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The concept of theodicy

The concept “theodicy” denotes the problem of suffering experienced in a world that is construed as divinely conditioned. The problem has two sides to it: understanding suffering and coping with suffering. A full-blown theodicy of modern times is not to be sought in archaic documents. Yet, the two sides of the problem correspond both to the modern apprehension of the concept and the ways suffering was encountered and dealt with in the New Testament world.

The dominantly intellectually grasped difficulty of reconciling the benevolence and omnipotence of God with the reality of evil in the world (trilemma) so trying to plead the cause of God (theo-dicy) did not take firm shape until the Enlightenment and the work of philosophers such as Leibniz. In fact, this era brought about many kinds of changes in dealing with the theodicy problem. For instance, in earlier times the contradistinction between the reality of suffering and certain characteristics of God led people to seeking an improved understanding of the deity. After the rise of the modern problem of theodicy in the Enlightenment period, the crucial question has largely been how to altogether believe in the existence of a divine being.

In contemporary discussion, practical approaches to the problem of suffering have come to the side of many more theoretical and traditional ones. Today, a mere intellectual grasp of the problem is often accused of coldness and cynicism inappropriate in view of the issue itself. For the victims, rationalization is of no use. On the contrary, by rationalizing evil it is in a way justified, its existence is accepted. “No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of the burning children of Auschwitz.”

The theme of the cross of Christ has centrally contributed to the discussion. In particular, the theme has provided apposite material for elaborating the so-called suffering of God theodicy. In this context the cross of Christ appears not – exclusively or primarily – as the locus of the vicarious suffering of Christ for the sins of the world, but as an expression of God’s empathy, solidarity, and co-suffering with the suffering creation. In part due to the contribution of the theme of the cross, the suffering of God theodicy nowadays forms one of the central practical approaches to the problem of suffering.