Providence and the Problem of Evil

Providence and the Problem of Evil

Providence and the Problem of Evil

Providence and the Problem of Evil

Synopsis

Why does a loving God allow humans to suffer so much? This is one of the most difficult problems of religious belief. Richard Swinburne gives a careful, clear examination of this problem, and offers an answer: it is because God wants more for us than just pleasure or freedom from suffering. Swinburne argues that God wants humans to learn and to love, to make the choices which make great differences for good and evil to each other, to form our characters in the way we choose; above all to be of great use to each other. If we are to have all this, there will inevitably be suffering for the short period of our lives on Earth. But because of the good that God gives to humans in this life, and because he makes it possible for us, through our choice, to share the life of Heaven, he does not wrong us if he allows suffering. Providence and the Problem of Evil is the final volume of Richard Swinburne's acclaimed tetralogy on Christian doctrine. It may be read on its own as a self-standing treatment of this eternal philosophical issue. Readers who are interested in a unified study of the philosophical foundations of Christian belief will find it now in the tetralogy and in his trilogy on the philosophy of theism.

Excerpt

The Universe with its billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, many of them probably orbited by the smaller and colder bodies which we call 'planets', has been expanding rapidly for the last fifteen billion years. The 'Big Bang', which began this period of the Universe's history, may have been the beginning of the Universe itself, or the Universe may have had an earlier history -- possibly one without beginning. For the last three billion or so years there have been animals on the planet Earth, and more recently humans. Maybe there are animate beings on other planets too, but of them we have as yet no knowledge. The traditional theist, who believes that there is a God who is all-powerful and perfectly good, believes that God created and sustains all this, for supremely good purposes. Some of these good purposes, he believes, have already been realized or are now being realized. But most traditional theists, and among them Christian theists, believe that other good purposes are yet to be realized in this Universe or in another one; and that what is happening in the Universe now is a necessary step towards the realization of these other purposes. These good purposes include the perfecting of this Universe in all its aspects and the worship of God in the life of Heaven by those humans who have freely chosen that sort of life. The world is thus, according to Christian theism, the object of God's providential care -- he foresees and meets the needs of his creatures. Some of the good purposes of God concern all creatures or all humans, and these are the concern of what is called his general providence; others concern particular individuals -- he has a certain good purpose for me and another one for you -- and these are the concern of what is called his special providence.

Such is the Christian doctrine (and that of many other forms of theism). But if God has these supremely good purposes for the future, why the delay? Why cannot we have their benefits now? And notoriously the world contains much suffering and other evil which it would seem that God would (in virtue of his perfect goodness) have sought to prevent, and (in virtue of being all-powerful) . . .

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