The problem of evil has bedeviled religious thought since antiquity. Its ancestry can be traced back to Democritus, the Greek philosopher who lived in the fourth century b.c.e. Although the problem has often been stated philosophically, it has received powerful literary presentation in, for example, Fyodor Dostoevski’s Bratya Karamazovy (1879-1880; The Brothers Karamazov, 1912). Basically, the problem of evil can be articulated as the incompatibility of the following three statements:(1) God is omnipotent. (2) God is wholly good. (3) Evil exists.
Given the benevolent and almighty nature of God, how can God permit the occurrence of evil in the world? Indeed, nonbelievers have taken the fact of evil as evidence against the very existence of God. To resolve the conflict, a variety of theodicies have been proposed by religious thinkers. The term “theodicy” was first coined by the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), from the Greek theos (god) and dike (righteous), to represent any religious attempt to solve the problem of evil and thereby to absolve God of malicious intent and incompetent creatorship.
John Hick’s own theodicy, inspired by the work of Saint Irenaeus (120/140-c. 202 c.e.), is an explanatory attempt to meet the conceptual and empirical problems of suffering in the world, yet (Hick insists) it is not an attempt to justify the ways of God—as if God owed humans an explanation or had obligations to humans in creation. Others may persist in seeking a divine justification for the unsolicited and nonconsensual sufferings they endure and thus turn the onus of justification into an indictment of God. Hick’s aim is, rather, to understand how it is that evil—in the amounts, kinds, and distribution found in this world—can coexist with God, who is omnipotent and omniscient by nature and whose character is love. In keeping with most traditions of theodicy, Hick thinks this understanding will be found in moral considerations that explain why God would permit such evils.
Central to Hick’s theodicy about the divine goal for the presence of evil in this world is the idea that humans are significantly free creatures. He parts company, however, with the traditional theodicy of the Fall as first formulated by Saint Augustine (354-430 c.e.). According to the Augustinian approach, the misuse of...
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