1 A second-century philosopher and Bishop of Lyon. He is probably best remembered for his theodicy and his major work Against Heresies.
2 The key text in this theodicy is Genesis 1.26, where God is described as making man in his own image and likeness. From this Irenaeus develops the idea that human beings are born in the image of God but it is only through living and growing that they can become his likeness.
3 This allows Irenaeus to move away from saying that everything God creates is good to the argument that God has deliberately put obstacles in our path so that by overcoming the challenges we become his likeness. Adam and Eve are now immature and in need of help to become the likeness of God.
4 This means that our character is not fixed and we become the people God wants us to be through a free decision to grow through the pain and suffering we find in this ‘vale of tears’. As a minor analogy, your parents could do all your homework for you but you would never learn anything and have no chance of passing A-levels. Of course, if all your homework is a joy and you never suffer to learn something, then this analogy would not work.
5 As the clay is moist and mouldable in the hands of the potter so Irenaeus thinks we should offer our hearts to God in a soft and mouldable state, preserving the form in which the Creator made us. If we become hardened, then Irenaeus believes we are rejecting the work of his skilled hands.
6 It should, therefore, be clear that it would undermine God’s plan if he were to interfere and stop evil in people’s lives. Also, we do not see things from God’s perspective and do not know what other evil might ensue if God stepped in to change something about our lives.
7 If God were too close to humanity, people would be unable to make free choices and would then not grow in the way Irenaeus believes they should. Hence John Hick argues that we are born at an epistemic distance from God — a distance of knowledge. We cannot know God directly or it would limit our freedom.