The problem of evil is one, which has been around for a lot of time. The quotation can best express it: ‘Either God cannot destroy evil, or he will not, he is not all-powerful, and if he will, he is all-loving.’ Since religious believers in an omnipotent God and all-loving, they face a real problem since it is impossible to deny the reality of evil. The essential problem is that if God is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good, then why does evil exist in the world? If he can remove the evil from the world but doesn’t do so, he is malevolent: if he desires to do so but cannot, he is impotent. Neither option surely leaves the theist with a God worthy of worship that fulfils the characteristics of the God of classical theism.
There are many types of evil, for example, moral evil, John Hick best describes this, and he claims that moral evil and pain inflicted by a human upon each other is needed for moral development. People must be able to and free to inflict suffering on one another. Otherwise, there would be no moral choices; the murderer who shouts at somebody could never hurt or kill. There would be no distinction between right and wrong. So moral evil for Hick has a positive value. In the Augustinian theodicy, evil is an absence, but for Hick, it has a definite value and has been given by God as part of a soul-making world.
Another type of evil is natural evil, including earthquakes, volcanoes, illnesses, and floods. This is surely not the kind of feature that a loving God would have included in a world that he created. So the religious believer needs to justify why God does not do anything to remove this evil from the world. Or why he would have created such a world in the first place. Traditionally people who believe in God have given him the following attributes:
- Omniscience (knows everything)
- Omnbienevolent (all good)
- Omnipotent (can do anything)
However, there seems to be an inconsistency between this and the existence of evil. If God was all loving etc., then why doesn’t he abolish evil? The atheist David Hume argued that only three possibilities exist:
- God is not omnipotent
- God is not omni benevolent
- Evil does not exist
Since we have sufficient direct experience to support evil if God exists, he is either an impotent God or a malicious God, not the God of classical theism. Hume concluded that God, therefore, does not exist.
Examine and comment on the success or otherwise of any two theodicies. For example, Augustine believed that man was created perfectly and placed in the Garden of Eden, where he fell from grace. When Adam and Eve used their free will and ate from the tree, evil came into the world, and we are still suffering its effects now. The world is a fallen world, and all we can do is try to use our free will to make the right decisions rather than the wrong ones. Those who believe in Jesus, Augustine argued, will only find the solution. Because salvation through Jesus is a good thing, he called the Fall in the Garden a Felix culpa because otherwise, man would not have been able to be served by Jesus’ death. This is what Christians continue to believe.
However, this theodicy does depend on an old-fashion interpretation of Creation and Fall. Not all believers can accept the literal truth of Genesis and man’s creation as a perfect being in the image of God. To blame all suffering on man’s first act, o sin cannot account for all suffering, animal suffering, for example, or natural evil. The theodicy of Ireneaus may therefore be more successful. He maintained that man was not created perfectly but only with the potential to grow into the likeness of God. Man has free will to make a range of possible responses when faced with evil, and if he makes the right choice, he will contribute positively to the development of his environment.
This theodicy allows for all matters of suffering in the world and sees great value in man’s opportunity to respond positively. His destiny is not decided based on an event, which took place in some primeval past but on his own actions and decisions. He is also able to make a real difference in the lives of others. For this reason, Richard Swinburne finds this a useful theodicy, observing that ‘a generous God will give us great responsibility for ourselves, each other and the world. But he cannot give us these goods without allowing much evil on the way’.