God is Great, God is Good Questions About Evil -- By: Daniel B. Clendenin

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 24:0 (NA 1992)
Article: God is Great, God is Good Questions About Evil
Author: Daniel B. Clendenin

God is Great, God is Good Questions About Evil

Daniel B. Clendenin

Dr. Clendenin is Professor of Christian Studies, Moscow State University.

I will never forget one of my first pastoral visits when I called on a widow who, in a tragic, single accident, lost her father, husband, two sons, nephew and brother-in-law. My mind also goes to a colleague who before age 40 was ravaged with a rare and aggressive form of Parkinson’s disease so that now he has virtually no motor coordination. He, his wife and four children face a future filled with untold pain and stress that is certain to get much worse before it gets any better. As I wrote this article, one of our parishioners lost a second child to another automobile accident. More disturbing still is the realization that instances like these are not uncommon or isolated, and my reader certainly has similar stories to tell. How does one justify the ways of God in light of experiences like these, that being the definition of theodicy (from the two Greek words theos God, and dike — justice)? Can one in good conscience still recite the childhood table-prayer? Although people have amended the definition, and although we correctly speak of many probelms of evil in differing contexts,1 and different types of theisms, for our purposes we can say the “problem of evil” concerns the apparent contradiction between the reality of evil and the affirmation, attested in the Christian Scriptures, that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. In a passage preserved by the church father Lactantius (AD 260–340), which Boethius, Voltaire, Bayle, Leibniz, Hume and others on down to contemporary scholars like Mackie and Plantinga cite, Epicurus (341–270 BC) gave classic expression to the matter when he suggested that God

either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does He not remove then?2

The present essay explores five questions fundamental to theodicy and some of the responses given to these questions.

I. What is Evil?

In his ponderous Theodicy (1710), which gave classic expression to eighteenth-century optimism,3 Leibn...

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