There has been a problem that has plagued theologians for the last two thousand years; it is called The Problem of Evil.
The problem can be summed up the following question; “How can a Perfect God and an Imperfect Universe both exist?”.
There have been many answers to this, with no means for anyone alive today to prove or disprove any of them while remaining alive, and the answer someone chooses ends up telling a lot about that person. Most people combined the following Theodicies, while others only need one.
Here’s a list of all of them. It’s by no means comprehensive, and I will add more after the fact if anyone points out one I forgot. But first definitions!
Perfect God = when someone describes God as being perfect, they usually visualize God having three attributes. These are Omnipotence (this means God is all powerful), Omnipresence (this means God is all knowing), and Omnibenevolence (this means God is all-good).
Evil = Evil is divided into two types. There is human evil (which includes things like genocide, sex-slavery, sadism, and other wrongdoings caused by others) and there is physical evil (hurricanes, famines, brain cancer, miscarriages, and other types of suffering that no human really caused or could have prevented). If it involves suffering in life, then it is considered an evil.
- A perfect God can’t exist
This argument is not a theodicy, as it does not try to reconcile a Perfect God with an Imperfect Universe.
Some argue that the existence of evil is the result of God being imperfect. Perhaps God, they argue, did not account for everything (meaning he isn’t all-knowing) or perhaps God is not powerful enough to prevent evils (meaning he isn’t all-powerful) or perhaps God is simply does not care about humans enough to prevent evils (meaning he isn’t all-good).
Some take this even further and argue that God must not exist to begin with. You can see this whenever somebody in mourning or in outrage asks “What God would allow this?!?”.
- Spiritual Training
This argument states that God allows evil in the world because it makes those who endure such evils stronger and more compassionate as human beings. This can be seen in people who turn to prayer when faced with their mortality, or when brought to their lowest. Very often, when someone is made to suffer, he or she is better able to sympathize with others in that situation and will therefore be more compassionate.
Without poverty there could be no Mother Teresa. Without imperialism there could be no Gandhi or George Washington. Without racism there could be no Reverend King or Nelson Mandela. Without Polio there would be no Jonas Salk. Without injustice there would be nobody to fight against it. Suffering breeds heroism.
- Free Will
This argument states that God allows evil in the world because that is the price for giving humanity free will. If God forced everyone to only do good things, or if he only gave free will to righteous people, then all of those good deeds would be meaningless. A good deed means all that much more when the person doing it also had the option to do a bad deed but chose the former instead.
This can also be used to explain natural evils; do you blame God for creating the tectonic plates in such a way that they caused the killer earthquake, or do you blame city hall for never holding builders to a quality standard that would eliminate earthquake casualties?
This argument states that God allows evil in the world so that we might have some perspective to better appreciate the good in the world. We protect precious things because we know that not doing so will make them a target for chance and malice. If we knew precious things will NEVER be at risk, then we would have no reason to protect them and we would take them for granted and they would cease to be valuable to us.
- Silver Linings
This argument states that every bad thing that happens results in a good thing happening too, leading to a net positive. It’s often phrased “everything happens for a reason”.
The guy killed in a mine collapse was prompted to pray sincerely in his last moment, giving him a chance to be forgiven before death and to enter an Eternal Paradise he might have otherwise been barred from. The man who survived being interned in a death camp ends up being a champion of human rights. The woman who got pregnant from being raped ended up giving birth to a boy who grows up to cure AIDS.
Some go even further and argue that the world we live in now is the BEST POSSIBLE WORLD, and that any change would make things worse. Events like the Cuban Missile Crisis could be used to support this.
This argument often goes hand-in-hand with #2, when the reason for a bad thing happening is that it leads to the victim becoming a better person.
This argument, often described as “karma” or “what goes around comes around”, is the belief that bad things don’t happen to people because those people did something to deserve it.
The runner who lost his legs in an accident was being punished for his pride. The woman who had a heart attack at the store was being punished for skipping church.
This argument is unpopular today, as it suggests that sufferers of misfortune shouldn’t be sympathized with. It was more popular in the Middle Ages it was quite popular, and it is how European Christians explained the near-apocalyptic Black Death.
- Test of Faith
This argument states that God allows bad things to happen to good people to test whether or not they still believe in God in times of trial.
The Book of Job is one example of this in action; Job was a righteous man when he was prosperous, so God allowed Satan to take away his prosperity to see if Job remained righteous.
Let me know if you believe or don’t believe any of these, or if you have any theodicies I forgot.