The term "theodicy" was coined by German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) in an essay written in 1710. It derives from a combination of the Greek words theos (god) and dike (justice) and is used to signify any justification of God's actions in the face of suffering and evil. Theodicies are predominant in the monotheistic religions, where thinkers seek to defend God's will and omnipotence, while explaining the presence of evil.
According to the free will theodicies, evil stems from the exploitation of free will by humans. However, a world with free will and creatures who might err is deemed better than a world with creatures who always do the right thing without being able to do what is wrong. Thus, God has to create a world implying suffering and evil if he chooses to create a world with genuinely free creatures.
In his essay, Leibniz addressed two types of criticisms of God's actions. The philosopher insisted that God had created the most perfect of all possible worlds. He defended this by arguing that the world is governed by the simplest rules, it contains a variety of creatures reflecting the divinity and secures maximum happiness for all sentient beings. To counter the second criticism, which claimed that God has created evil at the expense of his holiness, Leibniz sticks to the view of St Augustine (354–430) that evil is just a privation of good and that it does not exist within itself.
The educative theodicies claim that evil exists to test the human character and to provide a chance to the living creatures to enrich their knowledge. In line with this type of theodicy, the communion theodicies also see evil and suffering as a way to test the being but this time it is the faith that is challenged. According to the communion theodicies, suffering provides a chance for relationship and communion with God. The eschatological theodicies say that present suffering will be more than compensated in the future blissful life which transcends personal death. There are also theodicies that refuse to explain evil and prefer to defer understanding of suffering. The proponents of these theodicies put their trust in God's ultimate goodness and accept the idea that the mystery of suffering cannot be ever fully comprehended.
Judaism and Christianity have offered the clearest examples of theodicies. The Hebrew scriptures provide the basis for theodicies in both religions. The view is apparent in Genesis where God created the world but man's sinfulness corrupted it. The Book of Job presents a theodicy of deferral as it makes clear that the creature cannot demand from its creator to render account. The rabbinic teachings highlight the positive value of suffering as a means of discipline of character and communion with God.
Christianity also presents a number of theodicies, with the New Testament putting the stress on eschatological theodicies. Christ's resurrection is seen as proof that the righteous are able to overcome suffering and death. The letters of Paul offer an insight into the communion theodicy as they picture suffering as a way to test the hope, endurance and character of the Christians.
Meanwhile, Islam offers no clear theodicies but the Qur'an addresses the problem of suffering, explaining it as a test of righteousness. Those who withstand the suffering will ultimately have their reward, an idea bringing the Qur'an's teachings close to the eschatological theodicies. Hinduism and Buddhism cannot provide examples of theodicy because they deny the involvement of any God in the process of suffering or the creation of the world. The problem of suffering in these systems may be reduced to that of the constant reincarnation (samsara) or the illusionary nature of the world (maya).
Theodicies can thrive apart from religion if the alternative explanation of theodicy by German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) is adopted. He extended the application of the term to cover any situation of inexplicable or undeserved suffering and the theodicy itself represented any rationale that could explain such suffering.