>Darkening Counsel Without Knowledge

Posted: 04/02/2009 in problem of evil

>I’d like to do a post before it gets too far into February. One of my previous posts was on the subject of theodicy. This one will be on the same subject, but examined in light of a few verses of Job. The Book of Job raises one important question: is a theodicy even possible?

There first needs to be some definitions. There is a distinction between a defense and a theodicy. A defense is a response to some argument against the existence God via the problem evil. A defense aims only to defeat the argument, but does not need to justify God allowing evil. For instance, a non-theist might argue that an all-loving and all-powerful God can’t logically co-exist with evil. The theist may give several reasons why such an argument isn’t sound. For instance, there may be other logically constraining reasons why God can’t create a world without evil. A response like this doesn’t mean that we know that these reasons are there. That would be a theodicy. Rather, a defense only shows that the non-theist hasn’t given good enough reasons to reject God because of evil.

Theodicy is what we are more used to. This approach claims to actually vindicate God, by showing how evil and God co-exist. These invoke very good reasons, and put the burden of proof on the non-theist to explain why they are inadequate. Theologians offer several arguments. Some may say that God seeks to honor free-will. Others say that evil and suffering are actually part of God’s love. One of the most famous is Leibnizian approach: God must create the best of all possible worlds, and this is it. (I have never liked that theodicy.) In any case, a theodicy says the reasons why God exists with evil are no mystery. We know these reasons and they are very, very, good.

This brings me to the Book of Job. It has been a good long time since I have read it in its entirety, but it deals with the problem of evil in a dialogue form. Job suffers. Job demands that God explain himself. Job’s friends give him all kinds of reasons why God isn’t unjust and so on. In otherwords, his friends offer theodicies. God finally and unexpectedly speaks at the end of the book. The long passage is summed up in the first few verses.

”Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.” Job 38:2-3 NRSV

The questions go on further in a way that is probably familiar to most people reading this. In the end, Job confesses to “have uttered what I did not understand.” He repents, and shuts up.

What might this passage imply about theodicy? Maybe that theodicy is a misguided project. Yes, Christians have every reason to defend our beliefs about God against atheists, but I am not certain that we can ever know why God allows evil. It may be perhaps presumptuous for us to ask and even more presumptuous for us to say we know.

Of course, there could be a theodicy out there that is morally, intellectually, and emotionally satisfying. Maybe we really do need one. In a future blogs, I hope to review a few of these. For now, the question remains open.

  1. Daniel says:

    >”…but I am not certain that we can ever know why God allows evil.”Exactly. I completely agree with you on this. And I’ve been realizing that I don’t want to know the answers to every question I have. I think that’s part of the difference between us and God…knowledge. Not that I’m saying he couldn’t/wouldn’t reveal something to us if we needed to know it, but I think we feel like we need to, but most of the time we’re mistaken. God doesn’t ask us to understand, but he does ask us to believe.

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