Religious responses - The Irenaean theodicy

  1. Click on the religious response to the problem of evil and suffering and then click on the criticism and evaluate both viewpoints.
  2. Consider what responses could be made to the criticisms.
  3. Then use the slider to decide which argument you think is most successful.

problem of evil and suffering – Page 5

Religious response

Irenaean Type Theodicy

Irenaeus (130-202CE) wrote about the idea that human beings are developing towards perfection:

  • Irenaeus made a distinction between the ‘image’ and the ‘likeness’ of God (Genesis 1:26).
  • Adam had the form of God but not the content of God.
  • Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because they were immature and needed to develop into the likeness (content) of God.
  • Goodness and perfection had to be developed by human beings themselves, through willing co-operation with God.
  • God had to give them free will and such freedom requires the possibility of choosing evil instead of good.
  • Our world of mingled good and evil is a divinely appointed environment for the development of human beings towards perfection.

More recently, John Hick took these ideas and developed them into a full theodicy:

  • If God had made humanity perfectly, then they would have had the goodness of robots, which would automatically love God without thought or question.
  • Such love would be valueless.
  • God wanted human beings to be genuinely loving.
  • To achieve this, God had to create human beings at an epistemic distance from him - a distance in dimension or knowledge, by which God is not so close that humans would be overwhelmed by him and so have no choice but to believe and obey. By keeping a distance, God allows human beings to freely choose.
  • If there was no evil and suffering, then human beings would not be free to choose, since there would only be good.
  • Without the existence of evil and suffering, human beings would not be able to develop the positive qualities of love, honour, courage and so on, and would lose the opportunity to develop into God’s likeness.
  • Hick is suggesting that the world is a place of soul making, that is, a place where human beings have to meet challenges in order to gain perfection.
  • This process is justified because of the eventual outcome. If the process is not completed in this life, then Hick argued we go to another life in another realm until the process is complete. The emphasis in the theodicy is soul-making.

Irenaean type theodicy has many criticisms:

  • Hick suggested that everyone goes to heaven. This does not seem fair and just; it contradicts religious texts of many faiths and suggests that there is ultimately no reason to be good.
  • The challenges of the world do not always result in genuine human development, and often seem to produce nothing but great misery and suffering.
  • D.Z. Phillips argued that love could never be expressed by allowing suffering to happen: ‘What are we to say of the child dying from cancer? If this has been done to anyone that is bad enough, but to be done for a purpose planned from eternity – that is the deepest evil. If God is this kind of agent, He cannot justify His actions and His evil nature is revealed ’.
  • As a Christian theodicy, the death of Jesus and forgiveness seem irrelevant.
  • There is no evidence for other lives after death.
  • How can the end be guaranteed? Surely people could choose evil for eternity and so never reach perfection.