But there stands out the great fact of the existence of much suffering in the universe of God; and reason asks: “If God is almighty, all-wise, sovereign, why, if benevolent, did He admit any suffering in His world? Has He not chosen it because He is pleased with it per se?” It is no answer to say: God makes the suffering the means of good, and so chooses it, not for its own sake, but for its results. If He is omnipotent and all-wise, He could have produced the same quantum of good by other means, leaving out the suffering. Is it replied: No, that the virtues of sympathy, forgiveness, patience, submission, could have had no existence unless suffering existed? I reply that then their absence would have been of God no blemish or lack in the creature’s character. It is only because there is suffering, that sympathy therewith is valuable.
Suppose it be said again: “All physical evil is the just penalty of moral evil,” and so necessitated by God’s justice? The great difficulty is only pushed one step farther back. For, while it is true, sin being admitted, punishment ought to follow, the question returns: Why did the Almighty permit sin, unless He be defective in holiness as in benevolence? It is no theodicee to say that God cannot always exclude sin, without infringing free agency; for I prove, despite all Pelagians, from Celestius downwards, that God can do it, by His pledge to render elect angels and men indefectible for ever.
Does God then choose sin? This is the mighty question, where a theodicee has been so often attempted in vain. The most plausible theory is that of the optimist; that God saw this actual universe, though involving evil, is on the whole the most beneficent universe, which was possible in the nature of things. For they argue, in support of that proposition: God being infinitely good and wise, cannot will to bring out of posse into esse, a universe which is on the whole, less beneficent than any possible universe. The obvious objections to this
Beltistic scheme are two.
It assumes without warrant, that the greatest natural good of creation is God’s highest end in creating and governing the universe. We shall see, later in this course, how this assumption discloses itself as a grave error; and in the hands of the followers of Leibnitz and the optimists, vitiates their whole theory of morals and their doctrine of atonement. The other objection is, that it limits the power of God. Being infinite, He could have made a universe including a quantum of happiness equal to that in our universe, and exclusive of our evils.
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Isaiah 45:7
Robert L. Dabney
theodicee – an attempt to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil.
beneficent – resulting in good