Theodicy: God and Evil in the World

In an interview with din.ORF.at, Protestant pastor and Dean of the Preaching and Pastoral College Seminar, Helen Lechner, described suffering in the world as a “radical question of faith”.

Why is there innocent suffering, trial and evil? Shouldn’t the Almighty and just God forbid evil? And if he doesn’t, is he or is he omnipotent? This question, known as the theodic question, is one that many theologians, but also philosophy, have dealt with extensively.

Original Sin or “The Best of Both Worlds”?

The church father Augustine (354-430) still considered the evil in the world to be the result of original sin. The philosopher Gottfried Friedrich Leibniz (1646-1716) coined the theodic term for the question of the “justification” or “justice” of God. He postulated that God created “the best of all possible worlds.” Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) described evil as a transitional phase: God knows the ultimate end of the world and does not need to intervene to regulate it.

Good Friday refers to what is not good

The New Testament puts the question at the heart of Jesus Christ’s Passion by crying out: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27, 46).

Public Domain / Wikipedia

Christ also asked the question on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Christ on the Cross, Diego da Silva y Velazquez, circa 1632)

“Good Friday focuses on what is not good,” says theologian Lechner: “This is where you experience weakness and where you also notice: There are limits to what we can understand of the world.” Christians and Christians, in a way, lived through those boundaries on Good Friday.

God suffers with you – on the cross

The pastor said because Good Friday “focuses on the idea that God is with us on the way – even in suffering, or especially in suffering.” “I don’t think God is someone we think is sitting on a cloud in the sky and at a distance from what we experience or do in terms of suffering and guilt. God cares about human life – and the cross shows us that.”

When the theologian was asked about war, he said, “As human beings, we have a chance to shape the world. This leads to good and evil as well as to disasters.”

theodesis

The term comes from the philosopher Gottfried Friedrich Leibniz (1646-1716) and means “God’s justice” or “God’s justification” from the Greek “theos” – god and “dam” – justice.

Job, “exemplary piety”

Returning to the theodic question, or as Lechner puts it differently: “Why not ‘snipe’ – and all is well?” Diseases, wars, and other suffering often strike people suddenly. An example is the clerical job: according to Lechner, Job was “the prototype of a pious man,” and he had everything: a large family, many animals, and economic success.

“But then it is tested and everything is lost.” You find it impressive that “Job defies God and does not sit shyly in the corner, but enters into an impassioned conversation with God.” One could say that Job is arguing with God—and even asking for justification for what he believes he suffered through no fault of his own. Thus she says confidently in Job 13:18: “Behold, I bring the case. I know I am right.”

arguing with God

“Despite all the challenges, he does not turn away from God. He calls his God to be responsible, holds on to him to the end and may also draw strength from him.” Job is not powerless. “This shows me: God is a place to go, I can pour my heart on him. I don’t have to be a silent sufferer, I can argue with God,” says the theologian.

Public Domain / Wikipedia

Arguing with God: A Depiction of Job by Gerard Segers (1591–1651)

love on the cross

She sees the power of the Easter story not only in relation to the afterlife, but to the present. “When Easter tells me that suffering, guilt and death are not the end point, then I can hope that there are new beginnings: the power to change.”

Good Friday marks the lowest point in Christ’s Passion – a low that spans over three days and ends on Easter Sunday with the celebration of the Resurrection. German Protestant theologian Dorothy Sole (1929-2003) wrote: “Love does not need the cross, but in fact it is about the cross.”

Evangelist Helen Lechner

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Reverend Helen Lechner

“Where there is love, there is resistance,” says Lechner. What we are told at Easter points to the future: “The Easter experience is good tidings.” It gives believers hope for the future despite experiencing end and death. The Resurrection celebrates the victory of life over death.

Think of your own limits

Lechner states that Good Friday is a very important and pivotal Protestant holiday, and a day to pause. “It is not bad for society to spend a day thinking: That’s right, we humans have limits, and how do we deal with them when we see or experience suffering? Where do we look in the face of suffering? When we help others, we do so because the fate of those close to us moves in us.”

This also applies to the work of shepherds. “Even we do not understand everything or have an answer to every question. Sometimes all the meaning is hidden from us too, and God seems far from us, ”says the pastor. “In the end, we hold to the fact that God is a just God.” Because in spite of everything, Christians lived in the light of the Easter message, which tells of the fact that good Fridays in this world do not stop there, but that life is based on hardship and death follows.

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