The Problem Of Evil Cannot Be Solved Philosophy Essay

Evil is a problem, not because there is evil in the world or that there is so much of it in the world. The problem is not found in the lack of balance between good and evil in the world. The problem comes from the fact that if there is a deity that is all good, all knowing and all powerful, how can evil exist? As Christians we believe in a God who is all of these things and therefore the question asked of ourselves as people of the Christian faith and echoed by those outside of it more and more is does God create or allow evil to exist? One answer to this question is to say that human moral agents, not God, are the cause of evil. God is not responsible for the moral evil and in some sense created a world in which it is preferable that moral evil exists rather than it not exist or even be a possibility.

Evil and theodicy.

Evil can be defined into two main types, moral and natural evil. Moral evil refers to the wilful acts of human beings such as murder or rape and natural evil refers to natural disasters such as earthquakes or famine. These two forms of evil can be further divided into physical evil which refers to bodily pain or mental anguish and metaphysical evil referring to imperfection or chance e.g. deformity or crime going unpunished.

Theodicy is the term used to describe the area of theology which seeks to defend God’s justice and righteousness in light of the presence of evil in the world. By looking at some of these views it is possible to form our own response to this problem of the existence of suffering and evil.

Within the books of the Old Testament differing views are already evident. The book of Deuteronomy explains suffering as the consequence of living outside of God’s covenant, yet Job expresses his disagreement with this theory based on his personal experience. Job did all that he could to abide by God’s covenant and yet still suffered, a view that many people still hold today.

There are several views of theodicy which have developed in Christian theology as follows:-

The Irenaean View.

Irenaeus claimed that God wanted a perfect world; however this perfect world could only be achieved by giving human beings free will. Moral evil, he reasoned, is the consequence of giving human beings this freedom. Irenaeus believed that every human being had the choice to become good and turn to God, his belief held that humans were created as immature and imperfect but they had the capacity to grow and develop in order to become more Godlike.

Irenaeus saw the world as the poet Keats put it as a ‘vale of soul making’ and therefore evil he saw as necessary if choices for our growth to maturity were to be made available.

Irenaeus accounted for natural evils presence in the world e.g. disease by saying that it was God’s way of providing the circumstances for developing personal qualities such as compassion. He concluded that eventually evil and suffering would be overcome and that humans would develop into a perfect likeness of God and that all would have eternal life in heaven. In this view God is the author of evil and although it gives evil a purpose, it challenges the nature of God as being all good.

John Hicks expansion of the Irenaean view in his book ‘Evil and the God of Love’ (1966), highlights the importance of God allowing humans to develop towards maturity. He says that if we had been made perfect by God, then we would be like robots, loving God automatically without thought. God wished humans to genuinely love Him and therefore free will was a necessity. If God interfered or became too close humans would not gain anything from the developmental process. Hicks therefore states that God created humans at an epistemic distance from Himself. The world of perfection will have to wait until heaven.

Some of the criticisms directed at the Irenaean view.

The idea that all humans go to heaven is not just and Irenaean theodicy is not consistent with the fall in Genesis. Hick has been criticised with the reality that suffering often turns people away from God. Jesus’ role as saviour is diminished to that of moral role model. It is also argued that Irenaean theodicy does not justify the magnitude of suffering for soul making. Evil actions cannot always be blamed on free will e.g. someone who is mentally ill doing something evil due to their mental health. Surely God could have created in such a way that the wonderful future did not require the extreme suffering evident throughout history in the world.

Augustinian Theodicy.

Augustinian theodicy is soul deciding rather than soul making. Based on Genesis 1-3, Augustine’s view argues that God created a perfect world without evil and suffering. He defined evil as the privation or lack of goodness, just as blindness is a privation of sight. Evil is not an entity in itself, just as blindness is not an entity in itself, God therefore could not have created it. Evil originates from free will given to humans who have turned their backs on God and settled for a lesser form of goodness. This created a privation of goodness and as a result the state of perfection has been ruined by sin.

Natural evil Augustine claimed came about because of a loss of order in nature. In Augustine’s view it is therefore man and not God who is to blame for sin and suffering. Augustine was aware of the flaw in his own argument regarding Adam and Eve and original sin because Adam and Eve could not have chosen evil if evil did not already exist. However, Augustine concluded that the fall of man in Genesis was the fault of Satan. This fitted in with Augustine’s theodicy because God was neither responsible for original sin or the presence of sin and suffering after the fall. However, the question still remained as to where Satan came from. If God had created a perfectly good world, Satan would not be present in it. To overcome this difficulty with his theodicy Augustine stated that Satan was a former angel who had rebelled against God, was cast out of heaven to exist in the previously perfect world.

Some criticisms of Augustine’s theodicy.

Augustine’s view has been criticised on the basis of evolution. These critics would argue that the universe began in chaos and is continually developing, not diminishing over time. God cannot be justified in allowing the sin of one human being (Adam) to result in the punishment of all human beings.

Karl Barth.

Barth’s theodicy takes a Christological approach, "for Barth, the notion of the omnipotence of God must always be understood in the light of God’s self revelation in Christ" (pg 233, McGrath). The cross for Barth is God’s answer to the problem of evil; God enters through his Word into the human question of theodicy by becoming the death of God himself. This emphasis is also linked to revelation as God’s response of ‘yes’ to humanity’s ‘no’. In our rejection of God, God responds, and that response is not what it should be, instead it is the surprise of God’s acceptance of us in the face of our refusal of him. Barth believed that God’s grace would enable believers to hold onto their morale and hope faced by a world so evidently full of suffering. Karl Barth referred to evil as das Nichtige, a type of force or ‘nothingness’ which God did not will during creation. It is this ‘nothingness’ which works against God’s will. This force is not ‘nothing’ in itself but a power which threatens God’s purpose in the world. Barth sees this force as not being something we should fear as it is overcome by God’s grace.

Historic criticisms of Barth’s theodicy.

Barth’s concept of the existence of a ‘nothingness’ has proved highly controversial and criticised by some as being based on whim, as something purely speculative.

Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defence.

Plantinga sees free will as morally important because a world in which we have free will is better than one where we would not. His theory was that every decision any individual makes creates a new possible world. He states that before creation, God envisioned every single possible world and selected the one He wanted to implement. The implemented possible world we can call the ‘actualized world’, all decisions are known in advance because this is the possible world that God chose as a representative example. Plantinga states that no possible world existed where Adam and Eve did not fall. God brought into being the best possible world that he was able to create and in order to do this free will was a necessity. God is not responsible for evil, because if humans choose evil instead of good, he cannot compel them to do good due to self-imposed restraints that he has placed upon himself. Plantinga’s view of God’s omnipotence is one whereby these self-imposed limitations reflect God’s character and nature.

Criticisms of Plantinga’s theodicy.

Plantinga has been criticised for insisting that a world with freedom is better than a world with none.


These are only four theodicies amongst many, all of which have their critics and ultimately none of them contain all of the answers to the problem of the existence of evil and suffering in the world.

The free will theodicy is an approach chosen by many to attempt to explain the presence of suffering. God gave us free will and we can therefore choose whether or not we enter into a loving relationship with our creator. However, with free will comes the ability to reject God and make wrong choices. I believe this theodicy rightly emphasises that much of the evil and suffering we see in the world is the responsibility of man and not God. Each of us makes choices every day which can ultimately result in our own or others suffering, whether we see that suffering or not. Free will theodicies conclude that it is man who needs to be justified and not God. The Bible tells us that God created the world and it was good, also that Adam and Eve had a choice in whether to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, I struggle with Augustine’s view that God can justify the punishment of one human being for the sin of another.

The Irenaean soul-making theodicy also has its strengths. We are told that "all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28), and that suffering is sometimes used to improve our nature as human beings "but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us" (Romans 3:3-5).

One of the most difficult tasks for any theodicy is the sheer amount of evil in our world and how meaningless and pointlessness it seems to have so much of it. For example how could the Holocaust ever contribute to any greater good or ‘soul making’? In response to this challenge, Hick argues that evil must be both bad and persuasive if we are to grow morally. A world in which suffering was only experienced to the degree of allowing a person to grow morally would not result in charity and compassion from others, he argues. Instead, Hick states we would recognize that any suffering was for the benefit of the sufferer and we would therefore not react to it. However, it does seem that in many cases the extent of suffering is in excess and therefore of an unnecessary level for this ‘soul making’ to take place. As a prison chaplain I see only too frequently how free will is abused. However, in many cases those who commit evil have themselves been the victims of evil abuse by those that they should have been able to trust. For some it seems the experience of evil and suffering does not achieve a lot of ‘soul making’, instead many of the young prisoners I speak to make the same mistakes over and over again without appearing to learn much at all. Having said that, there are many who do learn the most during the difficult periods in their lives and there are plenty of people, myself included who would agree with Hick that evil and suffering can invoke a certain degree of ‘soul making’.

In a world where people expect neat and concise answers to everything the theodicies we have looked at can seem inadequate. When we look at the problem of evil we are sometimes frustrated because we cannot give people complete answers or in some cases the answers they want to hear. Many great minds have tried to provide answers to the problem of evil and yet so far none have managed to give an entirely adequate explanation. Perhaps that is because there is not one available to find, could it be that God never meant us to fully understand in this world? Can we accept that there are times when there is no right answer to the problem of evil?

Pope Benedict XVI on a visit to Auschwitz in May 2006 where 1.5 million Jews were slaughtered said "In a place like this, words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence – a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?"(


In conclusion these theodicies do go some way to explaining the problem of evil. However it is my opinion that since God’s knowledge and wisdom is so far beyond ours, it is eminently reasonable to suppose that God will have reasons which we cannot grasp for allowing evil in our lives. It is not that we cannot figure out some of the reasons God has for some evils, in fact theodicies to date show that we can figure out at least plausible reasons for most evil. But, there will still be some evil, the reason for which we cannot discern and this is exactly what we should expect if we state that an all knowing, all powerful, loving God exists. Even though it might seem at first glance that there are no good reasons to allow certain evils, this does not provide strong evidence that these evils are really unjustified because the God that we worship is so much bigger than our greatest imagination. Ultimately we are promised a world in which we will fully understand the problem of evil. " A world in which all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, a world in which forgiveness is one of the foundations stones and reconciliation is the cement which holds everything together" (pg 108, N.T.Wright, Evil and the Justice of God).