Theodicy: From Aquinas to Luther to Leibniz to Migliore

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In Daniel L. Migliore’s “The Providence of God and the Mystery of Evil,” from his Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (1991), along with Martin Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will (1525), articulate one of the most biggest challenges facing human existence, human being’s faith in God, and the means by which humans interact and form relationships with God through the appropriation of theological language is the co-existence of goodness and evil, or “theodicy.”

What arises in this challenge is the fact that evil should exist at all in our world, when our world is created by a God of transcendent Good that embodies the highest of all good. In other words, the existence of evil threatens human existence’s fundamental knowledge of what goodness is, shapes their faith in God as the ultimate source of that goodness, and defines the language they use to address God, particularly at times of human suffering. These three things are, on one hand, wielded by the presence of evil and necessity of validating the superiority of goodness, but, on the other hand, they become components of a theological existence that is constantly tested and influenced either negatively or positively.

The issue of evil and goodness co-existing is at the heart of the problem of theodicy that can, at least on the surface, be articulated by Migliore’s idea of God‘s goodness being providential and evil being a mystery. Evil and goodness both exist in juxtaposition, not only in theory but in practice. They are, perhaps, as a relationship, dialectical within the human nature of reality, where, as Hegel would argue, their mere co-existence represents a contradiction that restructures a thesis by an antithesis in order to arrive at a synthesis.[1] In Hegelian logic, then, the thesis would be that God’s goodness is providential, the antithesis would be that evil does not adhere to God’s providential goodness, and the synthesis would be that the co-existence of good and evil contradict, at best, the provide a conflict in the notion of theosophy. Not only is Hegel’s concept of dialectics essential to, perhaps, understanding the relationship between goodness and evil, but also as a way of articulating that the juxtaposed natures of goodness and evil create a existential dilemma in human existence.

While Voltaire, in his Candide, suggests, through the text’s fictional character Pangloss, that, in this existential dilemma in the goodness-evil dialectic, everything in our world exists in the best of all possible worlds –the notion that the balance between goodness and evil is theosophical, because God creates a world that contains the least amount of ethical or moral suffering possible so that goodness and evil can co-exist. This train of logic about our world being the best of all possible worlds originates with Leibniz who argued, in short, that, though God is the creator of all things good, God is also the creator of evil.[2] For Leibniz, the creation of evil in tandem with the creation of good denotes a balance between them that is determined by God through God’s creation of free will and human freedom –the gift of choice to human existence, which is especially evident in the Fall of Adam and the original sin. What Leibniz and Voltaire are both articulating, perhaps from two different perspectives, is not only does the existence of evil undermine the existence of goodness, at least in theory, when understanding the providence of God, but that God’s goodness creates human beings’ free will which, in turn, creates the possibility of evil. Essentially, de facto, then, at least in Leibniz’s view, God is the creator of evil.

What arises from this, consequently, is that free will, or human freedom frees human existence to act by the power of their will and to make decisions through their autonomy. But, unfortunately, free will, as Martin Luther correctly posits in his Bondage of the Will, is that becomes something that frees us, true, but also binds us.

Migliore echoes Luther through the essential supposition that the co-existence of goodness and evil presents a problem: a theodicy. To take Migliore a bit further on this note, what he describes as the providence of God as the creator of goodness addresses theosophy, while, unfortunately, that same theosophy seems less theosophical due to the inherent mystery surrounding the creation of evil. The initial question, then, is how can evil and goodness co-exist?  The next question, if appropriating Migliore’s argument, must be, particularly in reference to the first is this: does the co-existence of evil and goodness affirm the providence of God, refute it, or simply re-define it? Moreover, if faith in God is meant to validate the Providence of God, does that same faith function as a means of theorizing that the co-existence of evil and goodness is theosophical, transcending the human understanding?

To that extent, for Aquinas, God has a transcendental good, where all things are good by God’s goodness, particularly working under the perspective that “everything is therefore called good from God’s goodness […] everything is called good by reason of the likeness of God’s goodness inheriting it.”[3] This, in turn, is extending Aristotle’s argument about the nature of the whole having the good and the highest good.[4] This, in some regard, presents a final question within the theoretical framework of theodicy and theosophy: is the existence of evil actually a form of goodness created by God through God’s providential nature and God’s ordination of free will to human existence?

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[1] Hegel discusses his concept of dialectics as a “negative movement,” which I would argue redefines any thesis. Georg W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Translated by A. V. Miller (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1979), 124

[2] Philip P. Wiener, ed. Leibniz Selections (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), 509.

[3] James F. Anderson, ed., An Introduction to the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas (Washington D. C., Regnery Gateway, 1953), 87.

[4] Hippocrates G. Apostle, ed. Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Des Moines, IA: The Peripatetic Press, 1979), 210.

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