Last Updated on June 1, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 661
Those who consciously reject belief in God almost invariably do so because they cannot reconcile the idea of a loving and all-powerful God with the suffering and wickedness in the world.
In his modern theological classic Evil and the God of Love, religious philosopher John Hick (1922–2012) examines the perennial question of why a God who is both all good and almighty would allow evil to exist. The answer to this question has a name: theodicy (from the Greek words for “God” and “justice”). In this work, the author compares and contrasts the theodicy of two great fathers of the church: Saint Augustine and Irenaeus. In his preface to the 2010 reissue of Evil and the God of Love, Hick points out that the idea that both a loving God and evil can coexist is understandably illogical and a primary reason for agnosticism and atheism.
Hick explains at the very beginning of this work that his efforts have been inspired by the question that causes many to conclude that because there is evil in the world, there cannot be a loving, all-powerful God. Such a deity would not allow suffering and injustice to happen. It does not make sense that there could be both a God and evil.
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430), a great father of the church, provided an answer that is still fundamental to Christian theology but which Hick rejects. Saint Augustine’s theodicy is that God created humans in a state of innocence and endowed them with free will and that therefore, he cannot be held accountable for the evil that humans commit. Human misuse of free will brought about the Fall in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first humans set off on a course towards evil because of their misuse of free will, and their descendants followed. Jesus Christ, however, offered redemption to all of humanity. Saint Augustine’s view on the matter is a basic tenet of Christianity. Hick, however, rejects the Augustinian theodicy in favor of an explanation by Eastern Christian theologian, Irenaeus (ca. 130–202).
We are to grow gradually, in this life and beyond it, towards our perfection which lies in the future and not in the past.
This is Hick’s summation of a theodicy that makes more sense to him, that of Iranaeus. The theodicy of this Christian thinker and Greek father of the church saw humans as being on a collective path toward spiritual perfection. Hick writes, “Instead of seeing humanity as having been created in innocent perfection and then falling, it sees us as having been created—as we now know through the long process of evolution—as immature beings capable of growing through the experience of life in a challenging world.” Evil, therefore, exists in order to provide the challenges needed for spiritual growth.
For the problem of evil does not attach itself as a threat to any and every concept of a deity. It arises only for a religion which insists that the object of its worship is at once perfectly good and unlimitedly powerful.
According to Hick, religions that do not believe that their deity or deities are completely good or almighty, no justification of evil is required. The perfect goodness and the almighty nature of God are tenets in Christian theology and are drawn from Judaism. The existence of evil becomes a conundrum because of these tenets. Why would an all-good and all-powerful God allow evil to exist? However, not all religions see their God (or gods) as either all-good or all-powerful. For example, in the religion of the ancient Greeks and Romans (who borrowed from the Greeks), the gods and goddesses could and would commit selfish and destructive acts. Hinduism recognizes a divine duality in the regenerative and destructive powers of a God revealed to humankind in many forms and incarnations. These are just two examples out of many more.