Job and the Theodicy Problem, part 1
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Job and the Theodicy Problem, part 1 

Inspired by an insightful series of sermons by my pastor, Rev. Shawnthea Monroe of Plymouth Church of Shaker Heights, I offer some thoughts of my own. The Book of Job deals with the Theodicy Problem, which Rabbi Harold Kushner in Why Bad Things Happen to Good People summarizes nicely. He notes that the presence of evil (undeserved suffering) is incompatible with the notions that God is both all powerful (i.e., God is in control and our world is a theodicy) and that God is good. If God is all powerful, then the presence of evil means that God is not good. If God is good, then the presence of evil means that God isn’t all powerful.
Some have argued that suffering serves a greater end, so what appears to be bad is in fact good. There are at least two major problems with this view. First, it flies in the face of experience. Few people with a debilitating chronic disease or who had lost a child would be able to find good coming from the experience that even remotely compensated for the suffering. Second, the theory posits that the suffering or death of innocent individuals is ultimately beneficial – presumably to those who are not suffering or have not died. This is the logic of scapegoating, which I think is incompatible with the faith of Christ.
A related approach proposed by the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, and satirized in the character Professor Pangloss in Voltaire’s novel Candide, is that we in fact live in the best of all possible worlds. Yes, there is suffering, but the world would be even worse if this suffering did not occur. Again, our everyday experience contradicts this view. If a child is born with crippling physical or mental disabilities, we might reasonably wonder, “Could not an omniscient God do better?” Indeed, Charles Darwin’s agnosticism was largely due to his observations of suffering in nature. He saw so much violence, suffering, and premature death that he concluded that a good God could not be in charge.
Nearly everyone has a time in their lives when the notion of a good God is challenged. I think nearly all children and young adults, as well as many adults, have a sense that they are special and that they deserve good things. This, I think, is a major impetus for the lottery – a part of their psyche is convinced that they deserve to beat the odds and attain the wealth that is their due. In reading biographies, I find that people who have made great accomplishments often relate that they always believed that they were destined for greatness. I strongly suspect that nearly everyone in their youth has such convictions, but for the vast majority of us reality hits and we need to reorient our expectations. For many, participating with a group or an institution that has power and influence is a substitute for individual accomplishment, which explains in part the fervor with which many people defend institutions to which they belong.
The nearly universal sense of individual entitlement receives its greatest shocks when there is tragedy or profound disappointment – events that tarnish the lives of nearly everyone. How do we retain faith in a loving and caring God when these things happen? We can conclude that God is not loving or caring, but if that were the case we would be disinclined to worship God. We might perform rituals out of fear of God’s wrath, but not out of love or admiration. It is against the backdrop of these issues that I will begin to explore theological implications of the Book of Job next essay. 

Go on to: Job and the Theodicy Problem, part 2
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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