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theological explanations for the existence of suffering and evil in the world despite divine presence. As used by WEBER, the concept refers to religious doctrines which legitimate social inequalities, or see purpose in evil, or promise compensation for suffering, e.g. the Hindu doctrine of kharma (see CASTE).


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does the innocent child have to suffer when she gets hit by the car driven by a drunk driver, who proceeds to walk away without a scratch? On a much larger scale, why did six million innocent Jews die at the hands of Nazi criminals?

These tough questions are at the heart of the religious/philosophical discipline of study called theodicy. It is not a study involving pity, inherent in a question such as, "Why me?" Instead, it involves philosophical questions concerning the nature of God.

Who or what is God? If God is good, why does God allow bad things to happen? If God cannot prevent them, God is not all-powerful and we are left adrift in a sea of uncertainty. If God can prevent evil but chooses not to, then perhaps God is not good. Why else would God allow the innocent to suffer? How could a good, caring God do that? But if evil springs forth only from our free will, did that catch God by surprise? If so, God is not omniscient, "all-knowing."

What about evil? Is there an evil presence opposed to God, or is evil simply the absence of good? If either is so, God cannot be omnipresent, existing everywhere at once. Because if evil is the absence of good, and God "is" good, there must be a place of evil where God "is not."

The questions go on forever. Even a summary of the responses is really useless, because every argument has been successfully rebutted. There are those who simply throw up their hands and say the ultimate answer can be found only in the mind of God. Others see in the study of theodicy a crack in the armor of any kind of religious belief. Then there are those who like the chase so much they would be disappointed if we ever ran the quarry to the ground and answered the question, once and for all.



“the justification of god,” the common designation for religiophilosophical doctrines that endeavor to reconcile the idea of a “good” and “judicious” divine governance of the world with the presence of universal evil and that endeavor to “justify” this governance in spite of the dark sides of existence. The term was introduced by G. W. von Leibniz in his treatise Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l’homme et l’origine dumal (1710).

As theodicy developed, it progressively broadened its view of “divine responsibility” for the world’s existence. Thus, in polytheism, in its primitive animistic forms or in Greek and Roman mythology, the existence of many gods limits the personal responsibility of each god, and their constant discord places their common responsibility in the background. Nevertheless, even from such deities one could expect that which is expected of any elder or judge: the just distribution of rewards and punishments.

Therefore, the first and most common form of criticism of divine “governance” of the world is the question. Why are the bad rewarded and the good punished? The most primitive form of theodicy asserts that in the end, the good will be rewarded and the bad will be punished. Further questions arise: When will this “in the end” ever come? Where is the promised retribution, when a good man dies in despair and an evil one dies unpunished?

Viewing retribution from the perspective not of one man’s life but of infinite time, theodicy saw retribution as coming not to an individual but to an entire race, a condition that was considered just from the point of view of patriarchal morality. However, this line of thought ceased to be satisfactory when the idea of personal responsibility triumphed over impersonal clan ties. In eschatological terms, new forms of theodicy looked not to the race’s perpetuity but to the individual’s perpetuity. Such is the teaching of reincarnation in Orphism, in Brahmanism, and in Buddhism, which presuppose a cause and effect relation between the merits and faults of a previous life and the circumstances of the next birth. Such also is the doctrine of retribution after death that is characteristic of the ancient Egyptian religion, of later Judaism, and particularly of Christianity and Islam; it even plays a role in a number of polytheistic beliefs and in Mahayana Buddhism.

In the view of the ancient idealists, the gods were limited in their governance of the world by a prior-existing inert matter, which opposed a constructive force of the spirit and which was responsible for the world’s imperfection. This view, however, was impossible for biblical theism, with its doctrine of the creation of the world from nothing and of the unconditional power of god over his creation: if the all-powerful will of god predetermines all events, including all acts of human choice, then is not every human fault the fault of god? The concept of predestination, as strictly defined by the Jabarites in Islam and by the Calvinists in Christianity, leaves no room for a logically constructed theodicy. Such a theodicy developed from the principle of the freedom of the will; the freedom of god-made angels and people allows for the possibility of moral evil, which in its turn engenders physical evil. This argument formed the basis for Christian theodicy from the time of the writing of the New Testament to as far as 20th-century religious philosophy (for example, that of N. A. Berdiaev).

Less rigorous in its theism is aesthetic cosmological theodicy, which asserts that the isolated deficiencies of the universe planned by god’s artistic judgment fortify the perfection of the whole. This type of theodicy, or “cosmodicy” (the justification of the world), is found in Plotinus but was given its fullest systemati-zation by Leibniz: the best of all possible worlds is a world with the greatest variety of degrees of perfection; god, in his “benevolence” desiring the best world, does not wish evil but permits it, since without the evil the desired variety cannot be achieved.

Theodicy was subjected to the criticism of many modern thinkers. P. Holbach refuted the arguments of theodicy in The System of Nature (1770). Leibniz’ best of all possible worlds was ridiculed by Voltaire in the novel Candide, or Optimism (1759) and the view that an individual’s torment and guilt contributes to the harmony of the world as a whole was rejected by F. M. Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov.

Atheistic world views regard the objective of theodicy, namely, the “justification of god,” as devoid of any meaning.