What is theodicy?
- Word theodicy was invented by 17th century thinker, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
- Made up of two words, “theos” = God/ “dike” = justice
- The word literally means “justifying God” (Ehrman).
- “Theodicy, in other words, refers to the problem of how God can be ‘just’ or ‘righteous’ given the fact there is so much suffering in the world” (Ehrman 7).
- An attempt “to rationally defend a supposedly all-loving God against the lamentable whys in the world” (Chase 33)
- Involves “three assertions that all appear to be true, but if true appear to contradict one another” (Ehrman 8).
- Assertion 1: God is all powerful
- Assertion 2: God is all loving
- Assertion 3: There is suffering
- How can all three be true?
- “Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing then he is malevolent? Is he both able and willing? Whence, then, evil? – Epicurus (Ehrman 10).
- “For Leibniz, God is all powerful and so was able to create any kind of world he wanted; and since he was all loving he obviously wanted to create the best of all possible worlds. This world – with freedom of choice given to its creatures – is therefore the best of all possible worlds” (Ehrman11).
- Candide satirizes this view
- The book of Job is not a theodicy because it is dialogue versus proposition, because a defense of God is not at the heart of the book, and because theodicy is really a product of the Enlightenment (Chase).
- Modern and post-modern philosophers often reject theodicy (Chase)
- Idea that it silences the voice of the sufferer
Biblical views of Suffering – A Rough Sketch
- People suffer because they have disobeyed God.
- Suffering comes as a punishment for sin.
- Becomes the explanation for why the Israelites suffered in the Babylonian exile
- Strongly expressed in the prophetic literature of the Bible
- Proverbs upholds this view based on the idea that the world has been established in a certain way
- Classical understanding of atonement (penal substitutionary) is rooted in this view – sin requires punishment and therefore suffering results
View that people cause the suffering of others
- Also found in the prophetic literature
- Words about punishment and suffering as the result of oppressing the poor, etc.
- New Testament – Slaughter of the Innocents in Matthew that comes because of king Herod, for example
View that suffering is redemptive
- Story of Joseph
- Genesis 50:19-20
- Because of Joseph’s suffering, his family was saved
- Suffering servant in Isaiah 53 – vicarious, redemptive suffering
- Jesus on the cross – vicarious, redemptive suffering
- Idea that suffering can build character (Romans 5:3-5; 2 Cor. 1:3-7)
View of the book of Job (Mystery)
- In the Prose Tale (chapters 1-2, 42:7-17), suffering comes as a test of faith
- Another example – the binding of Isaac in Gen. 22
- New Testament example – I Peter 4:12-13, 19
- In the Poetry, suffering cannot be explained but the future is open to the action of God/sense that the future is not fully predetermined
View of Ecclesiastes (Mystery)
- Life is absurd, meaningless, vanity
- Divine Wisdom is impossible for humans to access and there is no life beyond the grave thus the only possibility is to enjoy life/make meaning
- Future is predetermined
View of Apocalypticism
- “Cosmic forces of evil were loose in the world, and these evil forces were aligned against the righteous people of God, bringing pain and misery down upon their heads, making them suffer because they sided with God” (Ehrman).
- Daniel 7
- View assumes a dualism of the world– two fundamental components of reality
- View assumes sin is a power not a simple human activity
- Idea that God has relinquished control of the world to evil forces for the time being
- Jesus and Paul were apocalyptic in orientation
- View assumes disjuncture between this age and the age to come
- When Christ did not return imminently as apocalyptic teachers taught, temporal dualism (this age versus age to come) became a spatial dualism (heaven versus hell).
- Human freedom
- God in Godself is all-powerful and all-loving but God has chosen to limit God’s power for the sake of human freedom
- Ezekiel’s refutation of Ezek. 18:2
- Suffering as teaching
- Which of these views do you find problematic?
- Which of these views most resonates with you?
- How has the gratuitous suffering in the world affected your faith journey?
- What do you think about the idea of the trial of God?
- What is your final take on the enterprise of theodicy? Does it silence the voice of the suffering or is it necessary work on the part of people of faith?
 The outline of views here summarized is based on the work of James Crenshaw and Bart Ehrman, both cited below.
Chase, Steven. Job. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013. Print.
Crenshaw, James L. Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil. New York, NY:
Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
Ehrman, Bart. God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question –
Why We Suffer. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009. Kindle.