Theodicy is commonly thought to concern itself with the problem of evil. The most banal expression of this is the phrase: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But it is more than that. So much more. In fact, theodicy has to do with the justification of God. It is a defense of God’s goodness and greatness in the face of evil, of suffering, and of death.
One of the best descriptions of the problem was recently expressed by Stephen Fry, who when asked what he would say to God:
I’d say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I would say.
There are creatures who use humans as hosts for part of their life cycle, creatures responsible for a great deal of pain, suffering, and death. Take for example, the protozoan known as Plasmodium, which is responsible for Malaria. The five species of Plasmodium are all spread from human to human using mosquitoes, and all five species mature and reproduce in the human liver. The World Health Organization says that in 2013, around 584,000 people died of malaria, most of them children under the age of five. You could say that the existence of Malaria has as its primary purpose the killing of children.
Dracunculiasis is the formal name for the infection by the Guinea worm. The Guinea worm primarily infects humans (and possibly dogs) by drinking water containing guinea worm larvae. Once a human is infected, the worm matures, mates, and slowly travels through the body to the lower leg, often causing intense pain. Eventually the worm causes an allergic reaction. Blisters form, eventually burst, and the worm begins to protrude from the body. Slowly, over a period of weeks, the guinea worm exits the body. As it slowly makes its way out of the, the burning sensation causes people to seek relief by soaking their leg in water, allowing the worm to release larvae which are eaten by water fleas, continuing the life cycle. The sole purpose of the Guinea worm’s existence seems to be to cause great pain and suffering; it does this indiscriminately, and for the sole purpose of furthering its own reproduction.
If you are a creationist, you have to believe that God created these (and other) creatures whose sole purpose is to cause pain and suffering. Thus we must assume that God desires to see his creation suffer. It is not enough that some humans will suffer in the afterlife, but quite a number of the sufferings of this life are caused by creatures God created for this express purpose. We humans have a name for this type of personality disorder; if we are indeed created in the image of God, than this name would necessarily apply to a God who seems to enjoy the sufferings of his creation.
If you are an evolutionist who believes in God, you have other difficulties. The evolutionary process which led to the existence of humans has been the result of a great deal of suffering and death. There have been five great extinction events, known colloquially as the “Big Five.”
- Ordovician-Silurian mass extinction: 443 million years ago; 85% of sea life went extinct
- Late Devonian mass extinction: 359 million years ago; 75% of all life went extinct
- Permian mass extinction: 248 million years ago; 96% of all life went extinct
- Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction: 200 million years ago: 50% of all animals went extinct
- Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction: 65 million years ago; extinction of the dinosaurs, allowing for the rise of mammalian life
So much death and destruction, leading the way to the development of human beings. How do we account for this? What was the purpose of death on such a large scale, occurring multiple times? If we accept the biblical creation accounts, death is the result of sin. Yet how could there have been sin before humanity existed? And if suffering and death existed prior to the fall, how then is God a good God? How can we love a God who seems to enjoy the suffering of His creation?
I have no answers, only questions. One day, I hope to ask God what was the point of it all. As Stephen Fry recently noted when asked if after death he found himself in front of the pearly gates: “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?”
Seriously, what’s the point of it? In the book of Job, the answer given seems to have been: “Who do you think you are to be asking me that question?” But, if the Bible is true, humans were created in the image and likeness of God; I therefore presume upon that likeness to ask the impertinent, impolitic, and possibly blasphemous question: “Why?”
And yet, I know that God exists. I have experienced his providential care. Yes, what I call providence could be chalked up to chance, but I’ve also experienced miracles in my life — at least one of which was witnessed by others. My life (and those with me) has been saved twice in miraculous ways, at least one of which has no rational explanation. I have therefore personally experienced the hand of God working in my life.
When I begin to doubt the goodness of God, I am also forced to remember the goodness of God towards me. The God who seems to delight in suffering, also seems to delight in being good towards his creation. I cannot reconcile the two. One day, I hope to ask God the same question Stephen Fry asks: “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?”