John Hick's Theodicy

(from Hick’s “The Problem of Evil” and “Evil and the Infinite Future Good”)


1.      God created persons and persons by definition/nature are free to sin

2.      A world in which there are persons (able to sin) who enter into a personal relationship with God is a better world than one without persons (and no possibility of sin and no ability to enter into a personal relation with God)

3.      Thus a world in which sin is possible is part of the best possible world


4.      Why didn't God make persons unable to sin?

         a.      Because that's a contradiction: Persons by nature have the ability to sin.

5.      Doesn't this mean God is not omnipotent? (There is something he cannot do)

         a.      It is no limitation on God's power to say he couldn't have made persons unable to sin, because this is a contradiction.

         b.      That God can't do the impossible is no limitation on God's power or freedom.

         c.      It is not a limitation to say God can't make a round square or a free being who can't sin, because there is nothing there to be done that God can't do.

6.      Why didn't God make persons who could sin, but in fact, never would sin?

         a.      Omniscience allows God to survey the future possible worlds and choose to create those people who could sin, but would choose never to sin.

         b.      But freedom is genuine openness: God can't know how persons will freely act since how they will act only becomes real in the act of choice, and only then is it knowable. Before a person freely chooses to act, there is nothing to know.

         c.      Thus there is no limitation on God's omniscience to say God doesn't know how people will act, because there is nothing there to be known until they act.

7.      Why did God make persons knowing they would sin. It isn't worth it.

         a.      Many would argue that it is worth it.....

8.      Why doesn't God intervene in the worst cases (after free choices are made)?

                  i.      This allows there to be persons who freely choose

         b.      Perhaps God has intervened and, in any case, the rest of Hick's theodicy addresses this


1.      World is a not a completed creation, nor a a hedonistic paradise (one made to maximize human pleasure and minimize suffering)

2.      World is a place of soul making and this requires suffering

         a.      World is one "in which free people wrestle with the problems of existence in an attempt to become children of God"

         b.      Purpose of this world is not provide pleasure for humans, but a place to realize the most valuable potentialities of human personality

                  i.      Moral integrity, unselfishness, compassion, courage, humor, reverence for the truth and capacity to love

                  ii.     These require challenges, difficulties, and suffering to overcome

3.      A world which allows for soul-making is better than a hedonistic paradise

         a.      In a hedonistic paradise, there would be no sciences, no hardships, no bad consequences of actions, no one could be harmed, no point to moral virtues like courage or fortitude

4.      Thus the best possible world has suffering and hardship in it

5.      Because all nonmoral evil and suffering must be a necessary part of fulfilling God's good purpose for creation, we need to postulate an afterlife in which soul-making continues

         a.      For in this life, some suffering appears to serve no such purpose

         b.      There can be no wasted lives; no suffering that ends in resentment, fear, selfishness and disintegration of character, and doesn't contribute to soul making

         c.      But is this afterlife worth all the suffering?

6.      Need to postulate an infinite future good that justifies all the finite suffering endured on the way to it.

         a.      This is not a "bookkeeping view" in which proportional pleasure is given to compensate for the extent of suffering previously endured

         b.      But all suffering will be seen to be a necessary means to achieve this infinite bliss for all

Questions on The Problem of Evil (Dostoevsky and Hick)

1.      What is the problem of evil? State the problem as clearly and explicitly as you can. What sort of God would not have a problem of evil?

2.      What does it mean to provide a "theodicy?"

3.      Explain the difference between moral and nonmoral evil, as Hick defines it.

4.      State Hick's free will defense for the existence of evil as fully and forcefully as you can. Is this an adequate theodicy on your view? Why or why not?

5.      Does the free will defense address all kinds of evils(=bads) in the world? Why or why not? Consider animal suffering. Are animals part of the “higher harmony?’

6.      How might Hick answer the following questions/objections: Why didn't God make people who were unable to sin? Why didn't God make people who were able to sin, but in fact never did sin? Why didn't God just not make people given they would create so much evil?

7.      Why does Hick think that it is no limitation of God's power to say God can't produce the logically impossible? Give examples.

8.      What reasons does Hick give for thinking that a good bit of hardship and suffering is necessary for the best possible world? Do you agree with Hick on this point?

9.      Is an afterlife a necessary part of a theodicy? What does Hick think about this and what are his reasons for his view?

10.    What is the difference between a bookkeeping view of the rewards of heaven and Hick's views concerning the infinite future good?

11.    How would Hick respond to Ivan's and Alyosha's suggestion (in the reading from Dostoevsky) that all the value in the world is not worth the pain and suffering of one small child tortured to death? Do you think it is worth it? Would you consent to the torture as a way to achieve “higher harmony” or “the infinite future good.”

12.    Evaluate the following theodicies: God didn't create evil, humans did; There is more good in the world than evil; Evil is necessary as a contrast with good; God's ways are incomprehensible and God has reasons for allowing evil that we can't understand; We have no right to question God's ways.