By Vexen Crabtree 2003
If God is all-powerful and all-good, it would have created a universe in the same way it created heaven: with free will for all, no suffering and no evil. But evil and suffering exist. Therefore God does not exist, is not all-powerful or is not benevolent (good)1. Such arguments have been used by many philosophers as evidence against belief in god2,3. A theodicy is an attempt to explain why a good god would have created evil and suffering. The most popular defence is that it is so Humans could have free will. However the entire universe and the natural world is filled with suffering, violence and destruction so any Humanity-centric explanation does not seem to work.”
Some people say that God created suffering, pain and evil because we need to experience these things4. In Christendom, this is said to have first been voiced by Saint Irenaeus of the 2nd century CE "but it is more completely identified with Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and the modern theologian John Hick"5. The 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards says that we must attain a "considerable sense of the evil from which he delivers us" so we appreciate salvation6. But there is no 'greater purpose' that can justify the existence of the amount of suffering and superfluous evil that exists for humankind or in the natural world. "What kind of education is it, some ask, that kills so many of the students?"4.
The Qur'an endorses the experience theodicy in Sura 6:39-43: the reason God punishes entire communities with poverty and hardship is to make them humble themselves before God. Surely though, there are better ways, like mass education and not creating people with such fickle and weak personalities that the only way to make them respect God is to pummel them.
“The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence. To this most excellent aim, this supreme objective, all the heavenly Books and the divinely-revealed and weighty Scriptures unequivocally bear witness.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah:XXIX
“The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.”
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah:LXXXI
A form of "theodicy" also exists in non-theistic religions. Kaiten Nukariya in "Zen - The Religion of the Samurai" (1913) argues, with lengthy use of examples, that "the existence of troubles, pains, diseases, sorrows, deaths" are beneficial and "it is misery that teaches men more than happiness, that it is poverty that strengthens them more than wealth, that it is adversity that moulds character more than prosperity, that it is disease and death that call forth the inner life more than health and long life"7.
There are a few major arguments against the experience theodicy.
If the unborn go to heaven when they die prematurely, as is assumed by many, then it means that these babies have not yet experience the suffering of life. If they can enter heaven without experiencing suffering and evil, then, it cannot be true that God created suffering because it is necessary, and therefore God should put everyone in heaven immediately. See: "Infanticide and Heaven: Killing Babies for God" by Vexen Crabtree (2013).
Real suffering is not necessary: God could simply give us an innate knowledge of what evil is like without us having to experience it. We have a lot of instinctive emotional reactions to pain and suffering which are not learned yet very useful in guiding our behaviour. They are proof that innate understanding is valid and God can easily endow us with as much innate understanding about evil as is required. We would then know about it, and not need to experience it. We could all happily appreciate its absence.
We don't need an experience of suffering. Forgetting the fact that unborn babies don't seem to need it and that God could give us knowledge of it without us having to actually experience it, it seems that there is no particular reason why we need either knowledge or experience of suffering and pain. But, being all-powerful, any advantage that is gained from experiencing these things could simply be granted to us directly by God, therefore bypassing the need for suffering and evil in the first place. Voltaire comments that God could have made all life infinitely happy8. God could just put everyone in heaven immediately, where there is no evil or suffering, and no "development" is required in order to achieve perfection and eternal happiness. This would prevent all suffering. But, God does not prevent all suffering. In addition, it seems that the only type of God that creates evil and suffering and designs life so that it needs these things, is either immoral, evil or plain insane.
Angels and God: If angels and god exist in heaven then it clearly shows that it is possible for beings to be in heaven without first going through an experience of suffering in life. If it is possible, then if God is good, it would immediately place everyone in heaven. However, god is not good, so it continues to let us suffer.
It is inadequate to say merely that knowledge or experience of suffering is requirement for us to enter heaven as a justification of why suffering exists. God can give us innate knowledge of evil, rather than let us experience it directly, and if babies or the unborn go to heaven when they die then is clear that experience of the suffering of life is not actually required, after all. Also, if angels or god exist in heaven then it also shows that it is possible for beings to be in heaven without first experiencing suffering. The experience theodicy does not work.
To the present day, all theodicies have failed to explain why a good god would create evil, meaning that the existence of evil is simply incompatible with the existence of a good god. After thousands of years of life-consuming passion, weary theologians have not formulated a new answer to the problem of evil for a long time. The violence of the natural world, disease, the major catastrophes and chaotic destruction seen across the universe and the unsuitability of the vastness of reality for life all indicate that god is not concerned with life, and might actually even be evil. Failure to answer the problem of evil sheds continual doubt on the very foundations of theistic religions.”
Current edition: 2003 Apr 29
Last Modified: 2016 Dec 13
Parent page: The Problem of Evil: Why Would a Good God Create Suffering?
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(1984) God And The New Physics. Paperback book. Penguin 2006 edition. Davies is a Professor in theoretical physics who has published ground-breaking research.
(1746) "A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections". In James (1902) lecture X, digital location 3083.
(1987, Ed.) The Encyclopedia of Religion. Hardback book. Published by Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, USA. 16 huge volumes. Eliade is editor-in-chief. Entries are alphabetical, so, no page numbers are given in references, just article titles.
(2016) "A Biblical-Theological Response to the Problem of Theodicy in the Context of the Modem Criticism of Religion". Published in the Evangelical Review of Theology (2016) 40:3, 247-263.
Nukariya, Kaiten. Professor of Kei-O-Gi-Jiku University and of So-To-Shu Buddhist College, Tokyo.
(1913) Zen - The Religion of the Samurai. E-book. Subtitled: "A study of Zen philosophy and discipline in China and Japan". Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by John B. Hare and proofread by Carrie R. Lorenz.
(1764) Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition produced by Juliet Sutherland, Lisa Riegel and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.