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Last Updated on June 1, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 317

In Evil and the God of Love , John Hick states that the question of evil arises only if one believes in God. One way of looking at the existence of evil is to believe that God allows evil to exist so that a higher purpose may be achieved. Hick...

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In Evil and the God of Love, John Hick states that the question of evil arises only if one believes in God. One way of looking at the existence of evil is to believe that God allows evil to exist so that a higher purpose may be achieved. Hick begins by exploring the early roots of theodicy by considering the works of Augustine of Hippo. Augustine’s explanation that evil is present in the absence of good continues to guide the position of the church on the question of good and evil. Hick contends that free choice exists because of evil. In the absence of evil, there would be no relative “good” to choose.

Hick takes up Barth’s idea of the power of nothingness and tends to agree with the latter’s contention that sin is the chief expression of enmity with God. Hick feels that philosophers of the eighteenth century took forward the Augustinian thoughts on theodicy and proposed that evil ultimately serves a larger good.

Hick examines how the reformist thought during the medieval period accepted the theological thought of Augustine but questioned the philosophical works of the author. By the time of the Enlightenment, Augustine’s philosophical thoughts regained currency, while his theological musings were under scrutiny.

Hick explores Irenaean theodicy, which is considered representative of the Eastern Church. He opines that Irenaean theodicy is fundamentally the same as Augustinian theodicy. Hick touches upon the more recent teleological attempts at theodicy, but he disagrees with them, because the basic premise of this line of thought is derived from evolutionism and does not entertain the idea of Christ.

In this book, Hick makes a sincere attempt to understand Christian theodicy by reconciling facts and faith. He is not convinced by the arguments put forth in traditional theodicy and states that the story of man’s fall is mythology which early theologists took as history.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1019

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 freedom by humans was the cause of the Fall and the emergence of evil; thereby God can be exonerated from responsibility for the origin of evil and suffering. In opposition, Hick argues that the notion of perfect free creatures introducing evil by perverse misuse of free choice is implausible and even unintelligible. He maintains that a close examination of rational agency undermines free Fall theodicies that attempt to shift responsibility for the origin of evil off divine shoulders onto those of humans. Moreover, Hick points out, the notion of a historical Fall runs contrary to the findings of evolutionary biology.

In the Hickian theodicy, the idea of free will is subordinated to the goal of “soul-making,” where God’s primary creative project culminates in a process of spiritual development in which autonomous created persons, with their own free participation, are perfected, fashioned into God’s likeness, and formed toward the pattern of Christ. He sees God’s choice of such a developmental process, with all its pains, as underwritten by one or both of the following assumptions. According to the metaphysical presupposition, human persons cannot be ready-made perfect by divine fiat, but only through their uncompelled responses and willing cooperation in their actions and reactions in the world in which God has placed them. However, if “divine fiat” is limited in the way that the assumption suggests, does not this show that God may not be omnipotent after all? The second assumption is Hick’s “value-judgment” stipulation that one who has attained goodness by meeting and eventually mastering temptations—and thus by rightly making responsible choices in concrete situations—is good in a richer and more valuable sense than would be one created ab initio in a state either of innocence or of virtue.

On these bases, Hick attempts to explain divine permission for suffering to take place in the world in terms of its being necessary for the spiritual growth and development of souls. By a piecemeal examination of the major types of evil—moral evil, pain, and higher forms of human suffering—he tries to show how each is a consequence of the soul-making project and the requisite condition for it. Still, how can we account for the inordinate amounts, kinds, and distribution of suffering happening in the world? Hick faces the challenge by asserting that the very occurrence of dysteleological evils (Hick’s phrase for unjust, undeserved, unnecessary, or excessive misery) creates a context of mystery that, in his reckoning, is conducive to soul-making. Nevertheless, even if such evils contribute to (their amounts, kinds, and distributions being necessary for) the environment of soul-making, a cost-benefit analysis would have to be done to show how permission of them could be compatible with the omnipotent love of God. Prima facie, so far from facilitating spiritual progress, conditions in this world severely deface the image of Christ and effectively frustrate growth into God’s likeness.

What, then, will happen to the souls of individuals with stunted spiritual growth as a result of, for example, dysteleological misery? Hick resorts to the eschatological scenario that the process of soul-making continues beyond the grave. Still, if souls make better progress in alternative postmortem environments, why did not God place humans in such settings from the beginning? Here, Hick’s value judgment, or metaphysical assumption, may come to his aid; that is, God puts a positive value on the moral struggle engendered by our present environment, or it is impossible for mature human beings to exist apart from beginnings in this sort of environment. However, the metaphysical claim about human nature not only casts a shadow on the omnipotence of God but also would be difficult to establish. Moreover, both answers would still be subject to renewed cost-benefit analyses as to whether the soul-making project could be worth all the suffering it involves.

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