Theodicy. It’s a fancy word, I know. I learned it in seminary. Got to get your money’s worth somehow, right?
But it’s actually a basic, and problematic, concept: If there is a God, and that God is good, and that God is also ‘able’ (some would use the terms ‘all good’ and ‘all powerful’), then how, or why, does evil (or pain, or suffering or brokenness) exist in the world?
Though we didn’t use the term, this conversation around issues of ‘theodicy’ came up last night amongst a few of us who had gathered together.
The thing is, any two out of the three would be fine. If God is good, but not able, then God would like to do something about evil or suffering in the world, but just can’t. Or, if God is able/powerful, but not good, then suffering or evil exist because of this lack of God’s goodness. Or, God could be both good and powerful, but then shouldn’t there be no evil, since God would be good enough to care about it, and powerful enough to do something about it?
It might seem like an esoteric discussion, only appropriate for the ivory towers of theological academia…except, of course, if you or someone you love is the one who is in the midst of the suffering. The question might not be ‘why me?’ but surely the question of ‘why?’ is bound to enter the picture at some point.
Some, of course, will say, “Well that’s easy, there is no God.” Others will say that it is our own free will, our own ability to choose, which has allowed evil to enter into the world. Others still might say, in order for there to be goodness, there must be evil, for how else would we know what goodness is if there weren’t its opposite? Don’t we need the dark to show us what the light is?
Does God cause disease? Warfare? Incest? Oppression? If God doesn’t cause them, does God allow them to occur? Is God powerless to do anything about them? Does God not care?
There is, it seems, no answer. Or, rather, there seem to be many answers, but none that are entirely satisfying. Maybe that’s the rationale behind the fancy word–it’s a cover for the tension that is left in the midst of so many unanswered questions.