Afterlife and the Problem of Evil
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Irenaeus’ theodicy

  • He did not attempt to show that evil and suffering  do not exist; he admitted that God appears to have allowed them to continue
  • God allows evil and suffering to have a place in the world and he allows a mixture of good and evil so that human beings can grow and develop into a free relationship with God
  • There had to be evil in the world for us to appreciate good
  • Good is qualitative so we need there to be other ‘less goods’ to compare it to
  • We have  to have evil in our world in order for us to develop and grow and we must learn from mistakes by persevering and having patience
  • Evil and suffering in the world are not just mistakes. They are part of design; of God’s original intention (even if God had planned it slightly differently!)
  • When God made humans in his ‘own image and likeness,’ this had to include giving them free will, whether the choices made were selfish/God-like, obedient or not
  • God made us in his own image but we have to grow into his likeness by using our freedom to do good and reach our potential
  • This can only be achieved if we overcome difficulties, cope with our imperfections and resist the temptation to do wrong
  • The earth is a ‘soul-making place’ in which we must develop
  • If God stepped in every time we made a wrong choice and put it right then this would remove our choices and prevent us from learning
  • Humans are not made from the start in the likeness of God because this can only happen after death when we have fully developed

Evil and suffering are necessary

  • They are part of God’s plan for us
  • Suffering should be endured because even if we cannot see the reason for it, we should understand that it is necessary to bring us closer to God to enable God to complete his purposes.

Augustine’s theodicy:

Two premises:

1)      Evil did not come from God, since God’s creation was faultless + perfect (no deliberate imperfections - “God saw all that he had made, and it was good”)

2)      Evil has come from elsewhere and God is justified in allowing it to stay

  • Evil came from the world, not God
  • Augustine described evil as “privatio boni” – a privation of good
  • Hierarchy found in the created world (angels at top)
  • Evil came into the world through the fall of the angels. They were perfect but some received less grace ( (help given by God to become holy) due to the variety of things
  • They fell because they misused free will
  • Adam then repeated this
  • Evil has followed from here
  • Free will is the cause of our doing evil...”

Resurrection and the problem of evil

The idea that our actions are rewarded or punished and that those who suffer unjustly are compensated in the next life is integral to religious ideas about resurrection.

Philosophically, Kant’s notion of the summum bonum expresses the common sense notion that if goodness is commanded, it ought to be achievable and good actions should be rewarded however, this does not always happen in this life.

Both the Augustinian and Irenaean theodicies require a belief in the afterlife. they both rely on the notion of free will and this in turn seems to require the idea of rewards and punishments if there is to be justice in the world


  • Death is a consequence of sin – had the first human beings not sinned, there would be no death
  • All human beings deserve suffering due to original sin, but God redeems the believer through Christ’s work
  • In his book ‘The City of God,’ Augustine theology of the resurrection includes the idea of the damned being embodied and burning forever in literal flames

Augustine’s idea has two main weaknesses:

  • Many modern thinkers find the idea of hell immoral (Hick) It is questionable whether God is morally justified in allowing an infinite punishment for a finite amount of sin
  • Augustine’s view on heaven and hell are further damaged by his belief that God predestines some to be saved. This seems to be unjust and contradicts his view that humans have genuine free will


He regards the initial state of creation of God as being in a state of immaturity like that of an innocent child. Our life on earth enables growth through our experience of suffering.

This leads humans to reach ultimate happiness, where they are able to see and know God.

Hick (1922-) has developed the idea of ‘soul-making’ and argued for the idea of universalism. He argues that the idea of hell is not to be understood literally and that a benevolent God could not eternally punish people.

Swinburne (1934-) argues that death is an essential part of a reasonable theodicy and it is only if our choices are limited by time that they acquire significance

He contended that if there will be always be another chance, what we do does not matter because this unlimited freedom has to include the possibility of damning ourselves to hell by our own actions

D.Z. Philips (1934-2006) has rejected soul making theodicies as they involve an instrumental use of evil by God. He contended that it cannot be morally right for a good God to permit evil, often on a massive scale, in order to bring about future good.

He argued that eternal life in heaven may be compensation but it does not correct the immorality. He did not believe in personal life after death

Reincarnation and the problem of evil

Much of what makes our quality of life lies outside our control such as inherited traits, social setting and status, all of which can lead to inequalities and potential injustices.This may impact on our ability to lead a ‘good’ life.

Reincarnation may solve this issue as it suggests that our situation is not random but the direct result of the law of karma

  • Our actions in previous lives have led directly to the situation we are now in
  • There are however difficulties with this solution

Reincarnation could be seen not as a solution to the problem of evil but a postponement of it. If we follow the causal chain and explain our present life in terms of the previous one and so on, the question arises as to how we explain our situation in our first life.

The suggestion that we suffer directly for our individual past actions is plausible according to a basic theory of reincarnation. However, in Vedantic Hinduism and Buddhism, it is taught that the idea of ‘self; is an illusion. If there is no ‘self,’ then it seems off that individuals should be rewarded or punished.

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