Review: Evil and the God of Love

Evil and the God of Love
John Hick

Written in 1966, this is a classic treatise on the various theodicies proposed by Christian thinkers through the last two thousand years. (A theodicy defends God against existence of evil). The author divides his work into four parts; an introduction, Austinian theodicies, Irenaean theodicies, and finally a new proposal.

Dr. Hick begins by explaining the problem –the explanation of the problem of evil here rivals that of Plantinga’s. He doesn’t break the problem down in quite the same way, but the explanation offered is easier to grasp on an intuitive level. From the definition, the author moves into two general classes of response, a monistic response and a dualistic response. Essentially, monistic responses posit that there is one all powerful god, while dualistic responses argue there are two gods, or two divine beings, at war, one of which is good, the other of which is evil. These two classifications underlie Dr. Hick’s evaluation of the two answers to evil within Christian thought.

In the second part, Dr. Hick lays out and analyzes the theodicy of Augustine. According to Dr. Hick, Augustine argues from the perspective that evil is deprived good, or that which falls short of the best possible fulfillment, and evil exists because of the free will choices of men who do not fulfill God’s original intent for their lives (and race). From here, the author shows that the Augustinian method ultimately rests on the theory that this is the best possible world –that no better world could have been created by God.

Essentially, Augustine posited that man was created in a state of perfection, then fell because of the original sin of willfully disobeying God, and God has repaired the breach through Christ. In the Augustinian mold, God did not create evil, per se, but evil is a byproduct of the Fall, and therefore all evil can be traced back to sin in general (if not a specific sin). God could not have created a world with less evil than he actually created; this is the best possible world, either in terms of producing the most good, or in terms of most fully showing God’s creative powers.

He then analyzes the problems with this view, first showing that the origins of the best possible world defense are neo-Platonic, rather than Scriptural. The best possible world defense suffers from various problems in limiting the power of God, and in trying to have God as the sole power in the universe without imposing on God the origin of evil itself. He also lays out the connection between the best possible world defense and the idea of strict predestination, or election, and the problems resulting from this connection.

Perhaps the most fundamental criticism to be made of the Augustinian type of theodicy concerns a pervasive presupposition within it. This is the impersonal or subpersonal way in which God’s relationship to His creation is prevailingly conceived.” -page 199

In the third section, Dr. Hick presents what he terms an Irenaean form of theodicy, which is based on the idea that man was created “like a child,” and God is working, through history, to bring man to a full relationship with himself, or rather to maturity (as a parent raises a child). Within this theodicy, man wasn’t created perfect, in the sense of being morally perfect, but rather perfect in the sense of being best fit for the goal God had in mind. Just as a parent refuses to shield his child from all the possible evil in the world, in order to teach bravery, or compassion, or some other character trait, God actually created evil in the world to teach these very same lessons to humans.

To use the distinction that Irenaeus and others of the Greek Fathers used, man has been created in the ‘image’ of God but has yet to be brought into the divine ‘likeness’ revealed in Christ.1 Now if man has been so created that his perfection lies before him in the future rather than behind him in the past, his present imperfection belongs to his God-given nature. His imperfection (which issues directly in sin) and his redemption both have their place in the divine plan, and belong together, so that the latter does indeed, as Schleiermacher contended, presuppose the former. -page 238

Dr. Hick then examines various problems in this theodicy –though he doesn’t entirely undermine this one, as he does the Augustinian theodicy (the reader will understand why momentarily).

In the final section, the author outlines what he considers to be a new defense against the problem of evil. He bases this defense largely on what he terms to be the Irenaean theodicy, the idea that God created this world with the final goal of creating completed, or mature, souls that could love and trust him without resorting to coercion. He has a brilliant section comparing predestination to hypnosis here.

This new theodicy breaks on the rocks of the Scriptures, however –the only way Dr. Hick can maintain his defense against the problem of evil is to abandon Paul entirely, abandon most of Genesis (and the rest of the Pentateuch), and focus only on John among the Gospels. These moves are classic higher criticism, pitting science against the Scriptures and simply declaring science the winner. No true Scotsman fallacies run rampant through his thinking starting in his examination of what he calls an Irenaean theodicy and intensifying as he explains his own defense against the problem of evil. The author’s view is closely tied to Postmillennial thought from before the World Wars; he is, in many ways, trying to rescue Postmillennialism from the wanton slaughter of the wars and the atrocities committed during those wars.

This classic work is must reading if you want to understand the underlying problems with the Augustinian view of evil and predestination. It is rare to see the defense against evil, the best possible world theory, and predestination so clearly tied into one larger system. The section on the Irenaean defense against the problem of evil is interesting, if not as well developed. The reader could skip, however, the entire final section, and not miss anything of real value.

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