Journey Back to God: Origen on the Problem of Evil

Journey Back to God: Origen on the Problem of Evil

Journey Back to God: Origen on the Problem of Evil

Journey Back to God: Origen on the Problem of Evil

Synopsis

Journey Back to Godexplores Origen of Alexandria's creative, complex, and controversial treatment of the problem of evil. It argues that his layered cosmology functions as a theodicy that deciphers deeper meaning beneath cosmic disparity. Origen asks: why does God create a world where some suffer more than others? On the surface, the unfair arrangement of the world defies theological coherence. In order to defend divine justice against the charge of cosmic mismanagement, Origen develops a theological cosmology that explains the ontological status and origin of evil as well as its cosmic implications. Origen's theodicy hinges on the journey of the soul back to God. Its themes correlate with the soul's creation, fall and descent into materiality, gradual purification, and eventual divinization. The world, for Origen, functions as a schoolroom or hospital for the soul where it undergoes the necessary education and purgation. Origen carefully calibrates his cosmology and theology. He portrays God as a compassionate and judicious teacher, physician, and father who employs suffering for our amelioration.

Journey Back to Godframes the systematic study of Origen's theodicy within a broader theory of theodicy as navigation, which signifies the dynamic process whereby we ascribe meaning to suffering. It unites the logical and spiritual facets of his theodicy, and situates it in its third-century historical, theological, and philosophical context, correcting the distortions that continue to plague Origen scholarship. Furthermore, the study clarifies his ambiguous position on universalism within the context of his eschatology. Finally, it assesses the cogency and contemporary relevance of Origen's theodicy, highlighting the problems and prospects of his bold, constructive, and optimistic vision.

Excerpt

Few problems bridge the gap between the rarefied heights of the ivory tower and the dusty streets of real life like the problem of evil. The perennial question of why God allows suffering, particularly innocent, unjust, and egregious suffering, confronts the scholar and street sweeper with equal force. Both must face it from within their particular contexts and with their distinctive conceptual resources. Theodicy, or the rational attempt to reconcile the reality of evil with the goodness and justice of God, operates in both realms. Traditionally, theodicy has been confined to scholarly discourse on the problem of evil, but theodicy, in the expanded sense of the attempt to explain or make sense of suffering, occurs in daily life, albeit often in ways we might not immediately recognize. The allure of and fascination with evil stems primarily from its existential and intellectual import: it resonates with our personal experiences of suffering and with our global awareness of the ubiquity of violence, heartache, and injustice.

This book explores the problem of evil neither at the global level of the conceptual difficulties it raises for theism generally nor at the personal level of my particular perspective on the problem. These considerations stimulated my interest in the project, but they are not the subject of the present study. Rather, this book examines the problem of evil in the thought of Origen of Alexandria (185–254 C.E.) and analyzes his pioneering theodicy, which functions both to vindicate divine providence and to guide the fallen soul back to God, as we will see. Origen’s reflections on the problem of evil anticipate later formulations, even as he offers an optimistic alternative to Augustine and Augustinian visions of theodicy. Ironically, the strength and weakness of Origen’s theodicy both consist in his creative and controversial employment of philosophy to explicate his theological story of the fall of souls into materiality and their ultimate ascent back to God after an extensive journey of purification and illumination.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.