Contemporary Views on the Problem of Evil -- By: JoAnn Ford Watson

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 24:0 (NA 1992)
Article: Contemporary Views on the Problem of Evil
Author: JoAnn Ford Watson


Contemporary Views on the Problem of Evil

JoAnn Ford Watson

Dr. Watson (Ph.D., Northwestern) is Associate Professor of Christian Theology at ATS.

This paper focuses on the two main strands of theological thought concerning God and the problem of evil, Augustinian and Irenaean, and shows how these historical trends are interpreted in 20th century thought. Other contemporary theological perspectives will be included such as Moltmann and Tutu. The article will be organized into three sections: I) Augustinian thought with Karl Barth’s contemporary interpretation of Das Nichtige; II) Irenaean thought with the contemporary thought of John Hick; III) contemporary thoughts on the problem of moral evil concluding with the perspectives of Tutu and Moltmann.

I. Augustinian Thought

For Augustine, God is the ultimate of being and goodness. He is both the perfect good and the infinite eternal immutable Being. God has created out of nothing “all that exists other than himself.” The created order God creates is wholly good. The whole creation including the material world is good. It is also, however, because it lacks the infinite immutability of its Creator, capable of being corrupted. But for Augustine there is no level of being that is evil, only a lesser good. All of God’s creation is good: sun, moon, stars, angels and human beings, birds, fish, trees, plants, light, darkness.1

Evil thus is not any kind of positive substance or force but consists rather in the going wrong of God’s creation in some of its parts. Evil is essentially the malfunctioning of something that in itself is good. All of created order is good and yet everything other than God himself is made out of nothing and is accordingly mutable and capable of being corrupted. Evil thus is precisely this corruption of a mutable good.2 Evil is privatio boni — “privation of good.”3 It is not privation of good as a simple lack of goodness but evil as the loss of good or absence of good in that which is inherently good. Evil is negative, a lack, a privation.4 In the Enchiridion, Augustine states, “Evil is not a substance; the wound or the disease is a defect of the bodily substance which, as a substance, is good.”5 Thus, evil as privatio boni is the absence of goodness that prevails when anything has defected from the mode of being that is proper to it in God’s creative intention.6 Augustine thus makes evil secondary and depen...

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