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What is meant by the problem of suffering Essay

One of the greatest problems facing a believer in a good, all powerful God is the existence of evil and apparent undeserved suffering in the world. The problem has been presented by many different writes as a dilemma:

Either God wishes to remove evil but is unable and therefore cannot be all – powerful, or he is able to remove evil but is unwilling and therefore cannot be wholly good.

The reality of evil becomes “The Problem of Suffering” if one accepts the traditional attributes associated with the monotheistic doctrines of Christian Theology:

God is absolutely good and compassionate

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God controls all events in history because he is omnipotent and omniscient

The assumption is that a good God would eliminate evil as far as he s able. Given that he is all-powerful therefore he should eliminate it all. However evil exists. In other words God has the means (power) and the motivation (love, goodness) to eliminate evil. So why doesn’t he?

One of the issues within the problem of suffering is the actual origin of suffering. If God created or caused all things then clearly he is the originator of evil. Some people would also want to differentiate between the problem of evil and suffering. The problem of suffering is often seen as having a slightly different emphasis. It focuses more on the experience of the evil and so addresses the problem on a more personal level.

There are two kinds of evil, natural and moral. Natural evil is where it arises from natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanoes over which humans seem to have little control. Moral evil which arises from the deliberate choice of individuals to use their freedom to cause pain and suffering to others.

The problem can be made clearer from this inconsistent triad:

It seems that God does not exist because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the name of God means that He is infinite goodness. It, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist?

To summarise the problem of evil only becomes apparent when you consider God being all loving and asking why and how evil was created.

Give an account of two theodicies and consider the view that they fail to solve the problem of suffering

The Augustinian model is based on the traditional interpretation of the Bible. God created a “very good” world in which he placed the first human beings, who bore the “image of God”. An alternative theodicy, written by John Hick, is based on the work of Irenaeus. It starts from a different perspective and fits better with the modern evolutionary theory. Humans were not originally living in perfect harmony with themselves, nature and God but were evolving from animal existence into a stage where they would be capable of being aware of God.

These two theodicy’s both argue a perspective for the explanation of the problem of suffering. They both try to account for the problem of natural and moral evil however I personally believe the only main problem is natural evil. The reason God gave us free will was so that we could love and appreciate him in our own way. Thus making it feel more respectable and loving because if God forced us to obey and worship him he would not feel the same appreciation and love if it was at our own free will.

Therefore by giving us freewill and the choice to do what we want there comes moral evil. Moral evil can be done intentionally by humans or by accident by which one human perceives it to be good however another does not. This leads to an ethical side of thinking linking to utilitarianism and Jeremy Bethham saying how we cannot measure pleasure. So the conclusion for moral evil is simple as it is humans fault and error however the fact of natural evil by which disease, earthquakes and volcanoes we cannot control and cannot comprehend why we have them.

The first theodicy by St Augustine is usually understood to mean that humans have a spiritual as well as a physical nature. Adam and Eve were in harmony with God, the animal creation and one another. They were given freewill, which they used it disobey God and, as a result, the three harmonious relationships were broken. Although Augustine believed in the literal truth of the story its meaning is not affected if it is regarded as a parable about “every human”.

It rightly reflects the common experience that human beings are responsible for a great deal of suffering in the world because they choose to do wrong. It also correctly observes that this, in turn, leads to disharmony within the human race and towards the animal world as well as damage to the environment. What it fails to explain is natural calamities and animal suffering, which most people believe existed long before man came into existence. Therefore how can man be to blame for these problems, thus making Augustians theodicy not as strong as it could have been. Augustine could explain this on the basis of a prior fall of angels, led by Lucifer. Their rebellion consisted of causing animals to prey upon one another as well as upsetting the stability of the earth’s crust thus causing earthquakes and volcanoes. This view can easily be criticised on several counts.

There is the problem, first raised by Schleiermacher, of why the first creatures, angels or humans, whose natures contained no flaw and who lacking nothing, would have sinned, even if they were formally free to do so, when they were in the presence of God and enjoying his happiness. The Bible does not say that man was originally in the full presence of God and John Calvin, uncharacteristically, says that man’s original condition was “…weak, frail and liable to fall.” In a sense the first beings did not have everything, for they were limited in power and it only requires the desire for something that cannot be obtained, like having total power to become like God, for sin to occur.

Many question the existence of the Devil, but for the argument to work, one does not have to prove the Devil’s existence. It is only necessary for the belief to be probably true. Peter Vardy has made a strong case foe believing the objective existence of evil in the world and makes this a main plank in this theodicy. He points out that the Bible represents the world as under the control of evil powers and points to Jesus’ temptations and his continual fight against evil and suffering. If there is such thing as hell and eternal punishment and no chance of reform then how can God be all loving? He is making people suffer even more for their sins and not giving a second chance therefore God Himself is causing suffering. If God were so omniscient then he would have known mans fall and could have prevented it by not letting the brain give into temptations.

By placing the responsibility for evil on the Devil and human agencies it might be thought that God is absolved from blame. It is not clear that this is so. If god is all-powerful then both the Devil and human beings are ultimately under his control and God must therefore accept the final responsibility. Alternatively, if God has limited his omnipotence by giving angels and mankind genuine freewill, then there is no guarantee that good will ultimately triumph over evil.

Another criticism is that if God could foresee the outcome surely it would have been better not to create. Also many would argue that it is morally unacceptable that evil can be balanced by good. The idea of hell is seen by many to be inconsistent with an all-loving God. What is the point of creating hell if you are all-loving, surely that is contradictive?

The alternative Theodicy written by John Hick starts from a different perspective and fits in better with the modern evolutionary theory however it still fails to solve the problem of evil and suffering, nevertheless it does a better job than Augustine.

One good reason thought why God does not intervene was that when is the right place to intervene and not too? Is there a certain line to decided when and when not to? However how would he choose and wouldn’t it be unfair on others who where just outside the line. Therefore that is why God does not interfere with out lives and sets himself apart from us. He trust we will do the right thing and make sure the final outcome is love, which is situation ethics, which is strongly believed in today’s society.

However the basic problem is the amount and the intensity of evil that exist in the world. Evil is only tolerable if a greater good can come out of it. Hick argues that the Theodicy will only work if everybody is ultimately perfected and goes to heaven. The belief that all will be saved is problematic. Although it might seem that, if anyone is not changed, then God’s purpose is frustrated, it would also be the case that, unless God can secure universal salvation without taking away the human choice to disobey God, then one of the central tenets of the Theodicy is removed.

One main criticism of both arguments is that the end is never guaranteed so why bother trying to live perfectly. We have no idea if God aggress with what we are doing and therefore we have no idea if we are doing right. Who knows if the Ten Commandments are correct and if we do wrong we can just pray and all is forgiven? How are we meant to know that? It is ridiculous that we are going to heaven when we do not know the line to go there. There is no atonement necessary and the end never justifies the means.

Christians have rejected the Irenaean Theodicy because it ignores a lot of the key doctrines such as “The fall, Incarnation and Judgement”. How can such a painful creative process be the expression of divine goodness and is all the pain and suffering worth it? It also calls into question the nature of freewill because if everyone is saved where is the free choice to decide. There is also no requirement or incentive to act morally if the outcome is eternal salvation. Finally some suggest it is inappropriate to suggest some good comes out of suffering.

In conclusion, both arguments fail to find a suitable reason for the problem of evil and suffering, they mainly discuss salvation and God not wanting to interfere and letting us to decide for ourselves. However they never truly have a reason for natural evil and even moral evil why it was created or have the ability to create harm. He should have just not invented the idea to harm. Therefore neither theodicies provide appropriate evidence for the problem of evil and suffering.

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