Theodicy of Love Pt. 1 (Dr. John Peckham)

The attempt to understand how God can be just and good in light of the countless evils that take place in the world is the purpose and study of theodicy. This week on Advent Next our guest is Dr. John Peckham professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy at Andrews University, and author of the new book “Theodicy of Love.”

“There doesn’t seem to be a 1-to-1 correlation of ‘you were good so you get good things,’ and ‘you were bad so you get bad things.’ In fact, the Bible argues in exactly the opposite.” Trying to answer huge life-altering questions about why God allows injustice if He is inherently good requires more than mere simplistic answers. Peckham walks us through some key aspects of creating the kind of framework that can help us begin to make sense of these types of questions.

“The suffering we go through is compounded by the attempt to find a reason for it, and usually a reason in God’s providential plan.” Our nature is uniquely wired to find meaning in our messes. Whether what we experience is good or bad, part of our human nature is to try and assign meaning to our experiences and what it means as far as what we can know and trust about God. “There’s no explanation of evil that relieves the suffering we experience, but sometimes we exacerbate it in our own minds unintentionally because we have this second level of how we make sense of it.” 

We also discuss some of the other theories surrounding the question of theodicy and ways they can either fall short or are limited in scope. One of these theories is the Free Will Defense. It argues that bad things happen because we have the freedom to choose things other than God would want. “And there’s no other way that creatures could have the kind of agency, the kind of freedom that’s necessary for love unless creatures actually have the ability to make decisions and some of those decisions might be otherwise than God wants and carry out at least some of the consequences of those decisions.”

 However, Peckham realizes the limitations to the Free Will Defense since a lot of things in life that happen in life that are not the result of our direct choices.

While we explore the proper framework for tackling such enormous questions regarding why suffering exists if God is just, the main premise of theodicy, Peckham leaves us with this advice:  “In the book of Job, we often overlook this, but for the first week Job’s friend came and they just sat with him. But they get into trouble when they open their mouth and try to explain things they don’t know.” Sometimes the best comfort we can provide is to be present and not theologize about the reasons why God allowed someone else’s pain. Since in truth, we really know very little about the reasons why or what God is doing behind the scenes. 

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