We believe in an all good, all powerful, all knowing God. Yet in life, we often come face to face with evil and suffering. We often question how God could allow this suffering to come upon us. Suffering can lead us to doubt God or even reject Him. Let us now examine the problem of evil, and propose some responses which may help make sense of suffering in our world.
The problem of evil starts with what is known as the “Inconsistent Triad,” which consists of three points. 1) God is all powerful and can eliminate evil. 2) God is all loving and wants to eliminate evil. 3) Evil exists. As we can see, given the first two statements, there should not be evil in the world. From human experience though, we know there is evil and suffering in our world. This has led us to wrestle with the question of God, and how God, if He does exist, could allow evil in the world. Attempts to rationalize the existence of God and the existence of evil are known as theodicies.
The first theodicy is known as the Evil as Privation theodicy. In effect, this theodicy says that evil does not really exist. Just as “cold” is really just the absence of heat, “evil” is said to be the absence of good.
The second theodicy is known as the Immortality theodicy. This theory holds that even though we may suffer on earth, we will be rewarded and consoled in Heaven. Advocates of this theory will say that the evil that we endure must be looked at in context of eternity. We often indirectly use this theodicy when someone passes away. We might say “at least they are no longer suffering”, or “They’re with God now”, it is our way of making sense of their pain by comparing it to the eternal joy of Heaven.
The third theodicy is the Counterpart theodicy. This states that without evil there would also be no good, or that it would be unrecognizable. Children may get sick, but just because they get sick it does not mean we should not have children. Dogs bite humans, but the world is still better off having dogs than not having dogs. Some have said that suffering in this world will allow us to accept the pure love offered in the next, because we will know what lack of love feels like.
The fourth theodicy is very common, and is known as the Soul-making theodicy. We have all experienced suffering in our life that looking back has made us stronger people. This theodicy explains that suffering is something that brings about a greater good by making us stronger than we would be without suffering.
The most common theodicy is the Freewill theodicy. This theodicy states that God has given us freewill, in which to love Him (because love requires a free act of the will); but a side effect of freewill is that it can be used for evil purposes. Advocates say that a world with freewill and evil is better than a world without freewill and no evil.
“Where would I be today without my crosses? What knowledge and wisdom would I lack without the challenges and difficulties that caused me to ask questions and passionately seek answers? When you suffer, platitudes aren’t enough, slogans won’t do. You have to go deeper, search for real answers and often learn that there are no simple answers. Suffering also unlocks an acceptance of paradox and an appreciation that all is not as it seems and some of God’s greater gifts come in mighty strange packages. Suffering can also teach silence and waiting. Great wisdom is found in these virtues. Suffering bestows insight, trust and serene peace. Only after years of suffering could Joseph stand before his criminal brothers and say, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Gen 50:20). Suffering does that, it teaches the deeper things, the harder things, the better things.” –Msgr. Charles Pope
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