The theology of theodicy : a doctrinal analysis of divine justice in the light of human suffering
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There are few issues more worthy of our attention as Christians in the twenty-first century than that of justice and its counterpart, injustice. Much current comment or debate is understandably subjective, for who can say with any degree of accuracy what is just? Justice, therefore, is often perceived as a relative term. Mankind is generally unaware of a proper and appropriate standard or principle of justice. By the very definition of its functional role in society, the church should not be ignorant of such matters. Sadly, however, that has not always been the case. The research undertaken for this thesis has shown that, far from being a major topic of concern amongst Christian writers and theologians over the last two to three hundred years, there is, in fact, comparatively little material from which to be guided. Perhaps this is the right time for such a work. The difficulty, however, is reconciling the scope of the work with the vastness of the problem. By acknowledging a need, one is almost obliged to contribute towards the satisfying of that need. This, of course, is impossible to achieve by simply writing about it. One could almost say that "man shall not receive justice by pen alone, but by every decree, statute and principle of goodness, virtue and righteousness that is found in God being characterised in the lives of his people". At the end of this thesis, many questions will have been raised; many will yet remain unanswered. I offer no apology for that, for it is as much a testimony to the mystery of God as it is an acknowledgment of man's finiteness. The problem of suffering is not an easy one to answer - nor should it be. The prerequisite of seeking to address the issue is a recognition that to approach it in a cavalier fashion will render any debate futile. Indeed, the problem is further enhanced by a watered-down response. In this respect, truth and faith are inseparable. Many have erringly aborted any attempt to search for truth, unsure of how secure their faith would remain in the process. But absolute truth testifies to God's nature and attributes absolutely. Surely that can only quicken faith. What I suspect most mean when they say they are not sure enough of their faith to expose it to so deep a truth is that they are more protective of their preconceived ideas than they are perhaps willing to admit. Truth must be embraced, however, no matter how unpleasant it may at first appear. Unless the problem is faced, it remains a nagging obstacle, chewing away at our subconscious. Of course, the fact that this is a theological presentation and not a philosophical one will already assume certain preconceptions. It is inconceivable to the present writer, for instance, that God could purpose anything other than good, being inherently incapable of planning evil. The problem for the philosopher is already somewhat mitigated by a denial of these truths. Christian theism, on the other hand, finds its enigma enhanced. Although this work is to be submitted in the first instance as Milling the requirements of a doctoral degree, its primary purpose is not merely literary but practical. It is my firm conviction that this should be true of any theological treatise, for these are weighty matters that are not simply to be pondered -they demand action. Knowledge is good, but it is not an end in itself; it must always be but the initial step to producing change, even if such a transformation is only in our understanding of the problem. In many ways, I would agree with the primary themes of Shakespeare's play, 'King Lear'. Here, the dramatist suggests that suffering which includes a spiritual dimension is often more severe than physical affliction, that it may be precipitated by moral evil, and that there is always the potential for suffering to become a catalyst for change. In the context of a work such as this, it would be more than a little ambitious of me to attempt to cover the whole gamut of human suffering. If the Christian faith stands at all, however, then it must certainly stand for integrity. Facts must, therefore, be faced honestly. I will attempt to address the problems normally associated with the pain issue with wisdom where it allows, with an acknowledgment of lack of understanding where that is called for, but - at least as importantly - without guile. By beginning with an in depth look at the problem of (the existence of) evil from a biblical perspective and the various theories attached to that problem, the present writer intends to set the scene for the journey that follows. Suffering as a direct consequence of the Fall of Adam is the logical first step in that journey, followed by a character analysis of three Old Testament saints and how each responded to specific suffering in their own lives. A brief précis of Israel's history in the Old Testament is brought up-to-date with a look at the atrocities of the Holocaust, arguably the most abhorrent scenario of suffering in both intensity and magnitude inflicted by man upon man, with one exception. As the hinge upon which the door of history turns, the Incarnation event is key to all that both preceded and came after it. The Sufferings of Christ, therefore, are pivotal to our understanding of the principle of suffering, not only for his disciples down the ages, but also those who are deemed innocent and, indeed, the finally reprobate.
- ETD@PUK