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A group of essays donated by Susan Humphreys.

Part 2: A solution to the problem of Theodicy:
the presence of earthly evil with a perfect God.

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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A solution to the problem of Theodicy:

Wikipedia defines Theodicy as the:

“attempt to resolve the evidential problem of evil by reconciling the traditional divine characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience with the occurrence of evil or suffering in the world.”

To put it more simply, it is an attempt to resolve the conflicts created by the claims that God is perfect.

The question of theodicy asks is how can a perfect God allow suffering and other bad things to happen in this world? The flip side of that question is how can a perfect God even cause bad things to happen to anyone? With the most recent tragic mass shooting many people are asking again "How can God have allowed this to happen?"

I think the problem of Theodicy stems from the concept of perfection. According to Wikipedia, Saint Anselm first put forth the argument for God’s existence based on his concept of perfection (the ontological proof) in 1078 CE. Anselm defined God as:

"that than which nothing greater can be conceived."

Then, he argued that this being could exist in the mind. He suggested that, if the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality. If it only exists in the mind, a greater being is possible -- one which exists in the mind and in reality.

Today people claim that God is perfect in every way (all wise, knowing, seeing, loving, powerful) and then endow him with the same imperfections they see in themselves (anger, jealousy, desire for revenge, narcissism to name a few).

They hope that a perfect, loving God will favor them and their tribe or group over all others, that he will forgive them their trespasses, that he will save them from their own stupidity and foolishness, and that he won’t forgive the trespasses of their enemies (sinners and non-believers and those who they feel have wronged them) but punish them instead.

People and their theology need God to be perfect for many reasons, much if not all of their doctrine and dogma rest on this basic assumption. ONLY a perfect God would be a Supreme God, superior to, more powerful than ALL the other imperfect Gods. There were many other Gods being worshipped in the regions where Judaism and Christianity developed. In Exodus 20: 1-3, God himself says “you shall have no other Gods before me.” This is a clear recognition of the other Gods being worshipped at that time.

ONLY a perfect God would never make a mistake. Therefore anything a person, a priest, or a church does in God’s name (assuming that it is done with his approval), only his book--what he wrote or dictated, is right, moral, justified and sanctified. All other actions approved by the imperfect Gods and the people that worship those Gods are immoral, unjustified and not only not sanctified but over time became the work of the Devil and evil.

Power was important, it could bring great wealth, influence, win wars. The power of a perfect God was greater than the inherited power of earthly Kings or so claimed the Popes and Priests and they as God’s representatives on earth were (or were supposed to be) more powerful than the earthly Kings. The Kings tried to get around this dilemma by claiming their power was sanctified and upheld by God (divine right of Kings) and was greater than the power granted to Popes and Priests. It was all about a struggle for power and wealth and influence. This is what caused the beginning of the religious wars that have brought so many troubles and great sadness to this world.

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The answer to the problem of Theodicy, why bad things happen, that I have heard most often from many Theologians and Religious leaders, is I think the lamest and frankly offensive:

“God works in mysterious ways and it is not ours to know or even to question his reasons or intent.”

That simply evades the question, it doesn’t answer it. Also, it implies that we are too dumb to understand complex issues and therefore shouldn’t even ask complicated questions that the theologians, priests and ministers can’t (or don’t want to) answer.

One answer I have heard frequently from fundamentalist Christians is:

“God never gives us anything that we aren’t able to handle.”

That answer is also offensive, it implies that God felt a need to punish them for something bad that they did, God is trying to teach them some lesson. Some people do get more than their “fair” share, (more than they deserve) of troubles. Bad things do happen to innocent people.

A third answer related to the earlier two is a “greater good” will come from suffering. This answer is tragically flawed. This answer actually relieves people of their responsibility for their actions, as they reason if God doesn’t stop it then it is God’s will because he has a reason in mind, a greater good that we can’t comprehend. This reason in my opinion is simply sick, the reasoning of a disturbed mind or of a person who refuses to face reality.

Why would God need to cause great suffering to innocents, blow children to bits in the Middle East or have children gunned down in a school in Connecticut to teach other recalcitrant schmucks important life lessons? The answer is that if God is all wise, knowing, loving (perfect) he wouldn’t. He would be able to get his message through in others ways. Any “God” that would feel a need to harm innocents for some “greater good” is unworthy of being called God.

Deism, I think, was spawned by this issue of Theodicy. Deists decided they believe in a loving and compassionate God that created the heavens and earth, but for some reason they are unable to explain, he feels their pain and suffers with them but is unable to intervene in the affairs of men.

Theists on the other hand believe that God does intervene in the affairs of men when he is so moved to act. They find themselves in the middle of the problem of Theodicy, when they face the reality that bad things happen to good God loving and fearing people and good things happen to people that don’t fear or love God. Their answer to the problem is they as believers will be “saved” and have eternal life in heaven and you as the non-believer, the unforgiven sinner will suffer eternal torment in hell.

Some Theists I grant really aren’t interested in seeking vengeance against their enemies, they seek a sense of security. They believe that things happen for a purpose (they aren’t interested in a scientific explanation of how something happens but a reason for why something happens). If Jesus died on the cross God must have had a reason for why that had to happen. If children are killed in a tragic shooting God must have had a reason for why it had to happen. They need reassurance that there is some sense and order in this world, that things just don’t happen randomly, or chaotically, for no reason. They need reassurance there is or will be at some future time “Divine justice”, the bad will be punished and the good will receive their just rewards.

Some Theologians have tried to solve the problem of Theodicy by framing an argument around the issue of human free will. If God intervenes in the affairs of men he would be interfering in human free will. I think they miss the mark because the issue isn’t about human free will but whether a perfect God has a will.

“Will” here is what we sometimes call an Ego, a will-full mind that intentionally decides to do things.

Christians are taught to surrender their will to the will of God then their priest or minister proceeds to tell them what he thinks Gods will is! Quite frankly I think some Religious Leaders can’t tell the difference between their own will and what they claim is Gods’ will.

In the “I Ching” I read in the translation of #44, Kaou, Temptation “A strong and willful woman; do not embrace her.” I think we should also be warned against embracing strong and will-full men and Gods. But political correctness and gender neutral attitudes didn’t prevail back then! Even so it is still sound advice.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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Originally posted written: 2012-NOV-21.
Latest update: 2012-nov-21
Author: Susan Humphreys

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