Worldly Justice: Evil and Suffering Result from Human Actions



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Leininger: RS 200 Cunningham & Kelsay, Chapters 6-8 Page of

Problem of Evil, ch. 7

Four Classic Patterns of Religious Response to Evil (CK, 113)



  1. Worldly Justice: Evil and Suffering Result from Human Actions. Justice Reigns in This World—in the Long Run. Law of cause and effect: “You reap what you sow.” Evil and good are each the result of past actions and not chance. Evil never goes unpunished. You eventually get what you deserve. Law of Karma. Buddhism—the self is the source of evil; to overcome evil one must overcome the self by reaching enlightenment. Question: why does Karma exist and not some other law? Who or what created it and why?

  2. Promise: The Sacred Will Ultimately Conquer Evil. (reassurance/trust)—at some point in the future good will conquer evil, justice will be done, completely and the meaning of suffering will be revealed. God will conquer the problem of evil. Examples: Messiah (Judaism and Christianity), the mahdi or rightly guided one (for Shi’a Muslims), or afterlife, heaven/reign of God. Augustine: evil is a privation or lack of being

  3. Sovereignty: Evil is Beyond Human Understanding. [Latin: super—over, above;+ English: reign—rule] The supreme ruler/monarch. Independent of and unlimited by any other authority. The human question “Why evil?” = the wrong question. It falsely assumes that humans can see and understand things from God’s perspective. The sacred is ultimately inscrutable (impenetrable) or beyond human understanding. The sacred transcends and is not limited by ordinary human justice. The sacred has absolute freedom and supremacy over all that exits. Calvin—God reveals all of the knowledge of God and the universe that humans need and that is helpful for humans.

  4. Dualism: Evil is the Result of a Conflict between Powers of Good and Evil.

    1. Partial dualism: Bible—Satan = God’s creature and ultimately subject to God’s sovereignty/supremacy. Satan = a challenge to God that God allows but can’t possibly win.

    2. Stronger dualism: Zoroastrianism—two twins born of the Creator: one chose good and the other evil. They battle for supremacy over the world and the hearts of humans. Good and evil are on a more equal footing but the Creator is still in favor of good and the hope is that humans will ultimately choose good and transform the world.


Five Criteria to Judge Answers

  1. Internal Consistency. Does it contradict itself taken on its own terms?

  2. True to Experience. If empirical claims are made, do they correspond to human experience? More broadly, does the approach in fact lead to a fulfilling life?

  3. Psychologically Satisfying. Is it emotionally or experientially satisfying? Does it meet psychological needs? (reassurance, comfort, truth?)

  4. Moral Consequences. When rightly understood, what effect does it have on human freedom? Does it tend to promote human evil or good?

  5. Does it Uncritically Accept the Assumptions Behind the Question? For example, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Questions make assumptions.


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