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Problem of Evil: John Hick “Philosophy of Religion” Essay

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Updated: Mar 24th, 2022

Problem of Evil

The first part of the paper is a discussion on evil and suffering. The second part is the proposed solution on how to deal with evil and suffering. In John Hick’s book entitled Philosophy of Religion he devoted a chapter on the problem of evil. He states that this is a theological problem for those who believe that a loving God exists. If God is evil then Hick’s proposition is useless. But it can be argued that most believers in the Jewish, Christian, and even Islam religions believe that God is good. Thus, Hick was justified in saying that the existence of evil in this world is a problematic phenomenon for these believers.

Hick said that some tried to excuse the existence of evil as an imaginary thing. But the author countered that even in the Christian Bible it is clear that evil is real. The Bible records “every kind of sorrow and suffering, every mode of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ and of our painfully insecure existence in the world” (Hick, p.77). He then added, “There can be no doubt, then, that for biblical faith evil is entirely real and no sense an illusion” (Hick, p.77). Once this issue of evil has been settled then it is time to find an explanation and perhaps a solution.

Hick said that there are three major responses to the existence of evil. He said that the first one is centered on the idea on the fall of man, from an original state of righteousness to something that is less than ideal and therefore mankind is now capable of inflicting evil unto himself and unto God’s creation. The second view is what he called the Irenaean response and it is the belief that evil and suffering are God’s tools of perfecting a still imperfect world (Hick, p.78). The third one is the idea that God is not that powerful and therefore he has no ability to deal with the problem of evil and suffering.

Suffering because of Oppression

Rosemary Ruether, in her article entitled Suffering and Redemption: The Cross and the Atonement in Feminist Theology provides a feminist perspective on suffering. For her it is not a mere theological problem as suggested by Hick. Ruether has no problem with the idea of evil, her struggle is the way people try to deal with it. She said that “The tendency of many cultures is to look for someone or something to blame” (Ruether, p.95).

She said that others blame evil spirits etc. Finally, she said the clincher, and she wrote “Women are the favored victims of this explanation for suffering, including accidents that befall their husband and children. Even a woman who miscarries is presumed to have done something amiss to have caused this misfortune and is pressured to confess even on her recovery bed” (Ruether, p.95). This is indeed an interesting take on evil and suffering.

Ruether goes back to the origin of these ideas of women being used as scapegoats and in the past even hunted down as witches. She said this is because of the belief that a woman was responsible for the entry of sin into the world. The only problem with this assertion is that there are cultures who had no access to the Bible story of Eve eating the forbidden fruit. Yet all the same women in those cultures were treated as if farm animals are more important than them.

Ruehter objects to the way this cruelty against women is being perpetuated using religion. She said that women should not endure the “harsh enforcement of her subjugation” (Ruether, p.99). It is clear from her feminist standpoint that women should rise up and oppose the oppressor. In this way pain and suffering can be dealt with more effectively.

Another Way to Understand Suffering

Rita Nakashima Brock in her article entitled On Mirrors, Mists, and Murmurs provides another perspective with regards to women’s suffering. Since she is an Asian American woman, a daughter of a Japanese mother, a Puerto Rican father and an American stepfather, allowed her to see racism and issues of inequality to be one of the main reasons why women suffer. She wrote, “The history of Asian American women in this country is a forced retreat into caves of silence” (Brock, p. 236). She proposed a solution and it is a mystical solution that calls for the ability of Asian American women to have access to spiritual mirrors that will truly reflect who they are and not what other people say.

Brock said that the negative impact of suffering requires healing but healing does not come from blaming others or projecting pain on other people. She said that healing will occur if women learn to accept the pain as the result of injustice. This is where the analogy of the mirror comes in. The author said that the moment pain is personalized then healing will come.

Brock said that these things cannot be achieved if women remain silent. She said that for a very long time men had dominated society and the passage of time seems to justify the oppression as a fact of life. She said that this should not be the case. Women should let the world know what is going on inside them. It is not acceptable to let men treat them like a doormat and trample them endlessly. Although Brock’s point of view must be respected the question remains if women will rise up, will it end evil and suffering? Brock has to prove that if women are empowered are they able to use their newly discovered independence and power to end pain and suffering?

Suffering and Mary

This is the second part of the paper and the following deals with the proposed solution on how to tackle the problem of evil and suffering. Anne Clifford in her article entitled Mary, Virgin Mother of God explains how Roman Catholics were able to deal with suffering in their lives. She said that other Christians would turn to their God for help. The same thing can be said of Roman Catholics because they too believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but the members of this sect seems to have found a secret weapon in their battle against evil, suffering, and a host of other problems. It is the adoration and veneration of Mary the mother of Jesus Christ.

Anne Clifford said that God is viewed in the same way that people view authoritarian fathers and this means that when coming into prayer it is difficult for the sinner to come face-to-face with a judge. So they would rather have an advocate on their side. In the gospel narratives, especially in the Book of Luke from chapters 1 to 4 one can see a delicate and almost frail Mary who was forced to carry a burden. But it is her humility and weakness that endeared her to many and so, “Mary becomes the intercessor of divine mercy. To her a suffering people turned for solace” (Clifford, p.187). This is one way how Roman Catholics deal with pain and suffering in their lives.

Non-Christians according to Clifford can still benefit from the veneration of Mary because from the feminist perspective Mary gave them hope, that women can transcend the negativity associated with the sin of Eve. Clifford said that this is not without precedence because ancient cultures even in Greek and Roman civilizations one can see the importance of the goddesses that reign supreme in their religions.

From the Perspective of Christ

If one will look at the perspective of Marcus Borg, in his article entitled Jesus the Heart of God one can argue that for a Christian believer there is no need to venerate goddesses or even elevate Mary to the position of a deity if one is desperate to look for a healing balm to soothe the suffering caused by evil. Borg asserts that what is needed to help suffering humanity is a radical reinterpretation of Jesus Christ.

In this way people will be able to understand his central message and it is none other than a God who seeks to be with men and to connect with them in a profound way. In the gospels, in the Book of John chapter 14 a disciple of Christ asked him to show them the Father. Jesus replied that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father. Thus, God is not inaccessible and if Jesus is the heart of God then people will find the assurance that if they will call, God will listen.

Borg did not say it clearly but he seems to imply that the dogmatic view of Jesus makes it difficult for non-Christians to appreciate him and the reason why many are losing interest of the Christian religion. His main argument can be understood from this statement: “Anybody who has the mind and power of God is not one of us, no matter how much he may look like us … whenever we emphasize the divinity of Jesus at the expense of his humanity, we lose track of the utterly remarkable human being that he was” (Borg, 83). It is important to rediscover Jesus.

A rediscovery of Jesus means that he has become one of us and therefore he can empathize with us and understand what we feel. He felt hunger, he was abandoned and experienced injustice when charged with a crime that he did not commit and yet ended up crucified. If he can feel what people feel from the mundane to the extreme suffering of life then he is accessible and mankind has found a way to ease his suffering.

The Way We Understand Sin

Another way to deal with pain and suffering is to find a solution to it. For a religious person there is no better way than to find a spiritual solution to mankind’s problems. In Borg’s article entitled Sin and Salvation: Transforming the Heart one way to transcend the problems of humanity, to deal with it ,and to some extent to solve it, is to have a proper view of sin. This is important because sin, for a Christian is the beginning and the end of all discussion. If sin is forgiven then there is blessing. If it remains then there is a curse. Thus, pain and suffering occurs.

Borg understand all these but he said the problem is made acute when a Christian is overly generalizing the problem. Borg fears that issues are not resolved not because there is no resources to resolve it or that God is powerless to resolve it but simply because we do not know what to ask and therefor we do not expect to receive a specific answer. In this regard Borg suggests that instead of using a generic term for mankind’s problems and call it sin, it would be better to call these problems by its real name. So if oppression is the problem then the prayer should be about oppression. If poverty is the problem then poverty should be pinpointed, prayed over and the supplicant must be expectant of a specific answer.

The author said it succinctly when he wrote, “The question …. is whether sin is the most helpful way of naming what is wrong” (Borg, p.167). The answer is no. If a religious person seeks solution to his problems then he must learn how to offer specific prayers. As the saying goes if we aim at nothing then we will probably hit nothing. This is an important insight when it comes to the power of prayer. Borg is teaching a radical way to enhance the effectiveness of prayer especially for those who believe in it.

Born Again

Another way to deal with pain and suffering is to be transformed. This seems to be the main idea of Borg in his article entitled Born Again: A New Heart. Borg said that the born again experience will only be a reality in our lives if we make a commitment to follow Jesus. This is the first step. The second step is to embrace the fact that there can be no rebirth before death. Therefore, we must learn to die, spiritually speaking, just like a seed that falls to the ground and yet after a few days emerge as a new creation – from a dead receptacle into a new living thing.

Borg said that the experience is not something that can be had by simply reading a book or praying. He said, “The born-again experience can be sudden and dramatic. It can involve a dramatic revelation, a life-changing epiphany, as in the case of Saul on the Road to Damascus, an experience through which he became Paul” (Borg, p.117). This is important in terms of pain and suffering because it can be argued that there are sufferings that are self-inflicted, like the person addicted to cocaine. Without a doubt the alcoholic and the drug addict wish to be freed from this bondage but seems to find no hope, only a frustrations and the inability to break free.

This is where the concept of the born-again experience comes in. It is the ticket to a new life. It is like being given a clean slate, the debts are erased and the offenses are all forgotten. No penalties. No damages that needs to be paid. But there is more. The born-again experience does not only cancel the debts but it allows for the creation of a new man or new woman. The body made ugly by needle marks and broken by the effect of alcohol can be expected to rise up once again in newness of life.

Calvin’s Solution

In Readings in Christian Theology a book edited by Robert King and Peter Hodgson, one can find an article written by John Calvin. In this article Calvin seems to propose a theological framework that can help answer life’s deepest questions. He focused on the idea of providence and the sovereignty of God. This means that God is in control of everything. This is problematic in two ways. First, it has been mentioned earlier that if God is a good God then why would he allow evil to exist in the world. Secondly, Calvin is not only saying that God allowed evil to happen but he also confirmed that God had the power over everything and therefore God has the power to stop evil and yet he did not prevent it from happening.

This does not mean though that God is evil because he allowed evil to happen. According to Calvin one can explain everything through the idea that God has a secret plan and that our feeble minds cannot comprehend its beginning and end (King & Hodgson, p.124). This is difficult to accept especially in the modern age where everything can be or must be explained through logic. It seems that Calvin is simply trying to create a convenient escape route because he could not answer what the critics has been saying all along.

On the other hand there is another way to look at Calvin’s statements regarding providence and sovereignty. It is the acknowledgment that indeed we have finite minds and we are only able to access a small portion of God’s knowledge. It is therefore impossible for us to understand the conflict that exist in the idea that a good God allowed the proliferation of evil in this planet. If we take a closer look at Calvin’s insights we may see that he is actually asking us to trust God.

Works Cited

Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity. CA:HarperCollins, 2003.

Brock, R. Nakashima. “On Mirrors, Mists, and Murmurs.” Weaving the Visions. Eds. Carol Christ & Judith Plaskow. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

Clifford, Anne. Introducing Feminist Theology. MI: Orbis Books, 2001.

Hick, John. Philosophy of Religion. 4th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990.

King, Robert & Peter Hodgson. Readings in Christian Theology. MN: Fortress Press, 1985.

Ruether, Rosemary. Introducing Redemption in Christian Feminism. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.

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