The Monstrosity of Theodicy

For many, the greatest possible objection to belief in God-- and often the most painfully personal-- is the existence of immense amounts of pain and suffering in the universe. From Christian apologist CS Lewis, to Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, to Jewish Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, to "new atheist" Christopher Hitchens, to conservative Evangelical Alvin Plantinga, to liberal physicist-cum-theologian John Polkinghorne *, there is a wide swath of agreement that this very problem forms the key objection to theism in general, and Christianity in particular. It can be stated in many ways: "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" "Why would a good God allow evil to destroy his creation?" "How  could God allow [insert name of tragedy] to happen to [insert name(s) of victim(s)]?"

The desire behind this question often seems to provide some kind of rational justification for why an awful event (or awful events in general) happened. If we can just ferret out some sort of meaning or causality, then perhaps we can avoid such pain in the future. We can manage the pain. We can gain some control over it. And the main way that we gain psychological control over things which we cannot physically control or reverse is to create a kind of mental map or worldview that makes sense of the whole messy business.

And for those who accept the reality of God, the center and source of such worldview is God. And thus the problem of pain (as CS Lewis calls it) takes on cosmic implications: How are we justified in believing in a benevolent, infinite God in the midst of the suffering and evil we encounter on a daily basis? How is God justified, or rendered "not guilty", for the fact that evil and suffering erupt constantly in creation? That this problem winds up revolving around the justification of both God and the justification of our own faith in such a God has led this problem to be labelled by Leibniz' neologism "Theodicy" (from his 1710 book of the same name).

Theodicy is the "justification" (Greek "dikee") of God (Greek "theos") in the light of evil and suffering. Some, when confronted with the massive problems of theodicy, build equally massive conceptual structures which seek to protect God from responsibility or blame for suffering, and thus implicitly protect themselves from blame in believing in such a God. Others, unconvinced (or positively repulsed) by such efforts at justifying unjust suffering, simply abandon the whole theistic project altogether *.

1. Solutions which demote God to "god": 

In dealing with the problem of suffering and God, most thinkers want to maintain the reality of God in a way that befits the signifier "God". Namely, they want to define God as The Reality that is unlike anything found in empirical reality, and yet is the Source or Ground of empirical Reality. This is argued by ancients such as Philo in his fusion of Judaism and Platonism, Aquinas and his five ways, Jean Luc Marion and John Caputo in their critiques of "ontotheology", and Eric Reitan, David Bentley Hart and Keith Ward in their critiques of "New Atheism" *. Across this tradition of "Classical Theism", God is not just seen as a Being among other beings (even if a supremely powerful version of a being). God is Being itself: The ground of Reality that makes all other realities possible.

God is, to switch from Western philosophy to Eastern philosophy from the Upanishadic tradition, "sat chit ananda", or "existence consciousness bliss" *. God is "sat", the existence within which all other beings exist (for in God "we live and move and have our being" to steal a line from Paul that he stole from Epimenides in Acts 17.28). Thus, God is all power (hence the Nicene Creed begins by declaring God "almighty", or "pantokrator", which literally means "holding all things"). It is not that God HAS all power, but that God IS all power, and all powers in the Universe flow from God who is our existence, the ground of our being. Likewise, God is "chit", unlimited consciousness, the complete awareness of all possible and actual realities. As such, the Judeo-Christian traditions declare God is perfectly wise and all knowing. Finally, God is "ananda", pure bliss and plenitude of joy, fully enjoying and valuing every possible reality held within the Divine Self (that is to say: every world, every event, every person that could possibly ever exist). It is from the overflow of this Divine Joy that the multiplicity of the universe comes into being, because God delights in expressing Godself in plurality and sharing the fullness of the Divine Being with other persons who arise from the potential within Godself. In the Christian tradition, this idea becomes crystalized in the phrase "God is Love". Out of Love God empties Godself in the act of creation to create a world where other free persons may arise who can consciously share in the Love, bliss and joy of the Divine Self.

Thus, when we speak of God across this great tradition which includes important thinkers from East and West, ancient and modern, we speak of the Reality which, in Anselm's words, "is that than which a greater cannot be thought". God is the Source of all existence, consciousness and bliss, who is the maximal possible Reality of power, wisdom and love. To put God's central attributes into terms which are common in discussions of theodicy: God is omnipotent (all-powerful, sat), omniscient (all-knowing, wise, chit) and omnibenevolent (all-good, loving, ananda). Yet, it is precisely the understanding of God provided by Classical Theism which makes the problem of theodicy even more intractable, because it locates exactly where the existence of evil and suffering impinges upon the claims made about the Reality signified by God.

For, if God is omnibenevolent in the ways specified by the tradition, God should not will that any of his creatures suffer or be destroyed by evil. And yet they are destroyed in painful and unjustified ways. If God is omniscient, God should know how to stop evil, curb it, or redirect it so that it does not destroy God's beloved. And yet, senseless and preventable evil happens all the time. And finally, if God is omnipotent, God should be able to stop evil, because evil by definition would be weaker than God. Yet we do not see God stopping evil in ways that are at all obvious, and not to the degree that befits a Being of unlimited power and goodness. So, it seems we are left with four options: Either God is not all-good, and wills the suffering of some; Or perhaps God is not all-knowing and does not know how to stop evil; Or perhaps God is not all-powerful and is simply weaker than evil in many cases; Or, perhaps most simply, God is not real.

(i) Demoting God's goodness: 

The first "solution" has been attempted in many ways by demoting or deleting God's goodness. One can go with some pantheist traditions which say God is "beyond good and evil", and is the sum of natural energy and activity. As such, "what happens happens", and we cannot say anything is truly good or evil. The cancer may be bad for the person, but it is good for the cancer. The robber may be bad for the family he robbed, but he is good for his family who he feeds with the stolen loot. And yet, intuitively, this does not hold for most people. There is a moral intuition that good and evil are real values, and that a person loosing life or limb or means of happiness is a real loss, and if there are those who have caused it, they have perpetuated a real injustice.

But there are others from fundamentalist Christian and Muslim backgrounds * who use God's sovereign power, inscrutable will, and unconditional election to thereby demote God's goodness. They do this by saying that God wills evil for those who are not elect (eventually consigning them to suffer in hell eternally). Also, God "allows" evil done by the non-elect to "test" the faith of the elect. Thus, by God's act of predestination, God has caused or allowed evil to happen to a great many people across history and into eternity. Whereas pantheism turns God into an impersonal power beyond good and evil, this solution simply turns God into the devil by making God the only Actor in the Universe and the direct cause of all evil.

(ii) Demoting God's power and/or knowledge: 

The next "solution" is to demote God's power or knowledge or both. Perhaps this is best on view in modern versions of process theism, of which a conspicuous example comes from Rabbi Harold Kushner in his 1981 classic "Why do bad things happen to good people"? In this he argues, along the lines of Unitarian Charles Hartshorne and Methodist Schubert Ogden, that God cannot overcome evil immediately and finally because God is limited in power and knowledge. God is something like Plato's "world soul" who evolves and suffers with the universe as it develops and changes. Our freely chosen actions are the means through which God evolves and actualizes more of the Divine Self, and thus when we choose badly and suffer, God also suffers with us.

God, being bound in the process of space-time like we are, is limited in power and knowledge, so that despite God's best intentions, only a portion of the Divine goodness can be realized at any time in history. God knows exhaustively all current and past actualities, but only knows possible futures, and thus is not able to guarantee any final "solution" to the problem of evil. Likewise, since God's power is only exercised through our freedom, God cannot definitively effect any particular change, although he may influence change at the level of spiritual or moral awareness. God thus has the best of intentions, but is unable to control the world more than we can, and thus retains a role as "Co-Sufferer-in-Chief" who suffers with the pains and disappointments of his creatures.

Since the mid-twentieth century an even more creative approach to this "second solution" of limiting God's power and knowledge had been on offer by philosophers and theologians who have taken the so-called "linguistic turn" in philosophy started by Wittgenstein. From the "God is Dead" movement of "Secular Christianity" in the 1960's, to current postmodern writers such as John Caputo, Slavoj Žižek, and Peter Rollins *, what this tradition seeks to do is re-define the signifier "God" such that stopping evil and suffering is not what such an entity as "God" does. If God is not an "Actor" who can intervene in history (even to the limited extent allowed by Process Theism) what then does "God" refer? God is a Master Signifier of what is Ultimate in the Community.

For Caputo and Zizek, God is the "Event", by which they mean the interpretive frame or ultimate valuation which gives meaning and purpose to those in the Community of Faith. In their a/theology, empirical activities are inherently meaningless clashes of mass and energy "with sound and fury signifying nothing" UNTIL the Event makes them meaningful as "events". With the interpretive frame of value inscribing these random clashes, they suddenly take on meaning, plot, narrative and significance. The ultimate value(s) inherent within this Event is "God", which for Caputo is synonymous with other "undeconstructable" values such as Justice and Love.

Jeffrey Willetts, following philosopher DZ Phillips, takes a related but slightly different route *. For him, God seems to be the Signifier of the Ultimate Commitments of the Community of Faith. God is thus the name we use to describe the moral virtues and spiritual patterns we commit ourselves to in faith. Using  Wittgenstein's concept of "language games", in which each community has a "language game" (or unique grammar) to communicate with each other, and share in common commitments, which create the unique "form of life" of the Community, we could say that God has an "Ultimate" place as a Master Signifier which constitutes the grammar of the community, and gives them the central Pattern of Life that makes them distinctive.

And, as with Caputo and Zizek, the central commitment that is arrived at in this analysis is the commitment to Love others sacrificially and unconditionally following the Pattern embodied in the Christ of Faith (i.e. that vision of Jesus constituted by the Scriptures and Christian tradition). This linguistic conception of God as Ultimate Signifier of Commitment is so strong that, for Willets, to act in Christlike Love is to "walk with God", while to act in sin (thereby rejecting this Ultimate Commitment) is to be "without God". How does this idea of "God" impinge on the problem of suffering? Quite simply, God is the commitment of the Community to alleviate and heal suffering following the Pattern of Christlike Love, but God is NOT some kind of entity who intervenes in history to stop suffering. In fact, God is simply not present in evil acts and actors which create suffering, because they are not acting in accord with the Ultimate Commitment that is God.

(iii) The Problem with demoting Divine goodness, wisdom and power: 

The problem with all of these "solutions" to theodicy is that they effectively demote God to be a "god". What I mean is this: In every version something is sacrificed which is essential to the Essence of God in the tradition of Classical Theism. The "solutions" which demote God's goodness are the most suspect, since they make God into something like a personalization of Chaos (at best) or a dualistic Demon (at worst). Of the triad of power, knowledge and goodness, it seems that God's essential goodness must be guarded most carefully, lest we wind up serving a "god" who compels hate and oppression, murder and genocide (as we have seen many times in the last century). Solutions which limit God's power and/or knowledge, in the manner of Process Theism, seem to fare better. And yet, they postulate a God who seems to be a Being among other beings, a kind of quasi-empirical theory of a world soul that suffers with us and inspires us. This kind of entity might be worthy of the title of Demiurge in the Timaeus, but certainly not God in the Classical sense.

Finally, the linguistic hypothesis has much to offer in our understanding of how the concept God functions in Community identity formation and social action. No matter what external Reality "God" may signify (if it signifies anyone at all), it is incredibly important to understand how "God" functions in our form of life, and what Ultimate Commitments were are putting our trust in-- and acting on-- in the Name of God. As such, it has much to say about how God, working through our Communities, may encounter and heal suffering in the world. But-- and this is a big but-- God under this conception is not God as Classically understood across history and culture. This God suffers from a problem I will call "Wittgenstein's Tupperware". God is "sealed in", so to speak, within the language game and form of life of the Community. We can have no idea whether this "God" signifies anything or anyone outside of the language game used by the Community. In fact, for Zizek there is nothing outside the Community except the metaphysical Void, the nothing, upon which all out experience is rooted. Thus, Zizek explicitly calls himself a "materialist Christian". Caputo and Rollins strike a more agnostic tone, in that it is irrelevant whether "God" refers outside of language to metaphysical Real. What matters is OUR commitment and OUR experience of life.

To put it another way: It appears that when we speak of God in this sense, we are really just speaking of ourselves, of the commitments and interpretive frameworks within which we exist. If "God" stays in the "tupperware" of the Community's language game, then "God" really refers to human commitments and interpretations. The upshot is that regardless of whether this "linguistic turn" takes a materialist "left" or an agnostic "right" in terms of metaphysics, it has effectively eliminated knowledge and power from God by saying God is not the kind of entity that acts in space and time. God may be an ultimate commitment to Ultimate Good, but God does not act unless we act "in God", that is, in accord with the Goodness signified by "God". This is not God if by "God" we mean the Ultimate Goodness, Wisdom and Being "in whom we live and move and exist". If, however, the linguistic philosopher wants to "have her cake and eat it too" by allowing "God" out of the "tupperware" to have effects on empirical Reality, then this "God" is still subject to all the above criticisms in terms of power, knowledge, and goodness. The linguistic turn does not get us out of the cul de sac of Theodicy after all.

2. Solutions which deny evil: 

There is, of course, a well-trodden path by which to escape from the conundrum of evil versus the power, knowledge and goodness of God. That solution is to simply cut the Gordian Knot with Ockham's Razor by dispensing with God altogether. There is no "God" which allows or causes suffering, because there simply is no God. Period. The solution is elegant and clean, and allows humanity to build a new moral edifice of humanity without the hangover of 100,000 years of human religion *. The problem, however, is that the whole idea of "evil" and "goodness" in an absolute and objective sense is thrown out with the bathwater of theism. If there is no Transcendent Good, then we have lost the very standard by which we can call anything "evil", and hence all statements of "evil" become merely statements of personal preference.

By this I certainly do not mean that only believers in God can make moral judgments, nor do I mean it is impossible for materialists to do good or be good. What I mean is that the absolute moral principles of justice and compassion for which many secular people base their lives on-- and upon which they criticize "God" for allowing unjust suffering-- are simply inexplicable on merely empirical grounds. Materialism does not have a resource upon which it can draw for an absolute "ought" which says that life is valuable, love is good, and justice is the right path. What "ought to be" cannot be observed in empirical phenomena, only what "is". Materialists, if they make such strong moral claims, must draft in their "oughts" from somewhere outside of their closed metaphysical system.

This all starts with an intuition that an Infinity of potential realities is a Real possibility, and that there is a standard of Goodness that transcends us in some objective sense, which draws us to the conclusion that some of these potential realities should be objectively valued and ought to be sought for their own sake (as "goods"), while other potential realities should be objectively devalued and ought to be rejected for the sake of better possibilities (and hence these rejected possibilities are "evil"). Put in a more existential way, it is a moral intuition that there is a Love that draws us, and which is experienced in all our lesser loves. It is a sense that there is a Real transcendent moral value to good and evil, beyond our tastes or preferences or even our own self-preservation. When we say "it is good" that a child is healthy and flourishes, we are not saying something merely personal and subjective like "I like ice cream". Likewise when we say "it is evil" to torture babies to death for fun, we are not making a statement of personal preference like "I hate long movies".

There is no "proof" for this. No way of demonstrating it in an empirical, logically necessary way. As Zizek says, it is a completely "surplus value": An "Event" that gives meaning to all else. This transcendent "ought" is in an empirical sense "nothing". It has no height, weight, energy or mass. It is not demonstrable as an actual or potential fact in space and time. And yet, it is precisely this transcendent "ought", this Goodness, which gives value to all else. It may be "nothing", but it is a Real Nothing. And from it we gain an inescapable feeling that we are grasped by an infinite goodness, and called by an inexhaustible Love to become people of such beauty as we cannot now imagine.

We can of course reject the "objective" independent Reality of moral and aesthetic values. We can come up with ways of explaining them as personal preferences, or species survival strategies, with no enduring, infinite, eternal meaning. But most of us sense that there is more to it than that. That if we should die, or even the whole human race should perish, or even the whole universe should cease existing, there would still be a Real value to our brief existence, and a Real loss to our death. In other words, the survival and flourishing of the human race-- and the individuals who make it up-- is not just an inbred preference for survival. It is not just "I prefer not to die" or "I prefer this group of people live full lives". It is a transcendent "Ought" that ripples through the fabric of the Universe that life ought to be protected, justice ought to be practiced, and compassion ought to seek out the means of full human flourishing.

By now it is obvious that rejecting a "Transcendent Good" is the same as rejecting God, for "Transcendent Good" is another name for the metaphysical Reality signified in Classical Theism by the word "God". One may reject a demonic "god" and still maintain a sense of good and evil, a sense of right and wrong. But if one rejects a concept of God which includes Transcendent Goodness, one has rejected the right to call anything good or evil in an absolute way. When the God of Classical Theism is "dead" then judgments of the goodness or badness of child abuse, murder, natural disasters or epidemics are merely personal preferences enforced by social power. If we want to say genocide is evil (i.e. "we don't prefer genocide") then it is "evil" only insofar as we can enforce it. If another stronger group takes over and says "genocide is good", and they can enforce their will to power over us, then genocide has indeed become good. We may not like it, but that is merely our preference. Their preference is stronger, and thus as Mao said, "justice comes at the end of a gun".

So, if someone is going to make strong moral claims about the injustice and evil of suffering, and those claims are not mere preference or gut feeling, then they are going to have to root those claims in some type of transcendent goodness. And such a transcendent Reality is going to quickly look very much like the God who is sat, chit and ananda (power, wisdom and goodness). Again, I suppose one could limit God's knowledge or power. But is goodness really good if it is unconscious or unwise (i.e. a negation of knowledge)? Is goodness really good if it cannot in some way enact that goodness (i.e. a negation of power)? It seems that a truly robust account of why suffering is evil requires a transcendent God of infinite goodness and power and knowledge.

3. Solutions which posit evil as necessary: 

A further, more problematic answer is often given about the existence of evil: That evil has to exist for good to exist. Examples are often given to back this up, such as "light requires darkness to be light" or "you can't have up without down". This is a very commonplace observation which seems like common sense. But when looked at on a deeper level, the problem is that this grants evil and suffering the same ontological status as goodness and life, and that goodness must somehow rely on evil to be "good". If such is the case-- if "good" requires "evil" to be good-- then our hope for a future free of evil and suffering is destroyed. The best we can hope for is a draw, or an endless cycle of evil giving rise to good, and good giving rise to evil. If we inhabit a universe such as this, then the problem of theodicy is also effectively solved, but not with hope. Rather, this view of the cosmos deletes the distinction between good and evil in such a way that no one is able to call suffering or death "evil" anymore. Rather, the sufferings of creation-- from the genocide of people groups to the cancer that kills a child painfully-- are just part of the "circle of life". God is no longer to blame. Human moral agency is no longer responsible. It's just "the way things are". Yet, something within us is not satisfied with such a nihilistic and mechanistic conclusion.

Perhaps a better understanding of evil does not attribute to evil an independent power or reality that is "consubstantial" with Transcendent Goodness. Rather, following the lead of Augustine's Platonism and Ramanuja's qualified non-dualism *, perhaps we should see evil as a kind of inversion or privation of the Good, which cannot have any concrete existence except insofar as a kind of metaphysical parasite. Thus, evil is NOT a real, independently existing thing like goodness is. Rather, evil is the lack of goodness, or the abuse of goodness. Evil cannot exist without good, but good can exist without evil. As a concrete analogy, we can imagine a healthy body without sickness, but sickness cannot exist at all unless it is the lack of health in a potentially healthy body. Likewise, even the smallest light can shine in the darkness and overcome darkness, but you cannot "shine" darkness into light and overcome light with darkness. This is because darkness only exists as a privation, or lack, of light. Evil thus seems to be a parasite that cannot exist without something good as a host to abuse.

If evil is something like this, then it is contingent on a non-contingent Goodness to exist. Evil then not only functions as an abuse of the Good, but as a signpost pointing to the existence of a transcendent Good, which is the reality of God. The function of evil alerts us to the fact that something is "not right", and hence there must be something that "is right". Evil, far from showing us God does not exist, actually seems to do the inverse: It points us to a Good which we hope for beyond the trials and tribulations of this life. And that opens up the hope that this non-contingent Goodness may some day eliminate evil in a great act of cosmic reconciliation. But that gets us ahead of ourselves. First, we must ascertain why this Goodness, or rather this God of goodness, wisdom and power, would allow contingent evil to exist at all, and what God's responsibility for it is.

4. Creational Freedom and Divine Permission of Evil: 

The so-called "free will" defense of why an infinitely good, powerful and wise God would allow suffering and evil has been advocated by philosophers and theologians from Irenaeus and Origen to CS Lewis and Richard Swinburne *. For the free will defense, the central thesis of why God allows evil and suffering can be stated this way: God created us from Divine Love, to share in Divine Love. Yet, Love cannot be coerced, but must be freely chosen. Thus, God gives us real freedom so that we may chose to share in God's Love, or deny that Love. Each choice has consequences, for good or for ill. And not only that, but the process of choosing and dealing with the consequences of choice are a necessary means to form the character of finite conscious beings in such a way that they are capable of fully and consciously engaging in Divine Love. This "soul making" free-will theodicy is put forward particularly by Irenaeus, and moderns who draw upon Irenaeus, such as Swinburne. Without choices and consequences acted out in space and time through a process of trial and error, it would be impossible for us to truly grasp or engage in love. We might be able to be "pre-programmed" with all the knowledge necessary to love, but then we would not have freedom. We would be programmed automatons or "philosophical zombies" *.  Thus, God allows evil and suffering as a consequence of giving us real freedom to deny Love, as a real means of forming finite moral agents who can give and receive Divine Love. There are three types of evil that are typically said to result from this:

(i) Moral Evil: 

This is evil caused by the mis-use of freedom by persons. This results in the self-caused suffering of people due to their own choices, as well as the suffering inflicted on others by these choices. Yet, if God is all-powerful and all-wise, it seems that God should be able to give us "un-free freedom" (i.e. so-called "compatiblist" freedom that will always choose good and never choose evil *), either by deceiving us into thinking we are choosing good, or by protecting us from all negative consequences. But un-free freedom is a logically self-refuting concept, and the God of Classical Theism is not self-contradictory, thus God does not make a contradictory creation. Thus, we cannot be both pre-programmed "robots" or "zombies" and also be truly free. Giving us true freedom means giving us the actual ability to choose evil.

Likewise, God cannot give us freedom and the only give us the option of choosing good (perhaps by putting us in a closed box with the only option to choose good). Being free entails the possibility of choosing at least two options with different consequences. Furthermore, God cannot allow us to truly choose good or evil, and then simply remove the consequence of choosing evil (perhaps by putting us in a "force-field" that only allows good choices to count). Giving true freedom logically entails the fruits or consequences of our choices. In my analysis, freedom without consequences or responsibility is incoherent.

Finally, even if we could be programmed or coerced into making good choices and still FEEL like they were freely chosen by us, it would not be convincing or satisfactory from God's perspective. For God would know, even if we didn't, that we were not choosing Love for the sake of Love. For instance, let's say we live in a world similar to "Stepford Wives", and were given the choice of one of two people as a mate for life. Person 1 is a pre-programmed clone (a "philosophical zombie"), guaranteed to be 100% compatible with all of our desires at all times, while Person 2 is a real human with variable compatibility depending on the day and mood. If we are sane and honest, we will pick Person 2 because they are truly real and free. If God is that Reality that corresponds to the best of our moral intuitions (i.e. is Transcendent Good), then it would seem God would choose similarly. God desires genuinely and non-coercively free moral actors who can be actual participants in Divine Love.

(ii) Natural Evil: 

Unlike "moral evil", which is the result of free conscious choices of good or evil, "natural evil" refers to seemingly random suffering and death caused by the chance and chaos inherent in the world. This results in great amounts of suffering and death caused by natural disasters from the individual scale (a child dying of cancer) to the planetary scale (a storm or volcano or meteor that wipes out millions of lives). While seemingly unrelated to the issue of moral evil, it must be noted that personal freedom is rooted in creational freedom (i.e. the chaos, randomness, and indeterminacy of creation). Thinkers who sit on the boundary between science and theology, such as physicist John Polkinghorne, are quick to point out that without the freedom of creation, from the smallest level of quantum indeterminacy, to the largest chaotic weather systems, it would impossible for persons to be free *. Our personal freedom is woven into the fabric of the free indeterminacy of the entire universe. Unweave the fabric, and the moral purpose of creation unravels. Thus, God allows natural evil, caused by creational freedom, because it is precisely this creational freedom that allows for personal freedom. And it is personal freedom that allows us to participate in God's Love. So, if there is no creational freedom, there is no possibility of persons who can love. But, this creational freedom comes at the cost of natural evil.

Yet, it seems at first glance that if God is all-powerful, God should be able to miraculously intervene to stop the worst natural evil from happening. But at a deeper level, this objection is plagued by all the problems of "un-free freedom" and "consequence free freedom" listed above, and then some. First, miraculous interruptions in the natural system can have even worse ramifications than we might first imagine. While this is hard to conceive without a bit of hard science, I will try to make the analogy with recent military interventions. On first thought, it seems like a good thing for a country with a very powerful military to intervene in a weaker country to get rid of an oppressive regime or evil dictator. However, recent international experience shows that such noble interventions can lead to the unintended release of even more hatred, oppression, resentment and violence on the part of the newly "liberated" population. On analogy, it is easy to see how miraculous intervention by God has the possibility of unleashing similar unintended consequences, bringing about even worse disasters. Thus, miraculous intervention must be chosen by God in some limited way, to ensure that worse consequences do not ensue. This is one reason why I think that obvious miracles in history are relatively rare, and unpredictable.

Second, as a very weak argument from silence, I think it should be noted that we have no way of knowing how many times God has in fact intervened to stop natural disasters, or to mitigate their effects. It may in fact be that natural evil could be much, much worse if God had acted differently. But there is no way of telling this without definitive revelation. Third, in some versions of quantum theory (such as the "Copenhagen Interpretation" of quantum events), every time an event could happen in more than one way, it in fact does happen by splitting reality into multiple timelines. What this means is that it is possible that we do not live in a "universe", but rather a "multiverse", in which every natural possibility is realized in some timeline *. This means that any time natural evil could have happened in another way, it has in fact happened another way in some part of the multiverse.

Thus we could say this: God wants to maximize the amount of good that results in reality. Therefore God allows any universe to exist in the multiverse which possesses at least one good that is not present in other universes. We could further speak of two types of goods: What I will call "primary goods" and "secondary goods". Primary goods are goods that have no evil or suffering entailed in them. Secondary goods are goods that only result from evil happening prior to them, such as the heroin addict who changes his life and then dedicates himself to helping others, or the doctor whose child gets a disease and then he discovers the cure, not only for her child, but for all children. A universe with only primary goods could, by definition, have no secondary goods. Only a universe where evil is allowed to happen can give rise to secondary goods. So, if God is to maximize the unfolding of goodness across all reality, God would need to allow a multiverse which would maximize both primary goods and secondary goods. Therefore, this universe, with its pain and suffering, would be one which possesses at least one unique good that would not be present in any other possible universe. That could be why God has allowed this universe (and perhaps infinitely more) to exist.

(iii) Systemic Evil: 

This is evil caused by oppressive social systems that create structural injustice, lack of access to resources, exclusion, pollution, and other technological/industrial disasters. This is not caused by individual evil choices, but the collective logic and policies of social systems which deal with scarce finite resources. An example of this might be the farmer who diverts water from the stream to water his crops (which thereby feed not only his family but many others), while inadvertently starving the rancher down stream. Another example might be the mother who needs to feed her children, but the only stores she can buy from contribute to factory farming, pollution and ecological collapse. This kind of evil results from people who choose a good, but due to the system, wind up contributing to evil. Thus, this kind of evil occupies a place between moral and natural evil.

But, surely a wise, good, powerful God could raise up a systemic force in the world to fight systemic evil. And, from a Christian perspective, God has in fact raised up at least one systemic force to fight systemic evil: The Body of Christ, the Church. I would go further and argue that most of the great religious traditions have been a finite, culturally bound reactions to discerning the Transcendent Good at work in creation, and thus are intended by God to also be "part of the solution". Any social system that is inspired by Divine Love and Justice and that seeks after this Love and Justice, is also "working with God" to solve systemic evil. And yet, the social systems of the Church and other religious systems possess the same freedom every other entity in the universe has to obey or resist God's Love. Thus, religion has all too often been co-opted by the very evils it was created to oppose. And it does seem that God constantly revives and reforms religion, through reformers and prophets, in effort to overcome this. Nevertheless, fanaticism, cruelty, hatred and violence constantly infect religion-- and every other social system-- leaving us broken and suffering.

5. A Monstrous Solution: 

Although I have explored the free will defense at length, I do not think it solves the problem of theodicy. The free will defense seems to be necessary to clarify the causes of suffering and the extent of the problem, but it does not actually justify God for allowing such suffering and evil in the world. For instance, we may ask the question: Is the rationale for allowing freedom worth the cost?

Freedom, we have seen, makes possible a great many goods that could not happen without freedom. It allows for "soul making". It allows for Divine Love to be participated in by finite creatures. It allows us to make mistakes so that we learn from them and grow into better people, or at least that others may learn and grow from our mistakes. Evidence is often cited in the form of examples of personal growth, or examples of how we learn from the mistakes of other cultures in history. And while there is doubtless truth to this, and a great many evil choices can be "redeemed" and transformed into learning experiences that lead to salvation, this answer is also highly problematic in regard to extreme examples of evil. It is extremely doubtful that horribly evil acts can be redeemed by becoming "learning experiences". How could the holocaust of 6-8 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis be seen as a "learning experience"? How could the abuse and murder of a small child be justified as a "learning experience"? For who? Certainly not the child! While such evils have some intelligibility as the result of personal freedom, they are monstrously absurd as "object lessons".

In fact, while all of these "free will" answers may be more or less rational, and more or less persuasive, they are all incomplete. They all keep God fairly uninvolved in the problem of evil, removed into the position of merely "permitting" evil. They explain why God may allow evil, but they do not explain how God directly ACTS to participate in, and heal, the problem of evil. But even more to the point: They are all desperate attempts to take responsibility away from God for the horrors of the world God created. They try to "get God off the hook", to justify God (hence "theo-dikee" or "theodicy"). But what if God does not want to abdicate responsibility? What if God takes the full blame for the horror-filled world God has made? What is there is no justification for evil, especially horrendous evil, by God's permission of evil for the sake of Love and soul-making? What if God says "yes" to every curse screamed at him, and every person who wishes God would go to hell for what God has done to us? Perhaps this is precisely what God is doing in Christ.

But that is not enough. As I write this in comfortable air-conditioning sipping a coffee (and you read this perhaps doing the same) someone is being raped, someone else is being murdered, someone is working in a sweat shop to make goods we use, and someone is dying alone and abandoned from a preventable disease. And instead of helping them, instead of doing anything, we are pontificating about whether God is responsible for their suffering. Because at some deep level many of us think that if we can justify God for allowing evil and suffering, then we can justify ourselves for allowing it to. So we read and write about the problem instead of doing anything about it. Why is there evil and suffering in the world? Because of me. Because of you.

We blame God for creating a world in which people are thrown inexorably into suffering, injustice and death. Then we rightfully say that nothing-- no account of freedom-- could fully justify the amount of evil caused by this predicament. And yet, all of us who have raised children do the exact same thing. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt what makes life "red in tooth and claw". We know the sufferings we have faced and see others face. We know death-- probably a painful and lingering death-- awaits us all. And yet we choose to create children and cast them into a life sentence of suffering that will end in death. Sure, we teach them and try to protect them. But we know it won't be enough. They will go through intense pain of some kind or another. Then they will die. We do exactly what God does. And why? Because giving them love and sharing in their love is somehow worth it. Which is precisely the same reason God does. God may be a monster, but we are too. Is such a monstrous God worth committing our lives to? Does the infinitely good, wise and powerful, yet horribly culpable God, do anything to solve the problem of evil beyond unjustifiably "permitting" it to happen? Will this God do anything to give us hope beyond our own culpability and fault? It is to this question we now turn.

6. Evil and the Trinity in the economy of salvation: 

For Christian theology, the solution to Theodicy is not complete until God acts in such a way as to deal with the problem of evil and suffering directly. This requires an understanding of how God has acted in history in a Trinitarian way, as Father, Son, and Spirit. Before we go on, let us make Rahner's distinction between the "Immanent Trinity", which is God as God exists in Godself for eternity apart from creation, and the "Economic Trinity", which is how God reveals Godself within creation, through the history of salvation. Here we will consider the "Economic Trinity":

(i) The Father suffers for us: 

The first thing that must be said is God the Father suffers for us in our suffering. Numerous times in Scripture, God is said to be angry, deeply saddened, and even repentant, because of human wickedness on one hand, and the suffering caused by sin on the other hand *. Indeed, even the title "Father", used by Jesus to describe God, tells us that God is deeply connected with our lives on an emotional basis as a good parent would be. The Father does not sit in heaven detached and objective. He is passionately engaged in our suffering.

In fact, the Father is so passionately engaged that he sends his "only unique Son" to Earth to reveal the nature of God as Love, and to open for us the way of salvation (cf. John 3.16-18, and many, many other places). In sending his unique eternal Son to Earth, God experiences the profound loss of the one who is nearest and dearest to Godself. First God looses his Son to become Incarnate on Earth, then God looses His Son to injustice, torture, and death on a cross. God the Father knows what it is like to loose His Beloved, not only because He has lost so many of his children to suffering and death on Earth, but because He has also lost His beloved unique eternal Son as well. Thus, God empathizes with all who have lost loved ones, and joins with them in their grief.

(ii) The Son suffers because of us: 

The second thing that must be said is that in Jesus, God has suffered because of us, on our behalf, and in our place. God has substituted Godself in our place to take the full consequences of our sin and evil into Godself. This is classically referred to as the "kenosis", or self-emptying, found in Philippians chapter 2 when St. Paul says that in Christ God has "emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, and being found in human likeness, he humbled himself to death, even death on a cross". The most extreme confession of this emptying comes from the lips of Jesus himself on the cross, when he cries out in the words of Psalm 22: "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?"

In Jesus, God emptied himself, and went through all the normal "suffering" that human life and growth entails. God went through the womb, birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, just as we all do, without exempting Godself from any part of the process. God thus identifies with humanity, and is in solidarity with all of us, in every phase of life. But not only that, God surrendered Godself to the worst kinds of consequences that result from human sin: Even though he was completely innocent of any evil, he voluntarily underwent betrayal, hatred, abuse, injustice, torture, and eventually murder. And even beyond this life, Jesus "descended into hell" to fully drink down the consequences of estrangement from God to the last drop *. There is not any form of suffering, in this life or the next, which God did not undergo in Jesus. This is why St. Paul says that God "made him who had no sin to be sin for us" (cf. 2Corinthians 5.21).

I must add that this "substitution" is not merely a judicial exchange, in which God takes some arbitrary penalty in our place as a kind of legal scapegoat. No, the consequences of sin are not arbitrary punishments ordered by God, but rather natural effects arising from the fabric of the universe itself. If we disconnect ourselves from life, love, and purpose, the natural consequence is death, fear, and meaninglessness. It is not arbitrarily imposed by God, but implicit in the very structure of existence. Thus, Christ's substitution is fuller and broader than merely "judicial" concepts of punishments for breaking a law *. It touches on the very nature of forgiveness and reconciliation, as well as the fact of divine responsibility for Creation.

Forgiveness is by its very nature a substitution, so that reconciliation can occur. In the act of forgiving, the person who was hurt by the evil takes the pain and consequence of the evil into themselves, not visiting it back upon the guilty party. For instance, if I steal money from you and you forgive me, you take upon yourself the cost of the theft, in order to be reconciled to me. Or, if you betray me and I forgive you, I take upon myself the pain of your betrayal without trying to exact vengeance or retribution upon you. Likewise, when God forgives us, it means that God takes into Godself the consequences of our evil. And for God to take the suffering and death into Godself on behalf of us, God needs to take on a form in which God can genuinely experience these consequences, without exempting Godself from actually suffering in solidarity with us. This form is precisely a human form, found in Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, God faced God's own mortality, God's own impending death, just as we all must do.

Yet this substitution- a relational, not merely judicial substitution- is also God taking responsibility for what God has made. We all instinctively hold builders responsible for what they build. To the extent that what they build is beautiful and good, they are praiseworthy. To the extent that what they build is dangerous and destructive, they are blameworthy. We all bear our blame for the evil acts we choose, and in Jesus God takes this blame in our place. But also, in creating a "good" creation that is capable of producing free persons who can love, God has created a system that necessarily allows for immense suffering and evil. So, in Jesus God takes the blame for the suffering that God Himself created, and allowed, as the necessary precondition for Love. Jesus' substitution for us is thus about God taking the blame for what God created as much as it is about God taking our blame for the evil we have chosen to do. The kenosis and cross are just as much God seeking our forgiveness and taking Divine responsibility as it is God forgiving us and taking our responsibility.

And yet, in Christian theology, the cross is not the end of the story, for a merely dead God is not a solution to Theodicy. For Theodicy to come to any kind of resolution, suffering and death cannot have the last word. Jesus cannot stay in the grave. Thus the historic bodily resurrection of Jesus, as reported in the Gospels and Letters of the New Testament, is a necessary ingredient for the final resolution of the problem of evil. It is an objective demonstration that God's Love is stronger than death, and more powerful than any of the consequences of evil. In death, Jesus takes every consequence of sin and evil, so that he may heal and transform every consequence of sin and evil by his resurrection.

And just as Jesus is the epicenter, or "Event", or central site, at which God's substitution for our sins is enacted, he is also the epicenter from which God's Victory over evil radiates into the rest of the cosmos. He is the Fount of the healing of all evil. As time and process go forward in the cosmos, the entire universe will be drawn into the healing found in him (cf. Colossians 1.15-20; Romans 8; 1Corinthians 15). As Jesus himself says: "When I am raised up, I will draw all people to myself" (John 12.32). The question is, what is the energy or power or "gravity" that draws us all to this healing? This is where the Holy Spirit comes in.

(iii) The Spirit suffers with us: 

The Spirit of God is the very power which is said to have given Jesus the victory over the grave (cf. Romans 1.4). And it is this very Spirit which is poured out upon those who are joined to Christ in faithfulness and Love. Those who are joined with Christ are thus referred to as a new type of social entity, that continues the Incarnation of God in the world, and spreads the healing found in Jesus. That entity is the Church, which is called "The Body of Christ", and the Spirit is the lifeblood that nourishes and holds this Body together. As a result, the Spirit is a permanent guest dwelling within individual members of the Body of Christ, and also connecting those individual members together into a greater whole.

The upshot of this for the problem of Theodicy is that, in the Spirit, God suffers with us in everything we go through. God is not just the Father suffering for us in Heaven, nor just the Son suffering because of us in History. God is also the Spirit suffering with us right now, and empowering with God's Love and life to overcome and transform that suffering. As St. Paul says in Romans 8.18-26:

"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies… Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."

This does not preclude the Spirit's work in other communities and social systems outside of the Church. In fact, it implies just the opposite. The Spirit is at work in all the world, suffering with all who suffer, and leading all to ultimate healing, as the Spirit draws all to the epicenter of healing found in Jesus Christ. The normative route for this transformative pattern is to draw people through the continuing Body of Christ, the Church. However, there are parts of the cosmos where the Body is currently absent, or has been so weakened and sickened by sin, that the Spirit may be working through other means, such as other social systems and even other religions. Wherever we find Christlike Love and justice being practiced, and people being healed, then surely Christ's Spirit is at work, even if the Name of Christ is as yet unknown among them.

(iv) The need to go further into the Divine Life: 

While it might be tempting for some Christians to declare the problem of Theodicy substantially answered at this point, I think we need to reach further, beyond history, and into the eternal nature of Godself, for the most complete answer possible. The reason for this is two-fold:

First, the question arises whether suffering and loss is something strictly "outside" of God, which is foreign to the very nature of God. Is Theodicy just a problem external to God, which God has to step outside of eternity and into history to solve? Or does Theodicy somehow draw us into the very depths of God's own life?

Second, the solution thus far has not given us an outline of how Theodicy might find an eternal resolution in the life of God. We can now see there is hope in history for the solution though Christ by the power of the Spirit. But, is there also a hope in eternity beyond history? Can we dare to hope for those who have already perished? Can we dare to have hope after our own earthly life is done?

7. Suffering and Loss as Participation in Divine Life: 

As Jacob Friesenhahn has noted in "Trinity and Theodicy", the eternal grounding of the "Economic Trinity" is ultimately found in the "Immanent Trinity" of God as Love. Now that we have considered how God deals with suffering in History in the "Economic Trinity", let us deal with how God deals with Theodicy in eternity as the "Immanent Trinity". God does not just "appear" as Father, Son, and Spirit in History, so that we conveniently link them together as the Trinity after the fact. Rather, the revelation of God in History as Father, Son, and Spirit point us to the eternal nature of God prior to time and space. To vastly over-simplify it, we can say this: God is eternal Love, shared forever between the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that binds them together (i.e. Father, Son, Spirit). God is thus a Community that shares fully in one another, and gives themselves fully to each other, in an eternal "dance" of self-emptying participation in one another. Friesenhahn makes the case that the experience of suffering is a real means of participating in this inner life of the Trinity. In fact, following Catholic Theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, he shows how the kenosis, or "self-emptying" of Christ, is not just something done by the Son of God in History. Rather, this historic emptying reflects something that has always been happening from eternity. In Trinity, God has always been emptying Godself into each other in a kind of "super-kenosis" (to use Von Balthasar's phrase). The Father has always been emptying Himself into the Son through the Spirit. And likewise, the Son has always emptied Himself back into the Father through the same Spirit. There is thus an eternal "loss" or "giving up" or "handing over" that makes up the very nature of God who is Love.

It turns out that the very nature of Love is self-gift and self-loss for the sake of the other. This is how the Bible describes both the nature of God's Love in Christ (again, see John 3.16), as well as the nature of the Love we should have for one another (see 1Corinthians 13). For God, and for us, in time and in eternity, true Love means the loss and giving up of the self. And while Love often leads to feelings of satisfaction and joy, it also necessarily entails suffering as we empty ourselves on behalf of the Other.

Friesenhahn notes that this has important ramifications on the very nature of suffering and loss. As long as suffering and loss is seen and felt as meaningless, disconnected from any participation in God's Life, it is in fact meaningless and absurd for those who are suffering. However, if suffering and loss is offered up to Christ, and realized as a participation in the Love of God that has existed for all eternity, it becomes the site of profound communion with God, through Christ, in the power of the Spirit. When suffering is given over to the Triune God in this way, we begin to realize that our sufferings are a very real participation in the eternal Divine Life, and God is participating in our struggles in a very real way. This is not a quick fix, nor does it suddenly alleviate the very real consequences of moral, natural, and systemic evil. But this realization does do two important things for our struggle:

First, it gives us a historical hope that things can be made better in this world. If we are sure that God is working with us and through us, and that the Spiritual power of the resurrection is available right now, it gives us courage and strength to strive for justice and transformation in our society. It gives us the ability to give ourselves away in acts of charity and social justice, knowing "it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose" (cf. Philippians 1.13). Second, it gives us an eternal hope that all things will be reconciled in God's good time. It is to this eternal hope that we turn now.

8. The Causes of Suffering finally judged and transformed: 

The Bible is replete with warnings and promises that at the end of History, God will judge and condemn all evil actions, and the actors that chose evil. Now, it is of course possible that we may not believe these promises or warnings. And if we do not believe them, they are a moot point. And on this view, at the end of the day, evil, death and suffering have the last laugh.

However, let us assume for a moment that these promises and warnings are actually true. This would have a profound effect on how we see the resolution of Theodicy. For, if it were true, according to John Polkinghorne *, it would mean that after the free processes of the universe have been given their full scope of action in history, God will act to "harvest" what is good, true, and beautiful and remove all that is evil, false, and worthless after history. Because of this, we could expect that God will recompense evil doers with the exact amount of remedial discipline they need to fully understand the scope of their evil choices, and turn away from evil. This recompense would take the form of the evil-doers experiencing the full consequences of their guilt, shame, and estrangement from God's Love, until they finally surrender their evil, and participate in the healing Love of God.

Of course, since we are still dealing with free persons, they will eternally have the choice to resist the Loving discipline of God, and cling to their evil forever. This would result in them experiencing the "hell" of self-chosen guilt, shame and estrangement for as long as they desire, into eternity. However, God's healing discipline always holds the doors open to his Love, if they will just surrender their evil and empty themselves to Christ. If this is all true, it means that there is no injustice, no evil, no suffering that will not be dealt with by the Triune God in the most serious and fitting way. No one, from the most petty gossiper to the most horrific dictator, will be able to get away without facing up to the evil they have done, and the full consequences of that evil. But it also means something more. It means that God's Love, revealed in Christ, will never give up on anyone, until all are brought to reconciliation in Christ. As it says in Colossians 1.19-20 "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross". Or again in 1Corinthians 15 "As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive".

This leads to the final hope of the Christian, the resurrection of the dead and the New Creation. The final hope is that, after the full consequences of evil have run their course in this life and the next, there will be a final transformation of the cosmos as all that is good, true, and beautiful is gathered together in Christ. I do not know how to fully characterize or describe this, other than to say that it will be analogous to the historic resurrection of Christ, in which Jesus was transfigured and glorious, while also still bearing the scars of his life and being identifiable as himself (see 1Corinthians 15 and John 21-22). In the same way, who we will be then, will be in continuity with who we are now, but in a way that is glorious and transformed into the best possible version of who we can be in Christ. Or, in the words of the Apostle John "Beloved, we are God’s children now, but what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when [Christ] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is." (1John 3.3).

The cosmic implications of this Resurrection is described in Revelation 21.1-4: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." It is almost as if the "new creation" will be the "old creation" turned inside out, to reveal the inner meaning that was always held within our experiences of suffering and joy, death and life. This "inside out" new creation, in which the life of the Triune God swallows up death forever, is the ultimate solution to Theodicy.

And this "ultimate solution" should not be confused with a bland statement that "everything turns out fine in the end, so that justifies murder, rape, genocide, abuse, and natural disasters". This ultimate resolution and resurrection does not come that "cheap". You can't hit fast forward to get there, as I have shown above. Rather, the experience of suffering and the judgment of evil are all necessary to fully participate in the Triune life of God. Each evil that is done, and every life destroyed and maimed by it, will be dealt with uniquely by God through Christ. Every consequence will be met in a way that is appropriate to the situation. And all will ultimately become a means for participation in the life of God through our experience of loss and suffering.

And all of this brings us back to the function of hope in living a robust, fully flourishing human life. Without hope, we fall into despair and nihilism. Without hope, we allow evil and suffering and death to have the last word. Death gets the last laugh, so to speak. And it is the fundamental lack of hope which is on full display in every Theodicy that either eliminates God because of radical evil, or eliminates God's ability to finally and fully deal with evil (by eliminating God's goodness, wisdom, power, or some combination thereof). Because  the fact is, there is evil. We cannot wish it away. And if we have no actual hope of evil being dealt with and transformed so that evil can no longer bring about suffering and death, then all we do for good is ultimately for nought. It is meaningless. On one hand, it is a horrible thing to have to say to parents who have just lost their child to violence or disease: "Your child is with Jesus now, and Christ has taken all of your sufferings into God's life so he may raise us all to new life in the resurrection". But on the other hand, it is a far more horrible thing to say: "Your child is dead, as you will be soon... and the silence of the void will cover up your screams and cries as the eons pass by until at last all life will cease." Yes, suffering and death is evil, and there can be no justification for its horrors. But, the only thing more horrible is positing a future where that is the end of the story: To say there is no recompense, no restoration, no reconciliation, no resurrection, only death and destruction reigning supreme over all hopes and dreams and loves for all eternity. But there is another option. We can "hope against hope" (cf. Romans 4.18) that there is a hope beyond the horrors, a hope that the horrors are healed and transformed in eternity. God takes the full blame for suffering and evil in Christ, and allows the monstrosity of theodicy to be embodied in his passion and death, so that we all may be raised to a new life and a new hope beyond the horrors in his resurrection. Death and evil are not God's last word. Rather, God's last Word will be the same as his first Word. That Word is Life. That Word is Logos. That Word is embodied in Jesus, who is "The LORD who saves" *

Since we are very quickly nearing the end of my ability to describe this mystical reconciliation in words, I will close with a final analogy. I think this "inside out" new creation is somewhat like a complex needlepoint picture. When viewed from the bottom side, the picture is unintelligible. There is nothing but a tangle of loose threads, with very little discernible pattern, and no consistency. Yet, when one turns it over to the top side, you can see how the jumble of threads has been woven together into a beautiful picture. In a similar way, I do not expect the jumbled threads of suffering and loss to make complete sense right now. I can see some edges and contours, but what the final resolution will be I can scarcely grasp. Yet I hope that as our suffering and loss is joined to Christ, we will find ourselves knit into the life of the Trinity, and one day the picture will make sense. On that day the horrors of evil will die, death will be swallowed up in life, and the monstrosity of theodicy will be healed in the wounds of Christ *.


  • Adams, Marilyn McCord. Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology. Cambridge University Press. 2006.
  • Bostian, Nathan. Theodicy in Outline. Online at http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2013/04/theodicy-in-outline.html. Accessed August 5, 2014.
  • Bostian, Nathan. Miracles and Minds, Science Fiction and Scientific Probability. Online at http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2013/12/miracles-and-minds-science-fiction-and.html. Accessed August 5, 2014.
  • Cahn, Steven M., Shatz, David (Editors). Questions About God: Today's Philosophers Ponder the Divine. 1st Edition. Oxford University Press. 2002.
  • Caputo, John D. On Religion. Routledge. 2001.
  • Caputo, John D. The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event. Indiana University Press. 2006.
  • Caputo, John D. Philosophy and Theology. Abingdon. 2006.
  • Dennett, Daniel C. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Penguin Books. 2006.
  • Depoortere, Frederiek. Christ in Postmodern Philosophy: Gianni Vattimo, Rene Girard, and Slavoj Zizek. Bloomsbury T&T Clark. 2008.
  • Friesenhahn, Jacob H. The Trinity and Theodicy: The Trinitarian Theology of von Balthasar and the Problem of Evil. Ashgate. 2011.
  • Hart, David Bentley. The Experience of God. Kindle Edition. Yale University Press. 2014.
  • Hartshorne, Charles. Omnipotence and other Theological Mistakes. SUNY Press. 1984.
  • Hitchens, Christopher. God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hachette Book Group. 2007.
  • Kreeft, Peter. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Intervarsity Press. 1994.
  • Kushner, Harold S. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Twentieth Anniversary Edition, with a New Preface by the Author. Schocken. 2001.
  • Lewis, Clive Staples. The Problem of Pain. Harper Collins. 1940.
  • Lewis, Clive Staples. Mere Christianity. Harper Collins. 1952.
  • Marion, Jean Luc. God Without Being: Hors-Texte. University of Chicago Press. 1995.
  • New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Accordance Bible Software Edition. 1989, 2014.
  • Ogden, Schubert M. On Theology. Southern Methodist University. 1986.
  • Phillips, D. Z. The Problem of Evil & the Problem of God. Fortress Press. 2005.
  • Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford University Press. 2000. In particular, see the final chapter "Suffering and Evil".
  • Polkinghorne, John. The God of Hope and the End of the World. Yale University Press. 2002.
  • Polkinghorne, John. Science and Providence: God's interaction with the world. Templeton Foundation Press. 1989.
  • Polkinghorne, John. The Faith of a Physicist. Augsburg Fortress. 1996.
  • Reitan, Eric. Is God A Delusion? A Reply to Religion's Cultured Despisers. Kindle Edition. Wiley-Blackwell. 2010.
  • Rollins, Peter. Insurrection: To Believe Is Human To Doubt, Divine. Howard Books. 2011.
  • Ward, Keith. Images of Eternity. Oneworld Press. 1987.
  • Ward, Keith. God: A Guide for the Perplexed. Oneworld Press. 2002. In particular, see chapters 4 and 7. 
  • Zizek, Slavoj. The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? The Essential Zizek. Second Edition. Verso. 2009.
  • Zizek, Slavoj; Milbank, John. The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? The MIT Press. 2011.
  • Zizek, Slavoj. Event: A Philosophical Journey Through A Concept. Philosophy in Transit Book 2. Kindle Edition. Melville House. 2014.


  • 1 Please see the Bibliography for books written by these thinkers that address the problem of theodicy. 
  • 2 This essay was submitted for my doctoral seminar at Virginia Theological Seminary in July 2015, entitled "Philosophy and Ministry: Unpacking the Hard Questions about God". It includes long re-worked sections of previous essays I have published on my blog. Above all, it includes a great deal of material from "Theodicy in Outline", as well as "Miracles and Minds". 
  • 3 Please see the Bibliography for books written by these thinkers that address the issue of how to best construe the signifier "God". 
  • 4 If it seems unwarranted to make a switch from West to East, this is precisely what David Bentley Hart (an Orthodox Theologian) does in his book "The Experience of God". He argues for the reality of the God of Christianity precisely by using the structure of Sat Chit Ananda. Likewise, philosopher Keith Ward makes similar moves in several of his books. 
  • 5 In particular I am thinking of certain extreme predestinarian Augustinian and Sunni theologies that make God the only real actor in a pre-determined universe. 
  • 6 I have written an extended analysis of one of Peter Rollins' books which includes engagement with Zizek and Caputo. It may be found here: http://natebostian.blogspot.com/ 2011/10/friend-or-frenemy-review-of-peter.html 
  • 7 Most of the following observations come from in-class observations and discussions during Willet's five day seminar on "Philosophy and Ministry: Unpacking the Hard Questions about God" held at Virginia Theological Seminary in July 2015. 
  • 8 This is, of course, precisely what is advocated by "New Atheists" such as Hitchens in "God is not Great" or Dennett in "Breaking the Spell" 
  • 9 My understanding of the similarities between Christian Platonists (such as Augustine) and Hindu qualified non-dualists (such as Ramanuja) is drawn largely from the writings of Keith Ward on Comparative Theology. One may consult the appropriate chapters in his "Images of Eternity", or within his larger five volume systematic Comparative Theology. 
  • 10 See Swinburne's essay "Why does God allow evil?" in chapter 3 of Cahn's "Questions about God". 
  • 11 I do not recall where I first head this term, nor the many essays online where I have read about it. It is an evocative term to describe the possibility of beings which seem sentient, and perhaps even may perceive themselves as sentient, but nevertheless are mere automata pre- programmed for certain ends. 
  • 12 This concept of "freedom" is often put forward by thinkers of the Reformed Christian tradition, or other religious traditions that are heavily committed to a doctrine of monergism (i.e. God's complete control of all aspects of Creation). I do not believe compatibilist freedom is a coherent concept for the reasons I describe. I advocate for a libertarian or indeterminate concept of freedom, in which part of God's "kenosis" in creating the world is to empty Godself of the prerogative of controlling the freedom of creatures. 
  • 13 Polkinghorne lays this out in what he calls his "Free Process Defense" which he develops as the necessary "quantum" corollary to traditional "Free Will Defense". All of the Polkinghorne books listed in the Bibliography deal to some degree with this concept. 
  • 14 I offer the "multiverse" up as purely speculative, but also a speculation that really needs to be dealt with in postmodern theodicy. I know the concept of the multiverse seems like something only worthy of science fiction or comic books. However, the hypothesis has been used by physicists since the 1920's, and currently there are many efforts to devise a test of this hypothesis by legitimate physicists. For instance: https://www.quantamagazine.org/ 20141103-in-a-multiverse-what-are-the-odds/ . 
  • 15 Consider the insight of Genesis 6 that God was brokenhearted and repented because of creating humanity with its propensity to violence and injustice. Or Jesus weeping over Jerusalem in the Gospels. 
  • 16 This is not the place to get into an exegetical discussion of Christ's descent into, and victory over, hell. Suffice it to say I am convinced by the Orthodox tradition and the text of the Apostle's Creed that this is precisely what Christ did. For more information, see my essay on this topic "On Christ's Descent to Hell" found at http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2013/03/on- christs-descent-to-hell.html 
  • 17 And thus I am very critical of Reformed Christian doctrines of "Penal Substitution" and the like. God has no need for a legal transaction (cf. Calvin) nor a business transaction to save and heal us. The only substitution there is for God is relational: In which God puts Godself in our place in Love. 
  • 18 See especially Polkinghorne's "The God of Hope and the End of the World", as well as the closing chapters of "The Faith of a Physicist". 
  • 19 The Word in Greek is "Logos", which is what is translated as the Divine Word in John chapter 1. Likewise, the name Jesus-- or rather the Hebrew Yashua from which Jesus is derived-- literally means "Yahweh saves" or "The LORD is salvation". 
  • 20 The language of "horror" and "monstrosity" used throughout this essay come to me from the title of two works I have only partially read. Marilyn McCord Adams deals with theodicy in a universalistic way similar to mine in her book "Christ and Horrors". Slavoj Žižek deals with the meaning of Christ and the cross in a materialist way in his dialogue with John Milbank in "The Monstrosity of Christ". 

No comments:

This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.