, qualities that we can not master without Devine inscriptions. Using only our own reasoning is not sufficient to make the right decision and therefore we may make imperfect decisions.  Some of the ill-advised decisions may be appealing in the short term, while their long term effects may be harmful. Making the right decision when faced with an event reflect perfection.
 Between making it right or blatantly wrong, many of us chose a wide range of decisions. Take the example of being rich. The right decision is to pay the poor dues, spend on charity and remain humble. In time of financial need, Remaining honest, accepting what happens and do not despise rich people are measures of passing the test.
As such, the problem of suffering in Islam stems from the wrong use of our free will when we decide to make wrong choices based on our own reasoning over God made choice.  God does not want us to make the wrong choices which ultimately lead to punishment and not reward Hell and not heaven...

 It is a person’s choice whether he or she does right or wrong.  The doctrinal of Islam defines life as a time for a test for humanity.  Humans are more than capable to accept or refuse. It is our choice, duty and responsibility to adhere to the Devine inscriptions or not. 

Because of his mercy, God allows suffering to happen for other related reasons which include:

 Pain reminds us of our weakness and continuous need for his help, and to give us a glimpse of what can happen in the here after. It is a good dose of harsh reality to remind us to remain humble because all are vulnerable. God makes it clear that no arrogant will enter paradise.
It is like a reminder to do your homework to succeed. Sweat is needed to harvest and there are no gains without pains. So hardships give us the boost to improve our performance.
Suffering removes our bad credit... 

In view of the regenerative mercy of God to his creators, Suffering explains the superficially perceived unmerited suffering of some people?

A basic tenant in Islam is that God of forgiving and most merciful.  He has written on himself that his mercy has preceded his anger.  No power has ever suggested or forced him to do so.  Muslims believe that his mercy is so large that even we sometimes see it in some of our sufferings.  So he makes things hard sometimes to bring us back to the right track.  This is similar to the mother who would not allow her infant to barely touch fire or catch a knife.  So the mercy of God is the basis and his trials are a branch of his wisdom.

This earthy life is not a cake walk.  Instead, its turn of events, reversal of fate occurs from charming events, delights and happiness on one hand to failure, misfortunate and even catastrophic events on the other. 
We are not in the hereafter; it is the earthly life norms.  These experiences of contrasting emotions and events have major significance.  They remind us of the absolute governess of God over us.  They remind us of our weakness and need to seek divine guidance.  Happiness and successes comes with a duty to serve and help others while misfortunes and failure should give us the momentum to strengthen our correctors. .  In time of need and distress, we are expected to maintain our patients and integrity. .  In time of abundance and strength, we are expected to help and protect others
 Because this earthy life is so transient when compared to the here after, all painful or delightful events should be considered only trivial in their weight but significant in their impact on our response.  Knowing that in the hereafter, all earthy experiences will be forgotten, it makes all sense that what counts is our response to trials of life.
 It is our measured responses to what we face, good and bad, that counts it is arrogance during abundance or despair during need that defines failure in the trial of life. Humbleness and patience define success.

It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise - they are the foundation of the Book - and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah . But those firm in knowledge say, "We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord." And no one will be reminded except those of understanding. [Who say], "Our Lord, let not our hearts deviate after You have guided us and grant us from Yourself mercy. Indeed, You are the Bestower. Our Lord, surely You will gather the people for a Day about which there is no doubt. Indeed, Allah does not fail in His promise." Indeed, those who disbelieve - never will their wealth or their children avail them against Allah at all. And it is they who are fuel for the Fire.” (Qur’an /Surah 3 Verse 7-10).