Ramble. Focus. Ramble.

The Soul-making Theodicy

John Hick

John Harwood Hick was born in 1922, Yorkshire England. Hick first presented this theodicy in Evil and the God of Love in 1966 (revised in 1978). He added a few points to Irenaeus’ idea and restored it to its current state. The soul-making theodicy says that evil is soul-making. It has an impact on our souls that makes us grow morally and become better human beings. God created an epistemic distance between us and Himself so that it would not be easy to understand Him. He wanted us to struggle and strive in order to understand Him. Therefore, the main idea is that evil is ultimately good as it has been allowed to exist in the world for a greater purpose. The soul-making theodicy rests on the idea that God allows evil to exist because the existence of evil is a necessary condition for individuals to develop or complete their moral souls. There seems a correlation between immense suffering and belief in God. If suffering directs more people towards believing in Good then it is obvious that God may have created evil for our own good. Thus, evil may have a therapeutic effect. For instance a parent might have to spank a child at times but he does it because he wants to bring him to the right path. In the same way evil may be a sort of punishment to purify and instruct human beings. Therefore, God is absolutely justified in adopting such a method. If removing all occurrences of pain and agony and all challenges will create a static environment not suitable for the growth of human beings then God is correct in letting evil in our lives. To create creatures capable of moral good God had to create creatures capable of moral evil. It is time to explain how evil is good and how does it help in character building. Augustine Hippo thought evil was only provatio boni or the absence of good like the darkness is the absence of light. Tragic accidents are the events where one can display courage and perseverance. Unjust and cruel actions happen amidst us for which we can show grace and forgiveness. The greater good is therefore the moral world. And there is also the yin and yang theory that asserted that evil and good were complementary opposites. Therefore one only exists if the other exists. And if one be eliminated from the face of the earth then the other will as well be removed. Hence, evil exists because good exists. Hick thought suffering and pain causes compassion. Dangers and hazards make people stronger at heart. People will understand each other if they felt same pain as their neighbours and friends. Evil allows us the opportunity to grow morally. Richard Swinburne says:

“We would never learn the art of goodness in a world designed as a hedonistic paradise.”

Hick suggested that soul-making is a greater good and God would be justified to let evil in the world for soul-making.  A heaven with pleasure and goodness can only spoil us and never make us learn morals. We mistakenly judge that earth should be like a paradise and in our comparison we overlook the fact that God could have sent his creation to paradise if that was what he wanted but he sent us to earth for a reason. Our national poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal had probably thought over the problem of evil and he mentioned his viewpoint in a part of his poetry. It goes like this in roman Urdu:

“Dard-o-dil ke wastey paida kiya insaan ko Warna ibadat keliye kam na thai karobiyan”

It means that God did not make humans for them to alone worship him because he has unlimited angels for that purpose. Whereas the purpose to create human beings was to give them a heart and test them with pain and to see what they become and how they treat others. Human beings were created for the pain in their heart whether it is for themselves or for their brothers and neighbours.It was to see how they deal with it, and if they show compassion or cruelty after all the pain and suffering. This is one of the most eminent poetry ever written in Urdu literature. This world is an environment of challenge for us. We are supposed to resist temptations, understand love and compassion and help those in need. These feelings could not have originated if evil had not been here from the very start. For instance, if tsunami had not struck in 2003 then the whole world would not have united to help the fallen countries. It was compassion on a very large scale and one gets to see it very often. Evil is good and it tells us that the environment is predictable. The world is run by a series of natural laws which is independent of any inhabitant of the universe. Natural disasters occur when these natural laws are in conflict with the inhabitants’ needs. People have objected that some people undergo immense agony at the last stage of their lives, before they are about die. What moral growth will that give a dying man when he is about to die. But what we forget is that Almighty created us not as individuals but as a whole. The universe has a connection and we are all finally one at the end. Hence, a dying person’s pain may not leave an impact on him but on the souls of all those around his death bed. What kind of a world and what kind of human nature is required for such a pilgrimage? What are the conditions for the possibility of soul-making? Firstly it is important that humans must have free will and that is where Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Theodicy comes in. There should be an epistemic distance between us and God. He created that distance himself so that we can strive to reach towards him overcoming the distance. And for that God gave us free-will and the ability to think for ourselves and make our own choices. However, there is another condition and that is that God will retain autonomy even after giving us free will. Hick’s theory applies not only to individual but to history of humankind, the evolutionary process. Evil exists not only for soul-making but also to make genuine freedom possible; the possibility of evil is a necessary condition for freedom and freedom is a necessary condition for soul-making.


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This entry was posted on March 13, 2011 by in Philosophy and tagged , , , .
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