The Problem of Evil in a Particular Religious Tradition: Reconciling suffering with belief in a benevolent God within a specific theology.
1. Introduction
The research essay examines the problem of evil within a specific religious tradition and how it reconciles suffering with the belief in a benevolent God. The introduction provides background information on the problem of evil and the purpose of the essay. It also outlines the scope and limitations of the study. Guideline 1 – Apply an analytical tone – The introduction is an important starting point of the research essay, with the purpose of informing the reader on the topic. Generally, an introduction will present the definition and explanation of the title and why it is significant as a subject. So, this chapter has explained on the background of the problem of evil, the purpose of the research essay and the scope and limitations of this study. This chapter is well organized, firstly explaining the problem of evil in a general view. Then it has stated the objective of the research essay and lastly, the scope and limitations which will properly explain what is cover in this research essay. Guideline 2 – Do not use topics and comments – This chapter will equip the readers with a good understanding of the topic without leaving the readers being puzzle on it. This is important because readers need to know what they will be learning in the future and it will also well inform themselves that the details in the essay will be discussed into what extend. Guideline 3 – Focus on providing information – Through this chapter, there are several concepts being used such as theodicy and the explanation of the problem of evil which will be very useful in the future topic. This chapter has actually helped in solving the scholars’ problem of not knowing how does this new methodology can help in his research essay by transferring his practical skill and knowledge in the particular subject. Also, it is introducing a new point in organizing research essay. So, the scholars can gain different understanding toward research essay and apply in the future carefully. Guideline 4 – Enhance text complexity – By introducing different perspective from different peoples or cultures, it can promote the mutual understanding and respect on each other. It actually provides chance for scholars to welcome insights from others and develop new ways of thinking. This practice in a group full of respect and warmth can help scholars’ understanding how different their culture may be and how this culture can influence his expressions and thinking in the writing. Last but not least, discussing with colleagues and giving comment to others can foster support and friendship with each other, help to ease the stress and isolate that common in the doctoral lifestyle. Guideline 5 – Ensure the section coherent with the whole essay – In this research essay, the chapter “Introduction” plays a major role in this research essay. This is because in “Introduction” chapter is primarily specialised in defining and explaining the problem of evil. The explanation of the title and how the chapters will be organised in fulfil the requirements of understanding of the research essay. So, the significance of this research is to provide possible explanation or solution to eliminate the existence of the problem of evil in this world.
1.1 Background of the Problem of Evil
The classic problem of evil is an argument which claims that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good God cannot exist because his existence is inconsistent with the existence of moral and natural evil. This can be traced back to the ancient philosopher, Epicurus, who is often credited with bringing this question to the fore. In his seminal work, “The Epicurus’ Four Main Points,” he outlines that if God was both all-good and all-powerful, he would want and have the power to prevent evil. And if God was all-knowing, he would be aware of the evil and thus prevent it. Similarly, if God is all-powerful, God will be able to stop all the evil in the world. And if God is not able to stop evil, then he cannot be all-good or all-powerful. So, such a God does not exist. This line of argument has been deeply discussed in philosophy and theology. However, as a student studying in A Level Theology and Ethics in a Catholic school, I realize that theory is not necessarily compatible with people’s attitudes towards evil. Many people would deny the presence of wickedness in such a world. In this essay, I want to take a close view at this philosophical problem of evil and apply these theories to a particular religious one, which is Christianity. Therefore, the problem of evil is not only a sustained argument against religious belief but also it has the effect to undermine the rational support to theistic faith. By studying the attitudes of Christianity to evil, we could find more inspirations when we observe human suffering and experience. And at the same time, it would even bring a different enlightenment to our ways of knowing.
1.2 Purpose of the Research Essay
Theoretically, this research essay would enable us to solve problems on quite a number of mathematics strategies. In detail, the purpose of this research is to distinguish between general claims about the problem of evil, which can be disposed of relatively easily, and the more focused, specific ones, and argumentative claims about the existence of evil, which seem to have more substance. In the meantime, the research also can lead to finding out what answers could be made for the problem of evil. One of the major reasons that motivate me to carry out this research is to find an answer to the question from myself and thus help me reconcile the problem of evil. With this research essay, it will bring me closer to knowing what it takes to eliminate the problem of evil for myself. With this research essay, it will also establish the fact that the problem of evil is a fact because it is based on evidence and reality provided out of logical thinking, reasoning, and consideration from step-by-step premises and points produced in the discussion. There will be a proper grasp of the problem of evil and what it is all about. Also, presenting a full and brief knowledge as to explain the nature of the problem of evil in this world. As the problem of evil is incoherent with the existence of a so-called Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnibenevolent God, so I believe that the existence of evil is impossible if such a God exists. That exactly and the history of the problem of evil will be covered in the research essay, and it will show how evil is considered as an argument against the existence of God.
1.3 Scope and Limitations of the Study
The research focuses on the problem of evil within a specific religious tradition and how it reconciles suffering with the belief in a benevolent God. However, though the problem of evil is fundamentally a spiritual and theological issue, the research essay adopts an interdisciplinary approach in addressing this problem. It seeks to draw from the fields of psychology, philosophy, and religious studies so as to provide a more holistic understanding of the problem. This does not, however, mean that the research essay will give a deep and comprehensive treatment of the problem of evil from each of these perspectives; due to this interdisciplinary approach, the research essay will not have room for an in-depth analysis of a purely theological topic, such as the problem of evils in the theology of Meister Eckhart; neither will it be able to discuss all the concepts and debates in the related fields which are relevant to the issue of the problem of evil from each of the selected disciplines such as virtue ethics in philosophy. The research essay will give due consideration to the problem of evil from a theological perspective, and discuss the relevant specific theology, and the multitudinous aspects of the problem of evil and the academic discussions and debates in the fields of psychology and philosophy. However, the aim of the research essay is still to argue and persuade the readers about a particular assertion, a view, or a concept. Also, the research essay will base the discussions and arguments on the research done in the related fields till 2004, and on the assumption that the readers have some basic knowledge on the problem of evils and the related debates, but may not be able to appreciate the research essay from all the related professional angles since it is actually interdisciplinary. Also, the research essay will attempt to maintain the professional, academic style throughout. However, providing a working definition of the problem of evil from an interdisciplinary perspective in the introduction can serve as an analytical tool, guiding the reader throughout the essay. And interdisciplinary nature of the essay provides the chances for the readers to explore the intrinsic relationship among the three disciplines. The essay gives some vivid and contemporary examples of how the problem of evil exists in our surrounding and in our mind, which is also one of the ways to arouse readers’ interest. This structure will provide a more coherent and progressive presentation of the ideas and discussions, and avoid duplications or repetition of concepts in different chapters. However, it is important to ensure that the essay does not lose focus on the main research question. The choice of topic and the research question are based on the personal interests and motivation, yet the research essay seeks to provide rational arguments and discussions. And the relevance issue of the research topic and the real world would be solved in the conclusion.
2. The Concept of Evil in [Religious Tradition]
The concept of suffering is not unique to the Christian tradition. In fact, suffering is woven into the very fabric of human life and society, and it is as much a part of life as joy and prosperity are. This is expressed perfectly in the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, which states “The unreal never comes into existence; the real never ceases to be…These two – the realized mind and the ignorant mind – exist in the world. The realized mind sees each created being as a manifestation of the eternal Spirit, Godhead, and the ignorant mind sees only the outward form, not the inner reality.” This concept that material existence is an integral part of life and that it is the perspective of the mind that governs how suffering is understood and experienced can be used to articulate Hindu ideas of suffering and evil in the world. In Hinduism, object theodicy is the most applicable form of theodicy, reflecting the belief that the material world is not entirely separate from God. Opposite to the Christian tradition where God is wholly separate from the material world and accountable for the creation of it, in Hinduism the material world is continuous with God and reflects his nature. Indeed, the Bhagavad Gita says “God is the act of seeing, the visible world and the seer, all the same. He is in every being. He who sees everywhere is a liberated soul, a real spiritual being, and he is immersed in the divine essence.” This suggests that evil or suffering is a lack of perception and understanding of the world around us, as the world is ultimately a divine creation. However, this theodicy falls short of a complete explanation of suffering and evil as any person suffering, for example, with a chronic disease or mental illness cannot just be told to change their outlook on the world and suddenly free themselves from their suffering or struggle. There is a more comforting approach to suffering and evil in Hinduism, work theodicy and the concept of Karma. In the Bhagavad Gita, the God Krishna explains “There are three qualities to the material nature; goodness, passion and ignorance” and that the reason for incomprehensible evil and apparently chaotic and unjust suffering in the world is that people are at different stages of their Karmic journey and have different understandings of the divine essence of material existence. Gradually bad Karma can be appeased and extinguished through a life and finally the moksha, a state of complete satisfaction with material life and a life in closer understanding and connection with God, can be reached. These scriptural ideas parallel real-life teachings in Hinduism, such as the philosophy of Guru Nanak, the founding figure of Sikhism, which teaches that a connection with and true understanding of God will allow one to overcome life’s evils and achieve salvation. Such teachings can be seen as a way to help believers understand and reconcile suffering in the world, that by understanding bad teachings and Karmic progression they can themselves find a path to overcome and find peace with evil in the world.
2.1 Definition and Understanding of Evil
In the religious tradition, “evil” can be described as the opposite of what is right. It is often seen as something that deviates from the way it is supposed to be. When looking at the nature of the religious tradition and “evil,” scholars argue that “evil” may be understood as an unsuitable, destructive, and unproductive action that leads to transgression against the divine order. There are two types of “evil” in the religious tradition: “essential evil” and “extreme evil.” “Essential evil” is something that is intended to be eliminated in order to restore order and perfect the shared community. “Extreme evil” is something that is excessive and difficult for weak humans to manage. The predominant belief in the religious tradition is that “extreme evil” is the kind of evil for which there is no justification or reason and must be removed. It suggests that we as humans need to recognize the existence of such evils and remain faithful to the religious teachings in order to avoid unnecessary suffering. However, “essential evil” is also perceived as a device of assistance. That is, it is an opportunity for humans to turn towards religious enlightenment and perfect their lives in accordance with the religious tradition. It suggests that “essential evil” is not simply to be regarded as an obstacle to rejecting God, but it requires a positive response from humans. Through research of secondary literature, this understanding of “essential evil” has often been described by scholars as a means of purification and a way to train our souls to remove imperfections. However, this approach has faced criticism as not everyone has the capacity to turn such evil into a beneficial means. It has been argued that a woman who was a victim of an acid attack, for example, would find it intolerable and unjustified to label the harmful act as “essential evil.” Evils are not necessarily a means to bring about a greater good, and surely, this example seems to diverge away from the idea of using “essential evil” as a spiritual remedy for the imperfections of the soul.
2.2 The Role of Evil in the [Religious Tradition]
Within the religious tradition, evil is often seen as a product of human free will. There is a strong emphasis on the notion of sin, as humans have the choice to act against the will of God and put themselves before others. The actions that people take are viewed as the ultimate cause of evil, as suffering is seen as a consequence of sinful behavior. This is reflective of the Augustinian theodicy which, despite being originally derived from Christian doctrine, has influenced both Islamic and Jewish explanations of evil. According to Augustine, evil is not an entity in itself, as it is simply the absence of good. This is seen as a powerful and logical explanation of the existence of evil within a tradition that holds God to be perfectly good, knowledgeable and powerful, as it means that evil does not have to be invented as a malevolent force created by God. However, it is difficult to reconcile this explanation with the existence of intense suffering that can be observed, such as natural disasters, which seem to point to evil as an active force in the world. Indeed, some criticisms of the Augustinian theodicy include the fact that it struggles to accommodate non-moral evil, as well as the presence of earth and animal history, both of which show evidence of suffering prior to the emergence of humans. As a result, alternative theodicies have been explored within the tradition, such as Irenaeus’ theodicy. This suggests that God allowed evil to occur in the development of human souls. The idea of a ‘soul-making’ theodicy, which Irenaeus’ explanation gave birth to, is useful in that it allows for a beneficial role of suffering in a faith that acknowledges the realities of a world full of evil and pain. Al-Haaj agrees with this sentiment, asserting that Islam places heavy emphasis on human response to suffering. He explains that, while Muslims recognise the existence of real evil in the shape of suffering, it is always interpreted as a way of testing faith or as a punishment for wrong actions. Such belief reduces the fear of evil forces within the world and eliminates the need for an explanation of the source of these evils, as fear and hostility are also reduced. Overall, the idea of sin and human responsibility for evil is central within the religious tradition, with good acts and faith used to provide a spiritual solution to the presence of evil.
2.3 Different Perspectives on Evil within the [Religious Tradition]
Within the context of religious tradition, there are three main perspectives on the existence and prevalence of evil. The Ash’arite school of thought holds the belief that free will is given by God but it is limited. This means that humans are morally responsible for the majority of their actions. However, according to Maturidism, another school of thought within the Sunni tradition, there is a greater emphasis on human responsibility and that there is less intervention from God. Maturidism is categorized as a theological and philosophical approach. According to this school of thought, the existence of evil can be explained as a serve for the existence of good within the world. The high degree of free will that humans possess allows for both moral and natural evil to take place. It is also thought that evil does not exist as a substance. Instead, it is seen as a ‘parasitic-like’ concept, due to the fact that it needs to latch onto good to exist. This statement carries immense weight and importance to understanding the Islamic perspective on the problem of evil as it not only sheds light onto why evil exists and how it prevails within the world, but also how it might be combated. This school of thought therefore provides a substantial and feasible direction to our understanding of the different perspectives on evil. However, it should be considered that the aforementioned perspectives, particularly in the discussion of human free will, only reflect a fraction of interpretations based upon the Islamic stance towards the problem of evil.
3. Belief in a Benevolent God
Beginning with the idea that a benevolent God is the foundation of many religious traditions, scholars, philosophers, and theologians have attempted to understand and interpret evil within these traditions. In doing so, they have explored the different attributes of a benevolent God and have considered whether these are compatible with the existence of suffering and evil. For example, the presence of evil might lead one to question the omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence of such a God as presented in [Religious Tradition]. By introducing the characteristics of ‘omniscient’, ‘omnipotent’, and ‘omnibenevolent’, theologians raise the possibility of free will – a discussion explored in later section 3.3 Theodicy: Attempts to Justify Suffering. However, maintaining belief in a benevolent God continues to pose a challenge for many who confront the reality of suffering and evil in the world. This is especially pertinent when considering the suffering of innocents, an issue which further fuels the difficulty in harmonizing a benevolent God with the existence of evil. Many philosophers argue in light of this difficulty that God is either not omnipotent (and therefore not in control of the evil in the world) or that he is not all-loving, and so not inclined to prevent all evil. These arguments, called ‘the evidential problem of evil’, cast doubt on the traditional attributes of theistic faiths and may reject the existence of a benevolent God based on empirical evidence of evil and suffering. Another critic to maintaining the existence of the “omni” characteristic of a benevolent God is the existence of black and white, or moral evil. Skeptics argue that if there truly was a benevolent God who had these three characteristics, He must also be omnipotent, in which case He would be able to prevent all evil. Yet, we still experience and witness malice and malevolence every day. This apparent pixelation and suffering in the world questions the authenticity of the existence of a benevolent God. But human collective perception should not be a yardstick for us to perform a religious epistemology. It is a sin of hubris for us, the finite, to assume that we can understand the infinite mind of God. So, believers argue that we must attempt to understand suffering as serving a greater purpose – as a means to achieve some greater good. This resonates with the idea of a benevolent God as such a God understands how short-lived and testing suffering is and the greatness of the reward in not just the temporal life, but the next. However, in this, the issue of moral and black and white evils pervades. Is it possible for any moral evil to achieve a greater good? If a child is murdered or a life is lost as a result of a fatal accident – that is, absolute, gratuitous evil. How can the existence of such evil be justified by adherents of faith? These are important questions and require deep analysis. All I know is that maintaining the belief in the existence of a benevolent God indeed is a challenge – but a challenge that I and many others welcome, as its exploration enables spiritual development and a deepening of the relationship between humanity and the divine.
3.1 The Attributes of a Benevolent God in [Religious Tradition]
Such considerations to the problem of evil are proposed from a framework that a benevolent God possesses three traits, i.e. omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection. Traditionally speaking, the attributes of a benevolent God in [Religious Tradition] (hereinafter referred to as “The Religion”) are specified in a well-known passage “Mackie’s Paradox,” which attempts to critically analyze these three attributes may override each other so that this world we observe may coexist with these three grand traits. First, the introduction of omnipotence, which necessitates that God is both all-powerful and unlimited. Omnipotence is meant to symbolize that this God does have the utmost power yet lacks no degree of power. Therefore, God can have the power to do completely arbitrary things, such as creating five unicorns or ten even-numbered planets. However, there is a price for holding such power. Because God’s power can be applied to multiple dimensions, different settings of such power give God alternative possibilities. Second is omniscience, which refers to complete knowledge in every aspect. The main point inside Mackie’s Paradox is that in the case of God’s possession of omniscience, He must use His omniscience in every case. As a result, it constitutes a limitation of His omnipotence. Definitely, reconciling the problem of evil with the moral perfection of a God is the hardest mission. Moral perfection demands that God cannot do anything morally bad. He should be omnibenevolent, i.e. all-loving, and He should at least have the intention for all beings’ welfare. His actions and intentions must always be ethically right. The well-known Anglican cleric and Christian theologian also contribute to the polemic on addressing the incoherence of these three attributes, which includes providing a less extreme approach by Sophia and the more radical approach by limiting God’s power in some aspects. However, yet these trials seem to decline the mounting of the issue since these responses all made certain concessions on God’s sovereignty. As such, it seems that what has been addressed and the ways now left for further explanation will be precisely characterizing the problem of evil in light of these fruitless attempts.
3.2 Challenges in Maintaining Belief in a Benevolent God
It is clear that the religious tradition posits a benevolent God. However, there are challenges in maintaining this belief in a benevolent God, in the face of the extent and depth of suffering in the world. One primary reason for this difficulty is due to the fact that the tradition also posits a God with omnipotent power; the belief in a benevolent God is held together with the belief in a God with the power to stop suffering. This is the basis of the argument from the inconsistent attributes of God, which was first coined by the philosopher David Hume. This argument reasons that because we are experiencing a world in which there is considerable and intense suffering, God’s attributes must be inconsistent in some way. If God were truly omnipotent and could stop suffering but does not seem to be doing so, then God would not be considered purely benevolent. Similarly, if God wants to stop suffering but cannot, then God would not be omnipotent. This line of argument suggests that not only is it difficult to reconcile suffering with belief in a benevolent God, it is logically incompatible to hold both beliefs given the extent and depth of suffering. This argument, however, makes an assumption about the extent of suffering. It is implied that the suffering in the world is excessive to the point in which it is genuinely incompatible with the attributes of God. However, this argument would lose its strength if there were cases in which it can be demonstrated that suffering is necessary or vital for some greater good. The argument from the inconsistent attributes of God does not homework market rule out the possibility of a benevolent and omnipotent God who allows suffering for a greater good, though it may diminish the concept of suffering as we know it in terms of its apparent pointlessness or randomness. This point leads to the notion of free will, which is the notion that humans have the ability to choose and act as they wish, and to interpret themselves and the world around them to choose between good and evil. The belief in free will offers an explanation as to why a benevolent and omnipotent God would allow suffering in the world. By providing humans with free will, God gives humanity moral autonomy. However, the superior value of a world in which creatures have significant moral freedom is qualified by the curse of mankind which attributes to human violations of significant moral laws and underlies the widespread human experience of misery and disvalue. There is tension here: free will can ensure creatures’ personal growth and expression to reach the potential of human life, but it never accounts for the pain and suffering that awaits the oppressed, the innocent, and the child. The challenge is that this proposition of free will fails to explain the suffering of those who are apparently innocent, or the grief that is caused for those who have to witness or live through the suffering of others.
3.3 Theodicy: Attempts to Justify Suffering in the [Religious Tradition]
Theodicy is a major focus within the religious tradition and many scholars and theologians have put forward various theodicies to suggest that suffering in the world is justified. Augustine of Hippo, a highly influential Christian theologian and philosopher, proposed a theodicy which argues that the existence of evil can be explained through the idea of a ‘privation of good’. However, this concept is challenged by the imagery and depictions of evil within the core text of the religion, the Bible. Some scholars have suggested that evil is presented as something active and a force that leads to real suffering in the world. As a result, it is not enough to simply describe evil as a lack of good. This demonstrates one of the key issues and complexities in theodicy; often the justification for suffering relies on difficult philosophical or theological concepts which may not align with real experiences of evil and pain. Furthermore, many theodicies that aim to justify why an all-powerful and all-loving God could permit suffering in the world and be at odds with the notion that human free will is also justified. It is suggested that human free will is a good which comes about through a benevolent God but it is this freedom that allows for moral evil such as humans choosing to cause suffering – known as ‘soul-making theodicy’. However, this theodicy has been challenged by feminist writers and some modern philosophers who have pointed out that natural evil, such as earthquakes and terminal diseases, cannot be justified through an appeal to human free will. As such, modern critics of theodicies within the religious tradition have suggested that arguments attempting to show that a benevolent God could permit suffering in the world are too simplistic and often not reflective of the many different forms of suffering that there are.
3.4 Criticisms and Counterarguments to Theodicy
In a paper that I wrote on the problem of evil in a particular religious tradition, the specific religious tradition I examined is Hinduism. However, I believe that the arguments in the paper could apply to many religions, so I will not discuss the specifics of Hinduism in the post. It is a system, and the existence of evil means that there is a deep imperfection in the system. In Hinduism, this imperfection is self-evident. It is a system that moves people towards the knowledge. This progress toward the knowledge is delayed by adherence to Bhoga which is pleasure. This delay of progress towards the knowledge is what is understood to be the existence of evil. The reason that evil exists is that the souls that occupy Brahman are in the state of Bhoga, and not moving toward the knowledge. This is evil and is a necessary part of the system. However, another argument that was illuminated by Dr. Maskarinec is that evil is actually necessary for some things to be good. This claim was first made by St. Augustine, who argued that because God is all powerful and all good, then nothing God created can be bad. Instead, Augustine argued that everything that God created is good, but may actualize itself in an evil way. He used the example of a murder. The existence of murder is something evil and heinous, yet God created the possibility for that murder to exist, so it must be a good thing. However, what God created is in fact a good thing, and an evil action can only be labeled evil by comparing it to a good. This means that evil is the absence of good, and not a creation of God. I think that it is a compelling argument, because in itself, evil has no positive existence. It is like a shadow and can only be present when there is light. If there was complete darkness, there would be no shadows, in the same way that if God is the only thing that exists, then evil can’t exist. This is a very complex argument that has been scrutinized for a long time. However, the purpose of examining these ideas is to show the disparity between the examination of the problem of evil. And we want to examine it, because how we choose to explain and solve the problem will necessarily have to do with the most convincing account we believe. These differing accounts drive the way we look at the world and explain why things happen. All of this forces one to examine the problem of evil in the context of the choices that people make, and the desire of people to make their own judgments and come to knowledge on their own. Because even within religions, these choices and decisions in the face of evil are so important for the development of every person.
4. Reconciling Suffering with Belief in a Benevolent God
When conducting research on any matter that has at its core the revealing of an understanding or a solution to a particular matter, one needs to make a conscious and deliberate effort to work in a coordinated way in order to achieve the set goals. The issue surrounding the sweet study reconciliation of suffering with belief in a benevolent God is a departure from the traditional approach of seeking to understand and give a vindication for the existence of evil in the world even if a supreme God is believed to exist. It changes the dimension into using the experiences of suffering that is found in the world as the argument against the existence of such a God who is said to be full of benevolence. Beyond just seeking to harmonize the existence of suffering with a belief in a God of love and compassion, the research will try to understand the various approaches employed by scholars in religious studies to deal with the problem of evil and the different philosophical positions that have developed as a result of the continuous reflection on the subject matter by both the theologians of the religion and philosophers who have handled the subject from a more logical point of view. In examining the problem of evil in the religious tradition, I will also look at the nature of evil and how it’s understood in the religion and the extent to which the concept of a benevolent God may be said to be inconsistent with the existence of evil. Then I will evaluate theological reflection and attempts to justify suffering by reference to the goodness of God. Through looking at these different attempts to justify suffering within this specific religious tradition, I’ll also consider the validity of criticism and counter arguments to the claims done by those who pursue to explain the existence of suffering in the world as a necessary part of the divine plan as well as an opportunity for mankind to experience the love and compassion of God. The last section of this essay will involve the scrutiny of different approaches to reconcile the problem of evil within the religious tradition. In addition, it will discuss the role of faith and trust in the face of suffering and my personal opinion on the subject matter.
4.1 Approaches to Reconciling the Problem of Evil in [Religious Tradition]
Next, the essay explores the belief in a benevolent God within the religious tradition. It discusses the attributes of a benevolent God and the challenges in maintaining belief in such a God. It also examines theodicy, which are attempts to justify suffering within the religious tradition, as well as criticisms and counterarguments to theodicy. One of the most famous theodicies is that of St Augustine, who was a Christian theologian. According to his theodicy, evil does not exist as a distinct substance, but is a privation of the good. This theodicy argues that God is not responsible for evil, because evil does not actually exist; what we perceive as evil is simply the absence of good. Augustine’s theodicy also explains moral evil by linking it to the belief of humans having free will. While God is all good and sets out for us to exercise this free will to do morally good acts, if we do not use our free will properly and end up carrying out immoral acts, they can result in either physical or moral evil. Augustine suggests that if humans do not have free will, then it takes away the responsibility that humans have over their actions. However, he states that we cannot ignore the idea that free will, as a gift from God, is a sign of God’s infinite goodness as he is giving us the opportunity to live a life that can bring us closer to him. His theodicy, therefore, suggests that God is right to have bestowed free will upon humans despite how it can result in suffering because ultimately, it is a way of sharing God’s goodness and love and it can lead humans to live a life of happiness. Another major theodicy which has been influential within the religious tradition is that of Irenaeus. This theodicy argues that evil and suffering exist because they are a necessary part of the process of soul making, which could be explained through the analogy of a child who is learning something. Irenaeus’s theodicy suggests that God’s ultimate purpose is to make humans perfect, and evil and suffering in the world are there to allow humans to develop and grow into this greater goodness, just this entails a painful process. This theodicy differs from Augustine’s especially in its optimism for the future, as Irenaeus argues that evil and suffering will not last forever and that the process of life and its challenges are there to help humans grow and develop. However, an obvious criticism of this theodicy is that it fails to explain why there is so much unnecessary suffering in the world; for example, natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis do not appear to contribute to soul making, and as such, some have found this theodicy to be unsatisfactory. His theodicy also seems to suggest that moral and physical evil is necessary for soul making, yet many have criticised the idea of animals, and indeed, God’s creation needing to undergo suffering in order to grow and develop. However, Irenaeus offers a powerful response to the problem of evil by stating that humans at this moment in time can’t fully understand why the world is the way it is as we are time bound and limited and we cannot see what God sees. Therefore, he argues that through faith and trust in God, each individual will come to realise that the suffering and pain we experience in the world has a divine purpose. This leads us on to the idea of faith and trust as a mean of reconciling the problem of evil, which will be discussed later in the essay.
4.2 The Role of Faith and Trust in the Face of Suffering
One of the essential parts in the process of reconciliation of suffering and faith in God is the role of faith and trust. As earlier stated, the presence of suffering makes it difficult for one to believe in a God who is loving and caring at the same time. Any theodicy that seeks to justify or explain why God allows suffering in the world must address this issue by showing how such faith is possible. Faith – defined in this context as an understanding trust that God’s plan will eventually be revealed and God’s love and mercy will eventually triumph over the apparent pointlessness of much worldly suffering – provides the theist with quite a solid foundation from which to begin. This is because it demonstrates that it is indeed possible to hold a belief in a God that is both all-loving and all-powerful even in the presence of mass and individual suffering. Such faith helps the theist to understand that God’s plan is being worked out in ways that go beyond that person’s immediate understanding. In such an understanding of faith, the person relies on God and builds trust in God to guide them. This means that the inevitable ups and downs and trials that sometimes might seem to simply be pointless and cruel suffering can, in actual fact, act as steps on the path to a more close and fulfilled life in God. It has been suggested that under such a spiritual way of interpreting faith and suffering, the negative effects of evil can be transformed into building blocks of a closer relationship with God that were previously unattainable. Such faith contrasts nicely with what can be referred to as a more worldly conception of faith. Worldly faith can be understood as a person hoping that God will effect change in the world that matches with what they view to be the best way to do things. Such faith is not based on a trust in God – indeed, it borders on attempting to manipulate events by expecting God to follow the will of the believer. Instead, a true faith which encompasses trust accepts the fact that understanding God’s will cannot always be understood from a worldly perspective and that as a created being, one must trust that the creator knows best.
4.3 Personal Reflections and Experiences of Individuals within the [Religious Tradition]
In fact, many individuals within the religious tradition, including well-known scholars and figures, have struggled with the problem of evil and the difficulty in reconciling it with the belief in a benevolent God. For example, Dr. X, a professor of theology at [University], writes that despite many years of study and reflection, he continues to feel troubled and confused by the presence of suffering in the world. He no longer finds solace in the notion that suffering can serve a greater purpose and help individuals to grow spiritually. Instead, Dr. X finds himself increasingly unable to explain why a loving and all-powerful God would allow such extreme and seemingly purposeless instances of evil. In his most recent book, Dr. X contends that the theodicies which have been devised throughout history are fundamentally flawed and that to construct them is to misunderstand the essential nature of suffering. He also discusses how comforting rationalizations about suffering have proven to be hollow and unconvincing in the wake of grief and despair. Dr. X’s feelings and reflections are echoed by many, including me. I have spent many years grappling with the problem of evil, both as a student of theology and as an individual who has encountered significant suffering in life, and I have yet to find an adequate and satisfactory answer. As time has gone on, I have found that sources of great personal consolation to me when I was younger — the ideas that suffering can be transformed into joy, that it is sent to perfect us and that it serves some mysterious divine good — have run dry. I now find myself sharing in Dr. X’s doubts and objections to theologies which seek to justify or explain suffering. The more I witness, explore and experience the reality of suffering, both in the world and in my own life, the less satisfactory these theodicies seem. Instead, I find solace and inspiration in the resilience and hope of those who face suffering without endorsing or creating meaning from it, and I increasingly feel that this existential and defiant response is closer to an experience of the divine than any philosophical attempt to account for evil.

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