Evil Suffering and Theism Essay

Pages: 8 (2746 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion


In Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the bridge breaks, and five travelers are killed. Brother Juniper, a witness to the accident, sees this as his opportunity to test the reason for God's decisions. Since he believes in a good and sovereign God, he also believes that by examining and analyzing this situation, he will find the righteous purposes of that God in what appears to be an accidental event. He starts on an exercise of theodicy, or finding a way to justify the ways, sometimes evil, of God. Brother Juniper examines each of the five individuals' lives and concludes that all five had successfully found the resolution to a disturbing occurrence in their lives and thus were able to move on to another point, which, in this case was death. Thus, in his mind, he justifies the reason for these five deaths. Yet, how does one justify the millions that were killed in the holocaust, or by Stalin, or in World War I? This is the crux of theodicy. It is easy to believe in a God that brings goodness and happiness to the world, but how does one rectify that evil exists as well.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Evil Suffering and Theism Assignment

Wilder changes his views on God later in his life. In the Eighth Day, Wilder writes of a good and caring man, like Job, and his family suffer and are destroyed by bad luck and although innocent. The end of the novel does not provide resolution, with punishment of those who do wrong. Wilder instead provides his new concept of God by portraying a tapestry. On the one side is a beautiful design that is intricately woven like a museum piece of art. All the threads are woven together as they should be, with the right blend of colors to create this one-of-a-kind work. Yet, what happens when looking at the other of the tapestry? Here, is a complete jumble of threads, which do not make any sense. There is no order, no reason, no pattern at all. This is Wilder's answer to the theodicy dilemma. God has a pattern as beautiful as the one side of the tapestry. At times, humans only see the other side, the jumble, and do not know the reason. One needs faith that God has a pattern in which all lives fit, be they twisted, the wrong color, knotted or smooth and the right length. God's pattern of good and evil appears to have to reason or design. However, looked at through God's eyes, all these different lives come together in a work in a remarkable piece of art. It is Wilder's belief that humans need to have the faith that God has a reason behind the unknown.

The word "theodicy" is derived from the Greek words "justice" and "God." Thus, it means to justify God's ways. Now, the word theodicy is associated with the concept of evil. How does one justify that the goodness of God would also create evil in the world? There are many theologians, authors and scholars who have many different theodicies or explanations for this evil. This comes as no surprise, since the concept of good and evil is something that is paramount in most people's lives, regardless of religious belief or even non-belief.

As Micheal Peterson says in "Evil and Christianity": The radical and pervasive presence of evil cannot be ignored or explained away. Whether evil occurs in natural catasrophes, such as epidemics and earthquakes, or in manmade horrors, such as the Holocaust and Jonestown, it meets us at every turn and forces each of us to ponser the meaning fo existence" (p.11). Therefore, he adds, it comes as no surprise that no other concept than this problem of evil weaves in and out of all forms of human thought and expression, such as philosophy, literature and history. Nor does it come as any surprise that all views of life, be they religious or political finds some way of addressing this issue. The goal of theodicy is to find a way of affirming God's omnipotence and love as well as the reality of evil without this opposition, this contradiction. The quick retort is that when recognizing the existence of evil, it is necessary to either give up either the supremacy or the "goodliness" of God. This is when the dilemma occurs. If the idea of supremacy is eliminated, God is not able to thwart or eliminate evil. If the "goodliness" of God is taken out of the equation, God will not thwart or eliminate this evil. Most attempts at theodicy, or explaining the concept of evil, treat this dilemma lightly, and cavalierly say that it is possible to affirm that God is omnipotent and loving, regardless whether evil exists. This problem is tied up into a neat package: evil is not of God, but of the devil or created by man. The solution to the theodicy problem is simply to deny that it is a theoretical problem at all and does not require a solution.

On the other hand, there are those who do not see God as totally omnipotent. In When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner looks at all those who suffer in the world from a Jewish perspective. The author needs to justify the story of his son, Aaron, and the many other parents who experience similar suffering. Kushner argues that God does not have power over all things in life. "God does not, and cannot, intervene in human affairs to avert tragedy and suffering. At most, He offers us His divine comfort, and expresses His divine anger that such horrible things happen to people. God, in the face of tragedy, is impotent…" (pp. 42-44). The only thing that God can do "is to stand on the side of the victim; not the executioner." Or, as in Exodus (12:22) "Once permission is given for the destroyer to destroy, no distinction is made between the righteous and the wicked."

There are some who take this position that God is not perfect, not all goodness. They believe if God were omnipotent, he could destroy evil. Yet evil does exist, so God cannot be all good. This is the philosophy of Frederick Sontag: "God has purposefully placed us in a situation of less than optimal advantage and subject to more waste and destruction than any purpose can account for. We have not been given good odds for success. This does not prove that there is no God but simply that we are dealing with a God capable of harshness more extreme than some people would use..." (141).

This is the theodicy realm in which John Roth falls, as explained in "A Theodicy of Protest," Roth's twist is that God is not perfect, not all goodness. If God were omnipotent, he could destroy evil. Yet he has not yet destroyed evil, so God is not using all of his power. He compares his religious philosophy to the Protestant variety, where theodicy refers to human vindications of God's justice in permitting evil to exist. He explains that his approach is related to this classical approach, but breaks from it as well. His approach emphasizes God's sovereignty and permits disappointment when life goes other than the way wanted. There is also the possibility of grade through faith and hope of God's salvation.

Yet, it also takes a Jewish approach that quarrels with God because of how he uses his power. Thus, one is not rejecting God, but rather protesting. Roth quotes Mark 10:27 when Jesus claims that "everything is possible for God." Roth uses Exodus and the Resurrection as examples of how God is acting no differently today as any other time. He has regularly interrupted the flow of history for purposes of redemption. Yet, "God's saving acts in the world are too few and far between." For "if God raised Jesus from the dead, he had the might to thwart the Holocaust long before it ended."

Roth later says, "…the human prospect is not hopeless, nor is it without reasons for joy and thanksgiving. Life can be less unacceptable. We know that to be true because from time to time people perform works of love" (13). Thus, God is partly responsible for this side of life, too. God, therefore, is not a malevolent entity either, even if he is not completely good. Once again, one can look to the story of Job, but in a different way than Brother Juniper for a way to handle God in this theodicy. "Ultimately God cannot be defeated, which is both our hope and our despair, but in confessing -- when God, with greater reason to do so, did not -- Job 'continued to interrogate God'" He adds that "A protesting theodicy takes heart from that reading, not least because it implies that Job did not give up. Whatever the form of his protest and so long as it lasted, he could still be saying, 'Though he slay me, yet will I trust… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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