Theology 101: Theodicy

Theodicy and the problem of evil have been problematic and debatable issues in the Christian tradition for centuries. See us try to comprehend it within the span of an hour…mostly with success, I think? Michael Jones, Eric Anderson, and Andrew Crawford star, even though I never mention two of them at the beginning (trust me, you don’t want to know about the editing work that went into this thing…)

Other topics include characteristics of God, apologetics, St. Augustine, Manichees, Neo-Platonism, the privation or corruption of good, Michael Jones’ charismatic theory of theodicy, why doesn’t God eliminate Satan, is Satan an angel, 2 Corinthians 11:14, Eric Anderson’s theodicy, the Garden of Eden, the Flood, the groans of the earth in Romans 8:18-23, animal taming, being OK with paradox, belief as a philosophical matter, what we know or don’t know, brainwashing, seminary comparisons, and the importance of relationship with Jesus Christ.

Theology 101 – Theodicy


Desk – SOMA and Pink Swear (Solo Bass Arrange) from the album Reset [Black Label]

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Michael Justin Jones

    Still a little bent about the jokin about brainwashing. It was joking right?

    • Zachery Oliver

      Hm, maybe…

      • Mikel Withers

        I’m about as charismatic as a potato, but I think that “not learning what to think but learning how to think” is vastly over-rated.
        While it may be true that the so called “great minds” were people who first knew how to think, most of us are not equipped to be in that company. For the vast majority of us, learning what to think would be a much better use of our time…we would get a better return on our investment of time.

        • Zachery Oliver

          Learning what to think is often a kowtowing to external forces. Hence, why I recommend teaching people how to think. They will reach the right conclusions if they’ve got the tools (I am an optimist when it comes to intellectual pursuits for anybody. It just takes different language for complex concepts).

          • Mikel Withers

            I am going to get a cheeky, here, I hope you appreciate that I am coming from a place of brotherly love.
            Your view on this does not seem to match up with your views on debate. Above, you seem to advocate for a passive acceptance, but here you advocate for calling people up to critically examine (how to think) what it is they are told.
            (well, Mike, aren’t you also inconsistent in your views then?) -Good question, Mike… I will say that debate is not for everyone. People learn in different ways, and to differing extents. Exceptional people have the possibility of taking “how to think” and turning it into knew “what to think-s”… It is quite possible that I am less optimistic… I am the founder of the Society of Optimistic Pessimists or SOPS for short, after all…but I really don’t think that everyone, or even most people have the tools to come to the right conclusions. Don’t get me wrong, here, innate intelligence is a large portion of those tools, but motivation might be a larger portion. -you could teach Einstein how to think, but if he is more interested in drugs and women than cosmology, you don’t get the theory of relativity.

            Now, to break it down even more… “It just takes different language for complex concepts”… While such may be true, if such a language has already been made, wouldn’t it be more advantageous to teach someone that language, than teach them how to come up with that language on their own?

            Now, to apply this to a common love of ours… In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, we see examples of people who know Sun Tzu, and those who both know Sun Tzu’s work, and how to think about it. Those that have both are at an extreme advantage all the time. Those who only know the work itself are only at an advantage when dealing with those who do not know the work. …if someone doesn’t have the natural inclination, teaching them how to think about Sun Tzu’s treatise without teaching them the treatise will just confuse them, and not be useful.

            I suppose my optimistically pessimistic view is that those who have the ability to learn How to think about something, will do so almost automatically if given the fuel (the What) for that drive. (not that classes on How to think would be inappropriate, but that those classes should be distinct, and not lessons taking up a large proportion of other classes’ time)

          • Zachery Oliver

            Try teaching Heidegger’s Being and Time to a layman, using the original specific language and new definitions for old words, plus combinations of old words that mean new things. I can guarantee you in a second that it will make, literally, no sense; it was meant to be read in German, and even in German it’s hard to understand. That’s the kind of thing you really need someone to study, understand, and put into more understandable sentence structures (and not Daseins, ugh). Most people who write this stuff are just bad writers, and need their own words translated for normal people.

            I have no problem with my seeming inconsistency. I think of rationality and logic as the ladder by which I climb to the scaffold of truth; once I’ve used it, I can kick it back to the ground. Maybe for somebody else to use!

            I.e., logic is a tool. I use it to get places, and to get people to think in specific ways. I believe most people have the capacity to learn anything if they set their mind to it. And they also have a capacity to know when something stinks, if not quite being able to put a finger on it. Hence, they can whip this out of their toolbox to see if it sticks together (and often, it does not). Critical analysis is for the purpose of arriving at truth, not to employ it in itself as a source of authority or validity.

            It is not so much a passive acceptance as not seeing logic as the best ground for Christian evangelism. I have never seen that in my experience, that much is for sure.

            Most of this is really in reference to Christianity, so take that as you will.

          • Mikel Withers

            Very well. I think we are talking past each other a bit… As I state in the other reply thread: for me, logic and debate was the best Christian evangelical tool.
            I am unfamiliar with Being and Time…will have to add that to my to-read list.
            I suppose, what I would mean is this: is Being and Time something that everyone should understand? Not: would it be cool or maybe even profound, but a necessity of life (physical and/or spiritual)?

            I am not sure I follow your logic ladder analogy… are you saying once you come to Christianity logic and rational thought are to be discarded? Are we not to use discernment is our faith life as well as outside it?
            I will not argue that logic and reason are the source of authority or validity. However, I will say that they help to prove the authority and validity of what is revealed. ( I would say that logic and reason come out from God’s nature)
            I also will not say that whatever we apply logic and reason to we can explain. For starters, logic and reason would say that we could never fully explain an infinite (in the inexhaustible sense) Being.

            Now, to pick at something you said a little more critically: ” I believe most people have the capacity to learn anything if they set
            their mind to it. And they also have a capacity to know when something
            stinks, if not quite being able to put a finger on it.”
            It has been my experience that when someone says “trust me” or “I don’t worry about that, I’ll know some day” that same ‘stinks’ sensor goes off. Now, the person saying that could be perfectly trustworthy on the subject, or maybe they don’t worry for the reason given, but it sets off the warning bells anyway…maybe as a result of our fallen, cynical nature.

  • Mikel Withers

    I was really looking forward to this one, but I was disappointed.
    I am an “arguer”…not a “fighter”. What do I mean? Well, I think argumentation is the way in which we examine different viewpoints on a given topic so that we can come to the best answers we possibly can…not to “win an argument”, even if that might be a possible outcome. Ideally, everyone would win from an argument, by getting a better understanding of the issues at hand. I think it is our duty to have as complete a worldview as we are able so that we can “give a defense”. “I don’t know” is a fine answer…but it should never be the final answer.

    I think you (pl) should have defined your terms better. “Pain” and “suffering” seemed to be conflated at times. “Pain” is a neurological reaction to stimuli… the same as “hot”, “cold”, “light”, “smooth”, and so forth. Pain is not, in and of itself, a negative…in fact, it is quite a positive, if say it keeps you from repeatedly grabbing a knife at the wrong end. Pain would seem to be a physical state.
    Suffering, on the other hand, would be more akin to a spiritual or mind state. Now, continual pain might lead to suffering…the spirit being weakened because it is somehow connected to the physical body, but the two are not one in the same. We suffer when we experience something that tears at our soul. Why would God allow suffering? Maybe because there are things that SHOULD tear at our souls. Injustice for one thing, or separation from God for another.
    Both pain and suffering are unpleasant, but unpleasant is also not the same as “bad” or “evil”. Maybe you could consider it more like a symptom of “bad” then “bad” itself…kind of like: a runny nose is not “a cold” but if you have a cold you might have the symptom of a runny nose.

    I could go on and on, but I’ll stop with this: we should study and ponder these things so that when we are asked about them, we can show that this problem that so many get caught up on (or hide behind) is something that we take seriously, something that we have logical, consistent answers to.

    • Zachery Oliver

      The problem is, you are now in a society where there is no differentiation between fighting and argumentation. You can see this in the vast majority of debates about homosexuality, for example. One is reliant on traditional rules of rhetoric, playful satirical jabs, and a “arena’ mentality where a handshake signifies the beginning of different rules.

      Postmodern debaters will not offer you those rules. Instead, they’ll redirect the conversation to their feelings and/or expressions of opinion. They “share”, but they do not reach deeper conclusions because they can’t look at an issue dispassionately. Hence, the insulting and attacks they usually throw out nowadays (intolerance, etc).

      I, personally, am not a believer in a “framework” or “worldview” when it comes to Christianity. These seem like carry-over material from the Enlightenment, and Christianity is not derived from the knowledge and workings of men but that of God. Revelation, in other words. Sometimes it’s clear, and sometimes it’s not to the point where we debate and speculate (the book of Revelation, of course). Logic and rationality are tools, not the thing in itself. Of course, in such a society based on said methodologies, most people will expect a “theory”, but I do not make theories about God. I am good with not knowing some things, or having a definite conclusion.

      When we “give an account”, we do well to mention what context in which 1 Peter 3:15 actually says this. Depends greatly on whether 1 Peter was written to Christians persecuted under law before courts (hence, the “account” giving) or social derision (i.e., talking to other people in social situations). Whether it is friendly or not, neither of them imply any kind of argumentation, merely stating their basic beliefs. “Defense” varies by translation (I’ve seen answer also used here), so the sense is dependent upon the translator’s own preference. Does it refer to professional debate? Not really!

      In our conversations, I think the terms pain and suffering meant the same thing; the specificity of the terms weren’t necessary, mostly because we meant the theological idea (mostly on the same wavelength, Michael and I, hehe). While I guess you could split hairs on this, the general sense seems clear to me.

      • Mikel Withers

        A modern debate is often much more about the audience than it is about the contestants. People who are interested in a topic, people who are wondering what the different views on a topic will tune in to a debate, whether it be professional or two people chatting on Facebook.
        In a sense, Christianity and/or Christians in general, are on trial whenever our views are contested in the court of public opinion. I don’t mean to use that lightly, either. I have lived long enough to see how much things have changed, even in the US. No, the sky is not falling, but the supports are cracking. We need to give an answer to the questions posed, that shows that we actually do think about the subject at hand, to disprove the view that we are a bunch of mindless followers of priests and pastors.
        While the person posing the questions about Christianity might be more interested in belittling it than getting an actual answer, those who hear a thoughtful response might be more open to thinking about what Christianity has to say on that topic and others.

        For “worldview”, I don’t know that I would say there is a unified Christian worldview, but that there are unifying factors in the worldview of Christians. If a worldview is the way in which we see the world, the presuppositions, the underlying philosophies, the axioms and foundations of our thought life, then Christians should have a massive part of that taken up with Christ. Think of it as a circle, with Christ in the center as most important, and largest, then around Him are other issues and topics that are important and/or influential to the person at question.(sin, Heaven, Hell, the Church…may be other things that would match up) If you overlapped all worldviews of Christians, the center of that should match up…that would have the potential to be a “Christian worldview”.

        • Zachery Oliver

          And I wish I could agree, but I can’t. The ship has sailed; modern debate is not something people much care about anymore. Those Christian vs. atheist debates mostly continue because there’s money to be made in a subculture that loves this sort of thing. People already think what they want to think about Christianity. If they don’t know about it, there is a clean slate.

          Of course, that implies other things. The number of people who would, theoretically, be swayed by a debate, a frank exchange of ideas, or even a conversation seems very small. Shouting matches are more the norm nowadays. I don’t think it’s wise to even convert people this way; it gets them in the door for the wrong reasons, and that means every new piece of evidence needs to fit into how they came into the house.

          I still don’t think “worldview” is ever a good way to look at it. It’s still a remnant of a way of thought from long ago, now adapted to the modern day and dictating how we think. Changing the paradigm may prove more useful than sticking to something like this (this probably would make more sense if you’ve read my thesis, haha).

          • Mikel Withers

            Okay, I enjoy listening to professional debates, however that is just a small portion of what I am talking about. I really think that our personal interactions with friends and acquaintances are where “debate” comes into play the most. In today’s age, I don’t think many people really know what to think about Christianity. We have people saying that it is a bunch of sheeple following a Bronze Age myth, if we don’t learn to combat that image, then we lose relevance for the culture we live in.
            If you want to be crass about it: we have the greatest product on the market today… we can either “sell” that product, explaining why it is the greatest, how it can help them, why they should get it, and so forth… or just tell people to trust us. Now, maybe some people will just trust us because we say so… but others, not so much.

            Next, do you mean you don’t think it is wise to convert people through debate or do you mean you don’t think it is wise to convert through shouting matches?
            Either way, people are being converted away by those same tactics. If we surrender the field, the battle is lost. We can pick up our ball and go home, but there is still a game going on with or without us…I tend to think us being there is a better option.
            I also have a problem with “…every new piece of evidence needs to fit into how they came into the house.” Let me explain if I can. I ‘left the house’ because someone convinced me that the house was a fake. I was raised in the Church, and almost over-night I dropped my beliefs. It was easy, because I went from feeling one thing to feeling another. No one had ever given me convincing reasons to stay with the Faith. It wasn’t until later when someone standing up to challenges to Christianity convinced me to take it seriously that I returned, the Prodigal son, to beg for forgiveness. Now, debate does nothing to keep me there, but it does strengthen my faith. I know that reason and rational thought are on the side of God, not against Him. When my feelings start to waver, my mind reminds me that it will not be swayed by a lack of vitamin D or some hard times.

            Lastly…is your thesis publicly available? I’d love to read it.