The Question of Evil: Theodicy, Moltmann, and Pannenberg -- By: Jon Kane

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 37:0 (NA 2005)
Article: The Question of Evil: Theodicy, Moltmann, and Pannenberg
Author: Jon Kane

The Question of Evil:
Theodicy, Moltmann, and Pannenberg

Jon Kane

Jon Kane (B.A., Franklin & Marshall College) is an MAR student at ATS.


In his memoir Night, Elie Wiesel describes an execution by hanging. The child, too light to tighten the noose around his neck, struggles long before succumbing. Wiesel’s fellow prisoners, forced to watch, weep. “Where is God now?” one of them asks. Wiesel’s bitter response: “Where is He? Here He is — He is hanging on the gallows.”1 The evil of the twentieth century tells other tales likes this one from a Nazi concentration camp: the destruction of Hiroshima, the purges of Stalin and Pol Pot, the cruelty of My Lai and 9/11. Even at a remove of years, events such as these give us pause, yet they cast only a faint shadow in comparison to the sum total of creation’s suffering past and present. Christians cannot ignore the reality of that suffering. We must respond to Wiesel’s fellow prisoner and answer the question “Where is God?” in a way that prevents Wiesel’s own words from echoing in our hearts and the heart of the world.

This essay will provide such response, however brief. Theodicy is an extensive vein in theology, not one that can be adequately explored in so short a space. So I will take a narrow focus. First, I will set the stage using two authors whose work stands as paradigmatic in theodicy. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov provides the signature argument for protest atheism in the face of all religions. Albert Camus specifically addresses the Christian response to suffering in his essay The Rebel and finds it wanting. After the stage is set, I will turn to two twentieth century theologians — Jurgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg. I will explore how each responds to the question of suffering and evaluate their responses in light of Karamazov and Camus. Finally, I will conclude with a brief retrospective on how their work influences theology and furthers the life of the church.

Setting the Stage

Traditionally conceived, theodicy is the attempt to reconcile three statements: God is omnipotent, God is omnibenevolent, and evil is real.2 Many philosophers and theologians continue to work along these lines, attempting to show that these statements can be held without contradiction.3 A less traditional approach to theodicy, however, simply takes suffering as a given and seeks to understand God within this obvious reality. As Stanley Hauerwas explains it, it is a question of “what kind of God it is Christians worship that makes intelligible our cry of rage against ...

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