Theodicy

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By: John Blasingame, Contributor

In his essay titled “Theodicy,” Daniel Howard-Snyder explores an argument for God’s inexistence that centers itself on the problem of evil. The logic, he claims, goes like this:

  1. There is a log of horrific evil and suffering.
  2. If God exists, then there is no horrific evil and suffering, or not so much of it – unless there is a reason that would justify Him in permitting it, and so much of it.
  3. There probably is no reason that would justify God in permitting horrific evil and suffering, or so much of it.
  4. So, there probably is no God. (Snyder 2)

“4 follows from 1, 2, and 3,” Snyder asserts, “and 1 and 2 are true” (Snyder 2). Naturally, the third premise must be true before the conclusion can be held. Snyder then proceeds to spend the remainder of his essay presenting popular “theodicies,” which are “attempts to state a reason” that justifies God in permitting evil (Snyder 4).

Over the course of the next few pages, Snyder discusses the punishment theodicy, the counterpart theodicy, the free will theodicy, the natural consequences theodicy, the natural law theodicy, and the higher-order goods theodicy. Questioning and dissecting each line of reasoning, Snyder leaves open the possibility that these reasons simply fall short of their objective when considered in isolation. That is, it may indeed be true that “none of these reasons by itself” justifies God (Snyder 14). Taken together, however, they might. In Snyder’s view, “We need to be alive to the possibility that these reasons can be combined into a single reason that would help us to see how God would be justified” (Snyder 14).

Snyder concludes by bringing his argument full circle, back to where he left off at the third premise. “It is by no means clear that this assumption is true,” he argues. “Still, it seems that an important basis for thinking that premise 3 is false – the way of theodicy – is not available to us” (Snyder 15). Whatever God’s reason for allowing evil to exist in our world, we must learn to live without it.

Why would God not tell us the reason(s)?

The aim of theodicy is, as Snyder put it, “to state a reason” that justifies God in permitting evil (Snyder 4). It is important to note, however, that theodicies do not actually justify God in any form whatsoever – He is already justified in whatever he does. That is, before we can say that God is right or wrong in His actions, we must borrow our definitions of right and wrong from Him. Like it or not, we cannot add anything to God’s transcendence or objectivity, a fact that the apostle Paul asserts in his epistle to the Romans – “Let God be true, and every human being a liar” (Romans 3:4, NIV). In light of this, theodicies are merely a means by which we find the unity in two seemingly contradictory realities: God’s nature and the problem of evil. How can God be all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, and yet still allow evil to exist?

Dr. Ravi Zacharias often argues, “God put enough in the world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing, but he left enough out to make it impossible to live on sheer reason alone.” Reason has her place, but she ought not take the place of a relationship. Dr. John Lennox puts it well, “Paul used reason and intellectual abilities, but he didn’t trust them. It is too easy to trust intellect and use God. Paul used every ability God gave him to the full, but he trusted God.”

So why would God not give us His reason(s) for permitting evil? I can’t speak for Him, but I do know this: relationships are not built on Reason. Rather, relationships are built on trust, and they incorporate Reason. If we desire to understand Him before communing with Him, we reveal the priority we place on Reason over trust. If God yearns for loving relationships with us, it makes sense that He would ask us to trust Him, withholding even the answers we crave.

 

Documentation Statement: I referenced the Snyder reading, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/use-reason-and-intellect-trust-god/ for the Lennox quote, and https://www.facebook.com/ravizacharias/posts/god-has-put-enough-into-the-world-to-make-faith-in-him-a-most-reasonable-thing-b/10151513038601813/ for the Zacharias quote.

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