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Theodicy and The Insight of Our Trials

As a chaplain, my most important job is to provide religious services, spiritual guidance, and counselling to those in need in prisons. During one of my visits, I was pulled towards a curly-haired man who reminded me of ancient Greek philosophers. He was shouting his lungs out, "If God exists, why am I here?!"  I approached him smiling. I asked him in a kind voice, "Why do you blame God even though you did what God said not to?" 

He replied, "Wasn't God strong enough to stop it?"  

Thus, the subject in question was Theodicy. 

Theodicy, in its most common form, is an attempt to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, thus resolving the issue of the problem of evil.  If there is a relationship between evil and God, what is the nature of this relationship? 

Epicurus argued that “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.” 

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? 

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

In my opinion, Epicurus missed the interrelationship between God and creation.

David Hume raised this ambiguous statement again, “Since God does not prevent evil, then we assume that there is no God.”

There exist two main avenues in the Islamic and Christian philosophical realm. Firstly, those who do not accept the ontological reality of evil — secondly, those who take evil in terms of human freedom and competence.

First of all, it is necessary to distribute the events seen as evil in two categories. The first kind of evil arises from human nature, such as acts of robbery or murder, etc. The second one is evil of its nature, like earthquakes or floods etc.

The view that rejects evil ontologically says that “The creation of evil is not bad, its processing is evil.”  The Final testament says, “..We created everything beautiful.” (Qur’an: 32:7) So according to this point of view, there are two kinds of beauty. Directly beautiful and indirectly beautiful.  We can mention ‘health’ as directly beautiful and ‘disease’ as obliquely (indirectly) beautiful.  Because without the disease, we would not be able to realize a reality called health. God created existence in health. There is health on the axis of asset design. To be able to understand such a blessing; the disease has been created. This way, people can be at peace with themselves. In this context, evil is relative. If it is the absence of goodness, therefore, evil does not exist itself.

The second is the view that accepts evil in an ontological sense and sees it as an opportunity for human empowerment. The trouble and disasters that come to human beings or societies are for development and learning. God could have created humans like robots if He wanted to, but in this situation, people could not have consciousness. If we evaluate evil and goodness, we recognize that good is more than bad in this realm. Therefore, there is no evil in design.

To avoid evil in the ontological sense, God had to create a creature like Himself, who is not helpless or in need, and who has eternal life. Without death and disease, none of the disasters would have any effect. But God is the only entity that does not die and is not incapable. In other words, everything owes its existence to Allah, the absolute being. If Allah had created a world that was not helpless, in need and imperfect, this world would be God. Nevertheless, God is the only being who is far from being flawed. Consequently, everything else is imperfect.

Calamity is a reality of this life.  This world is the experience of trials. As I’m talking to many prisoners about how we need to build insight into our trials, I use my religious background and advise them how they can handle their failures; under four main specifications.

The first one is the person deserves the calamity and the reason is redemption. It is hoped that a person who is sent to prison for committing a crime itself will be helpful to his forgiveness in the future. However, if people were not punished even though they were guilty of criminal offenses, they would face a greater Divine struggle in the Hereafter. You should think the same way when you get sick. At the time of the disease, as the storm leaves, he says, “He poured my sins away.”  If one had an accident, he must say that it must be salvation for my sins. 

The second is the person did not deserve the calamity; Allah only uses such catastrophe to increase his reward in the Hereafter. And when he is patient with this calamity, our Lord will reward him. For those who do not believe the higher reason, this world will feel like a punishment. But for the believer, it is a painful yet peaceful and hopeful waiting room. It always gave me great pleasure to watch prisoners who have found peace in their faith.

The third kind of calamity is like a light after darkness, as mercy after pain. It is a calming rain that follows after a thunderous storm. It is a disaster that sometimes strengthens one’s destiny. As the disease strengthens the immune system, there is an opportunity for learning in every calamity experienced. Sometimes people get the chance to listen to themselves and come to some realization by doing the internal work; one finds guidance. Those who cannot find any help outside may find the support they need inside themselves.

The fourth kind is the blessing of the Lord. This calamity prevents the coming of a greater disaster. For example, the person who is convicted even though he is not guilty, questions, why did I arrive here and do what? But he doesn’t know that maybe if he were out that would cause a bigger disaster. Those who get married and have children and then have a divorce should always think that it could have been worse.

Therefore, all kinds of disasters become blessings. First engraves punishment, the second reward, third natural disposition, and fourth compassion. How good is our Lord who declared: “..but it may well be that you hate a thing the while it is good for you, and it may well be that you love a thing the while it is bad for you: and God knows, whereas you do not know” (Qur’an: 2: 21)

-Bilgin Erdoğan


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  1. What about the ones who do not deserve the calamity AND are also minors such as toddlers suffering for years due to some terrible diseases? How should we think about the relationship between those people and the second type of disaster? I'm not arguing though, just want to understand your point of view from a different perspective.