Critique of John Hick - An Irenaean Theodicy
Sontag (Frederick)
Source: Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, ed. by Stephen T. Davis, ©1981, John Knox Press, pp. 55-58
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  1. (p. 55) Hick asks if a world which contains sadistic cruelty can be regarded as the expression of "infinite creative goodness?" But the prior, and the more urgent, questions are: (1) What does "goodness" mean in God's case, and might it encompass cruelty?; and (2) Should we agree to regard the world as an expression of goodness in the first place? Hick acknowledges that there are different concepts of God, but he states that he will discuss a "specifically Christian" theodicy, as if somehow that solved the question of how to define God's nature. To work within a Christian framework certainly narrows the range, but our central and primary concern is still how to conceive of God. For instance, Hick states that Christian theology has centered on the concept of God as "limitlessly good and loving." That simplifies the argument if it is true, but what is the evidence that Christianity has accepted any such crucial assumption? Or more accurately, what is the evidence that we all agree on what "limitlessly good and
    (p. 56) loving" means and that our problems do not stem from our differences here?
  2. Hick opts for a view which makes the world a training ground for persons to grow in God's likeness. This is an edifying thought, as Kierkegaard would say, but then why does the world look so unlike that to so many people? And surely only a few piously religious treat it that way — even granting that such a minority could be right. It is true that Hick opts for an "epistemic distance" from God, so that we are not overwhelmed in our growth by an overpowering divine presence. This is a plausible way to look at the God-human relationship, but what it does not explain is why so many, perhaps a majority, were put so far away that they do not even see this world as a divine training ground. Would Hick argue that we are at "just the right" distance to achieve optimum growth? Our world hardly looks that way.
  3. If God wants finite persons to come to know and love him in their own freedom, why did he create so many obstacles in our way? Those children who die young, as so many do in so many lands, hardly have a chance to get a start on God's race track. The sport of horse racing seems to have worked out a better and a more rational system of handicaps than God imposed on us. If he wants us to freely love him, most humanity simply responds: give us half a chance! Hard won virtues are better than virtues created ready-made. We can agree with Hick. But is that what the problem of evil is all about, or is it not rather that wanton destruction too frequently breaks out? In placing us at a distance from him to learn to love him, did God go too far and shove too many into outer darkness? Do we really all seem to exist at "just the right" distance from God? If so, why are we in such continual confusion about even the right direction to look for him? God is too good, or else he is unfair, at playing hide and seek.
  4. Hick is content if he can show that our actual world is at least one of those which might exemplify God's plan, but we need to know more than that. If we are not to think God poor in his choices, we need to know why we inhabit this particular world, which is not optimal for Hick's purposes, rather than some other one designed to give more of humanity an even break. God has arranged stages of creation through which we must go, Hick thinks, but does our world look like a training gym, now equipped with universal machines in the twentieth century, designed to hone our bodies and spirits to perfection? Only a few beautiful bodies survive out of billions, and spirits are broken every day. If God designed this training program, we need a new coach. We would not be able to develop without danger, it is true, but my problem is why the dangers were designed so that they actually break and destroy so many?
  5. Hick argues that growing toward God beginning from a distance requires moral choices in a pain and stress environment in "broadly the kind of world of which we find ourselves to be a part." Here is the heart of the issue, but "broadly" is too vague. Unless we are to think God clumsy or imprecise in his choices, we must either argue that our world is optimum for these purposes or
    (p. 57) admit that God's pressure on us goes beyond all bounds justified by these gentle aims. Our world has the pain and stress needed for spiritual growth, but enough is enough, and it would appear God turned the pressure up so as to destroy some while educating only a few. If he is "gradually creating perfected finite persons,' we must accuse God of poor engineering and suggest a refresher course at M.I.T. Hick admits that the threat to his argument comes from the "sheer amount and intensity" of evil, but recognizing this he still does not alter his argument in any way as a result.
  6. Hick asks us: we do not want God to take away freedom, do we? But this is like the college administrator arguing against a proposed new curriculum by saying, we don't want lower salaries, do we? The issue with our administrator is whether curriculum changes really necessitate lower salaries, and the issue with God is whether freedom is possible only in this way, or whether we could have freedom and more desirable circumstances in which to exercise it. "All's well that ends well," Hick's countryman agrees with him, but even if God has some "glorious kingdom" in store for us, this in no way proves that our world was the only way to get there, or that every horror in it was somehow necessitated or justified. People at their best seem more flexible and capable in improving design than this, which I suppose is why so many in the modern age have rejected treating evil as theodicy and have opted for anthropodicy (evil as solely the creation of human beings and thus of no religious concern).
  7. Our judgments about the intensity of evil required may be "relative," but surely they are good enough to know that evil in our world is destructive beyond any necessity, whether or not we can specify the exact perfect balance. In fact, there may be no simple balance point, which if true should cause us to rethink what "perfection" in God means. The fact that some people find any evil intolerable no matter how small does not prove that all the evils of our world are necessitated. Hick admits that the evil in nature is a bit of a mystery. He calls for us to build up mutual caring and love. That is well and good, but it also lets God dodge the argument of explaining why he chose the degree of destruction he decided to unleash on the world. Hick's own children would not let him get away with answering "do your best" when they ask why he places excessive demands on them, and we should let neither Hick nor God slip out of accountability so easily. We may be within the sphere of God's love and moving toward the kingdom, but that explains very little about why God chose a route through so dark a jungle.
  8. Hick again delays his answer to "some sphere of existence other than this earth." There may be a heaven in store, but to say that isn't a theodicy, is it? Our task in theodicy is to explain God's ways to humanity, which means to account for why evil was allowed to have the decisive place it has. To say "we'll have a nice time in heaven" even if true does not touch this question. If John Hick "gets there before I do," I hope he will thank God for the nice heaven, but then
    (p. 58) ask him why on earth he chose the avenue to it he did. If Hick will not, I will, granted St. Peter has not imposed martial law in order to silence all unfriendly questions from philosophers. However, like so many who are religiously or politically silenced, I ask only because I care for those lost on earth, and because I think the answer is our key to understand God.


Critique of "Hick (John) - An Irenaean Theodicy".

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