The Irenaean Theodicy

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The Irenaean Theodicy

Part one- Introduction

To summarise; the Irenaean theodicy speaks of "soul making" and the earth and our lives as "A vale of soul making". Human beings are imperfect raw material- created that way. We improve upon and mature through "challenges of evil", eventually arriving at a proper relationship with God whereby we can enter heaven (or a variation thereof). If we do not reach the proper relationship in one life we will be reincarnated to try again.

The theodicy is named after Irenaeus, not denying that suffering and evil exist but seeking to show that God allows it to exist to bring about a greater good- human freedom and the ability of human beings to have a relationship with Him. 

Human life is imperfect but as we are made in the image of God we have the oppurtunity to develop into what God intended us to be. As we encounter the sufferings that come with life, we have the opportunity to grow and learn. Without good and evil this would be impossible.

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The Irenaean Theodicy

Part two- Irenaeus quote and John Hick

"How if we had no knowledge of the contrary, could we have had instruction in that which is good?[...] For just as the tongue recieves experiences of sweet and bitter by means of tasting[...] ; so also does the mind, recieving through the experience of both the knowledge of what is good[...]"

John Hick's approach to the problem of evil is as follows; evil is something to be tackled and overcome, as part of an overall divine plan. Therefore evil is necessary and without which there is no spiritual growth. 

"A world without problems, difficulties, perils, and hardships would be morally static. For moral and spiritual growth comes through response to challenges; and in a paradise there would be no challenges."

Hick discribes the world as a "vale of soul making" - and environment within which people can grow. 

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The Irenaean Theodicy

Part three- Job and suffering

As Job's experience shows, some suffering is unmerited. This is justified on three grounds; firstly it purifies the sufferer by giving  them an opportunity to strengthen their character. Secondly, suffering can produce virtues not otherwise shown, thus producing courage in the sufferer and sympathy in those who care for them. Thirdly, examples of suffering endured with courage and faith can afford moral and spiritual inspiration to others. 

However it's said that some suffering is not ennoble but degrading, and some does not evoke sympathy or inspire others. Other pain is so prolonged and acute that it cannot be justified in earthly terms.

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The Irenaean Theodicy

Part four- Criticisms

  • Irenaeus' theory works on small levels but not big eg. in regards to pain creating empathy in others, we can recognise how bad a broken arm would be if we bruised our arm and thought about it times ten- but could we ever empathise with someone in acute pain, beyond anything we can imagine?
  • Allowing everyone into heaven once they 'try enough' seems to excuse evil people
  • What about extreme suffering (see pt 3)
  • Why didn't God make a morally perfect world in the first place? Why create the trials to get to heaven? It seems pointless
  • Suffering seems arbitrary (random) and evil people can have good lives, good people can suffer terribly
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