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Theodicy is a branch of theology which studies the reconciliation of the concept of a good or benevolent God against the existence of evil.

The name comes from the Greek words théos (god) and diké (right, just), meaning "a justification of God." The term was introduced by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in 1710, in an essay considering whether there is a conflict between the claims that (1) God is good and (2) evil exists. More generally, theodicies consider whether the claims that:

  • (1) God is
    • (a) omniscient,
    • (b) omnipotent, and
    • (c) benevolent; and
  • (2) evil exists

are compatible. Many proposed theodicies exist; none is accepted by every faith; none, in fact, is accepted by all members of any one given faith.

Leibniz argued that God is benevolent and that evil reflects the necessarily limited nature of the material world; moreover, God allows evils to exist that ultimately serve a greater good (although humans, being limited, may not know what this ultimate good is). This theodicy reflects the Rabbinic notion that human evil is essentially selfishness, and a necessary precondition for such useful human activities such as marriage, sexual reproduction and, commerce.

Some schools of the Kabbalah argue that the creation of the universe required a self-limitation on the part of God, and that evil is a consequence of God's self-imposed exile from the universe He created. But all this points to God creating an imperfect world, deliberately and by his own choice, with a "limited nature" that fostered the scarcity, want, and competition that naturally leads to evil. God of course (being omnipotent) could have chosen to make the world without these limitations (and in fact, he claims to have created this very sort of world, so we know he is capable of it), but made a choice to make this world with those very limitations that are the cause of evil.

In Unitarian Universalism, in much of Conservative and Reform Judaism, and in some liberal wings of Protestant Christianity, God is said to be capable of acting in the world only through persuasion, and not by coercion. God makes Himself manifest in the world through inspiration and the creation of possibility, and not by miracles or violations of the laws of nature. In short, because God is not omnipotent, humanity is guaranteed absolute free will. The most popular works espousing this point are from Harold Kushner (in Judaism). This is the view that also was developed independently by Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne[?], in the theological system known as process theology. In the Evangelical movement of the Protestant churches, Open Theism (also called Free Will Theism), similarly asserts that God acts only cooperatively, and lacks omniscience concerning the future.

The Bible and theodicy

The near sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most challenging, and perhaps ethically troublesome, parts of the Bible. A separate entry exists on this topic.

The Biblical book of Job is concerned with theodicy.

Holocaust theology

In light of the magnitude of evil seen in the Holocaust, many people have re-examined the classical theological views on God's goodness and actions in the world. How can people still have any faith after the Holocaust? There is a separate entry which discusses the theological responses that people have had in response to the Holocaust.

John Milton offers a succinct poetic summary of theodicy in his phrase "to justify the ways of God to Man".

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