Tag Archives: Character Formation

Paul Copan explains the problems of evil and suffering in 18 minutes

Paul Copan explains the high points of the problems of evil and suffering in just under 18 minutes.


  • the question itself reveals that we are moral beings
  • the problem of evil is the great interrupter of human well-being
  • every philosophy of life has to address this question
  • is God required to give us a life that is easy and comfortable?
  • evil is a departure from good, i.e. – the way things ought to be
  • a way things ought to be implies a plan for what ought to be
  • human evil implies a plan for the way we ought to be
  • free creatures have the ability to deviate from the plan
  • where does this plan for the universe and us come from?
  • how can there be a way we ought to be come from?
  • evil is the flip side of good so where does good come from?
  • God’s own moral nature is the standard of good and evil
  • where does evil from natural disasters come from?
  • how dangerous natural phenomena preserve Earth’s habitability
  • there is a benefit from tectonic activity
  • similarly, God lets humans freely choose knowing harm may result
  • people are free to try to find meaning in something other than God
  • God is able to use negative things to bring about positive results
  • e.g. – when good people suffer, they can comfort and care for others
  • can people be good enough on their own without God?

If you want to read two good books for beginners on Christian Apologetics that cover a wide range of issues in philosophy of religion, get “Passion Conviction” and the companion “Contending With Christianity’s Critics”. Awesome, awesome resources.

A possible reason why God permits suffering and evil: the soul-making theodicy

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Steve Hays has a post up at Triablogue about one my favorite defenses to the inductive problem of evil – the soul-making theodicy.

He writes:

The soul-making theodicy was popularized by John Hick. In Augustinian anthropology, Adam and Eve were finished products. They fell from a state of moral perfection. Hick contrasted that with his own position, according to which Adam and Eve were created with the potential for moral growth. They were still in the process of creation. They had the potential for moral maturation. (Mind you, Hick denied the historicity of Adam and Eve.)

There’s some truth to this analysis, although it suffers from equivocation. To say unfallen Adam and Eve were morally “perfect” simply means they were sinless. It doesn’t mean there was no room for moral improvement.

Paradoxically, fallen humans can be both better and worse than unfallen humans. Inasmuch as they are sinners, they are worse. Yet Christians can have a moral grace that surpasses the mere sinlessness of Adam and Eve. Saints have virtues that angels lack.

3. Let’s take an example: Suppose you have a family of five. Both parents are social climbers and overachievers. The husband is consumed with career advancement. The wife is a tiger mom. She makes sure the kids are enrolled in all the right student clubs and extracurricular activities that will look good on a college application. The two teenage sons and a daughter are into the usual things kids in their age-bracket are into. At dinner, each member of the family is glued to the display on their smart phone.

The members of the family aren’t Christian. Aren’t into meaning-of-life questions. They lead superficial lives.

One son starts to forget routine things. At first this is amusing. They think he’s absent-minded. Distracted by too much multitasking. But he begins to complain about headaches.

His parents take him to the doctor, and he’s diagnosed with brain cancer. Suddenly their priorities come to a screeching halt.

They now have a sick family member who will just get sicker. Their social world contracts. Their center of gravity shifts.

Instead of being frivolous and self-absorbed, they make the most of the remaining time with their dying family member. The wrenching experience changes them. Deepens them. Makes them better people. Develops their unrealized moral potential.

Perhaps, in their distress and despair, they turn to God. They regret the missed opportunities. Regret taking life for granted. Regret taking one another for granted. Regret all the things they should have said and done differently, in retrospect.

That kind of regret can refine character. Moving forward, that prompts them to treat others with greater patience and understanding.

This is hypothetical, but there are real life examples of Christians like Eric Liddell and Ernest Gordon who exhibit moral heroism in the face of extreme adversity.

The rest of the article considers some objections to this defense.

Have you ever had that happen to you? Where something terrible happened and you found yourself having to pray, and care for others, and drop all your plans, and be unselfish? It’s happened to me. In fact, I think this is one of the main things that Christians should be doing. We ought to respond to setbacks as if they were opportunities for us to show our real character. Don’t treat the needs and sufferings of others as something to avoid, treat it as your opportunity to be more like Jesus. I know that we all have dreams of things that we would like to do and achieve. But sometimes, an opportunity arises for us to imitate Jesus by being obedient with suffering, or by caring for the suffering of others by putting our own needs and desires second. It’s tempting to think that our super-duper plan to change the world is the most important thing, but it really isn’t. Don’t miss the chance to form your character when you suffer, or when someone close to you is suffering.

I have to mention Dina, who has been busy visiting the elderly in a hospital for the last two weeks. She is a busy lady, and has things she would rather be doing. She hasn’t done any cross-stitching in months, because she is so stressed with work. Nevertheless, she didn’t take that as an excuse to put herself first. She found some people close to her who were suffering and thought “here is an opportunity for me to imitate Jesus by putting myself second, and serving others first”. Evil and suffering gives you the opportunity to be who God wants you to be.

Jim Spiegel: the free will theodicy and the soul-making theodicy

Here’s an interesting post about two of the better known defenses to the problem of evil, from philosopher Jim Spiegel.

Here is his introduction:

The evidential problem of evil presents the theist with the burden of explaining why an almighty and all-good God would permit evil. Many such reasons, known as theodicies, have been proposed as solutions to this problem. Two of the more promising among these are the free will theodicy and the soul-making theodicy. While each of these approaches has strong proponents, rare are those who advocate the use of bothin response to the problem of evil. In fact, it is often the case that defenders of one are strong critics of the other. Given that theists, and more specifically Christian apologists, share the conviction that the evidential objection from evil fails and that theism is quite reasonable despite the reality of evil, it is curious that there isn’t more interest in embracing both of these theodicies as helpful responses to the problem. In what follows I want to offer a comparative analysis of these two theodicies in hopes of both understanding the divide between their proponents and making the case that the two are best used in tandem when dealing with the problem of evil. Towards the latter end I hope to show that these theodicies have more in common than has been traditionally thought and that their differences have more to do with their divergent aims than their relative merits as potential solutions to the problem of evil.

I am not going to be able to summarize his entire case in this post, but I at least wanted everyone to know what the two theodicies were. In the case of the free will theodicy, evil is permitted because without it we could not have free will. And free will is necessary in order to achieve certain higher moral goods.

Dr. Spiegel explains:

First, this theodicy places the blame for moral evil entirely on human beings. God did nothing wrong in creating us with the capacity to sin, however much he might have anticipated our rebellion. Second, notice the high premium that is placed on self-determination. Proponents of the free will theodicy typically assume that personal autonomy is so valuable that it makes the risk of moral evil worthwhile. But it is not really self-determination itself that is of ultimate value. The ultimate good for which such autonomy is a critical means is genuine loving relationships between persons, whether between humans or between God and humans.

And here is his explanation of the soul-making theodicy:

Defenders of the soul-making theodicy point out that there are numerous moral virtues that cannot be achieved except by struggling against or in the midst of evil. These “second order” goods include patience, courage, sympathy, forgiveness, mercy, perseverance, overcoming temptation, and much greater versions of faith, hope, love, and friendship. What sense could be made of the trait of courage in a world in which there was no danger and nothing to fear? How could one show sympathy if there were no sorrow or affliction with which to sympathize? How might one forgive where there has been no offense? And how can one be said to “persevere” through perfectly pleasant circumstances? These characteristics-courage, sympathy, forgiveness, perseverance-are not just good traits. They are, among the greatest of all character traits. And, according to Hick and other proponents of the soul-making theodicy, it is worth God’s permitting evil in order to realize these goods.

I’m going to confess my ignorance and say that I always used both of these when discussing the problems of evil and suffering. It never occurred to me that they would be in conflict. So I enjoyed reading the rest of the paper where Dr. Spiegel argues that far from being in conflict, the two are actually dependent on each other! The discussion of the two kinds of theodicies is actually really good for understanding the details of them. I think it’s going to be worth for me to read it over a few times and then explain it to someone else, so that I really get it straight. I just have to find a willing victim to listen while I work it through.