Evil and suffering – Sample answer

4 (a) For what reason may suffering create philosophical problems for a religious believer? (10)

Probably the thorniest problems for a religious believer is that classic atheist objection to the evidence of God based on the existence of evil and suffering; simply put: How can God allow evil and suffering?

Even Thomas Aquinas realised that there was a logical problems with the existence of God in the face of the evidence of evil.

David Hume summed it up succinctly: if evil exists (and it obviously does) then God cannot (as least not the God of classical theism).

Classical theism holds that God has three attributes, he is : omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. If, then, God is all powerful, all knowing and all good, how can evil exist? It does therefore God cannot!

It all seems so unfortunately logical. If God is all powerful he should be able to stop and prevent suffering. He doesn’t – why? If God is all knowing he knows that evil exists – why does he let it? If God is all good he shouldn’t want his creatures to suffer – yet we do – why?


The fact that there are two types of evil, doesn’t seem to help the problem. The evil and suffering that we observe in the world can be listed under two heading’s : those acts of evil which cause suffering which are perpetrated by man’s actions or even inactions – moral evil; and those which appear to be random acts of chance or bad luck like floods, earthquakes, famine and disease which constitute natural evil.

We could look at these both in detail but they both reduce to one basic philosophical problem: God created. If we believe that God created out of nothing then he must have created or at least allowed evil to creep into his design because it couldn’t have come from nowhere, which would imply that some things are self-creating and that God does not control the creation process. This application of logic leads the believer to the obvious question then – Why? If God created and therefore created evil he must have had a purpose which has caused Philosophers much heart and soul searching over the past few thousand years.


4 b) Outline Two solutions and comment of their success. (10)

As a result of the philosophical dilemma posed by the problems of evil. Theodicy’s or theories which explain what God’s reasons might be, were constructed by theologians.

Irenaeus ‘ theodicy states that God’s aim was and is perfection but that human perfection could not be created without depriving humans of free will, it must develop through free choice and therefore we must be free to disobey. Evil and suffering must then be allowed to exist to enable man to have opportunities for exercising their free-will. Unfortunately, man has often used it to cause suffering but God cannot compromise our freedom by intervening or removing suffering.

Irenaeus believes that eventually man will evolve so that he will always make the right choices of his own free will and then evil will overcome we will become like God intended and will live in Heaven.

In Irenaeus’ view God has to be at least partly responsible for evil, for humans were made imperfectly, unfinished we might say, with the capacity to learn and develop and grow into God’s likeness as Genesis 1 verse 26 says “let us make man in our own image, after our likeness”.

On the basis that absolute goodness could not be bestowed upon man without turning him into a puppet, evil must therefore by an option ; but it can at least be beneficial in enabling us to understand what good it. As Irenaeus said “How if we have no knowledge to the contrary, could we have instruction in that which is good?”

John Hick and Peter Vardy in modern times have expounded Irenaeus’ theodicy. John Hick explained that goodness developed by free choice in infinitely better than the choice-less goodness of robots. Surely from God’s point of view we would make much more worthy companions?

Peter Vardy used the analogy of the King who falls on love with a peasant girl – he could force her to marry him because he has that power – but instead he chooses to woo her and win her love.

John Hick whet on to say that our world may be “rather well adapted to the … purpose of soul making”.

The trouble with a theory like this is with the suffering itself. We cannot always see the purpose in suffering; the scale of suffering would seem to be out of all proportion to the lessons learned; perfectly good and innocent people (like Job in the Bible) seem to suffer for no reason at all.

Irenaeus’ answer to these are that there is a Heaven to which all go therefore any suffering is XXX and only temporary since we all die eventually.

J.L. Mackie feels that an omnipotent God could make beings which were capable of free-will and would always choose God therefore he can’t be! But John Hick still feels that these beings would not be as satisfactory as God.

We can give Swinburne the last word here “A generous God will seek to give us great responsibility… to make our lives valuable… The problem is that he cannot… without allowing much evil on the way”.

The success if this theodicy rests on the strength of the principle of free-will. It seems that the message of the story of Adam & Eve is that God gave us free-will. We are still learning what to do with it and how to use it.

Another solution is Process theodicy. This theology developed by A.N. Whitehead in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries holds that since God is intimately involved in the process of creation, he maintains an active relationship with it and is affected by it. Evolution is a process by which God creates and there are successes and failures. Pierre Feilhard de Chardin believed that the universe was moving through time from its “alpha point to its omega point” changing as it evolves and so does God. Since God is so bound up with him creation he suffers along with it.

The main assertion is that God is not omnipotent – quite a challenging and radical suggestion – He therefore did not create the universe but is created along with it. God is also therefore as bound by natural laws as we are and this is why he is unable to get rid of suffering.

In favour of this solution is the fact that it does remove the problem of why he doesn’t remove suffering – he cannot ; also for believers to feel that God is affected by our suffering not remote and XXX to it, maybe encouraging ; and since there is no guarantee that God will triumph over evil believers can be encouraged to join the fight rather than leave it to God – so its quite an active and positive solution.

On the other hand it denies that he is omnipotent and therefore denies that he’s the God of classical theism ; he is worthy of worship if he’s not omnipotent? ; if the future is so uncertain believers may feel despair ; and those who have suffered innocently may be unconvinced by the ‘ends justifying the means’ argument i.e. that evolution is justified on the grounds that good has outweighed evil (so far).

Henry, including St. Paul, have argued that suffering is a test of faith – in the end however it comes down to an individual’s stand point.


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