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Definition: theodicy from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In Christian theology, defence of the justice of God and investigation of the problem of evil. It is a subdivision of natural theology. The term was introduced by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in his ‘Essai de Theodicee sur la Conte de Dieu, la liberte de l'homme et l'origine du mal’ 1710.


Summary Article: Theodicy
from The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

From the Greek theos, “God,” and dikê, “justice”; a theodicy attempts to explain why God is just to allow evil. That an all-powerful and all-good God would allow evil is called the “problem of evil.” One famous formulation of the problem of evil is by philosopher David Hume (1711-1776): “Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” A successful theodicy, then, will show that God's being all-good and all-powerful is not logically inconsistent with His allowing particular types of evil (e.g. moral evils such as rape or murder and natural evils such as tsunamis and disease). Each type of evil may require a different theodicy to answer it.

Since Christians acknowledge that evil is real (unlike Christian Scientists who consider suffering and evil an illusion), they argue that God cannot disallow all evil and still accomplish other valuable things. Augustine (354-430), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), and Alvin Plantinga (b. 1931) have argued that it is more valuable for creatures (e.g. angels and humans) to have free will, and therefore the ability to abuse that will by choosing evil, than for God to create automatons that cannot make real moral choices.

John Hick (b. 1922) following Irenaeus (120-202) has argued that it is more valuable for God to allow evil than to remove all evil because God is making souls and soul-making can only occur in the face of real evil. People can only learn unselfishness, compassion, love, and other virtues valuable for eternity when confronted with evil.

Ultimately, Christians point out that God may allow evil now, but that will not continue. One day God will remove all suffering and evil at the Judgment and then the righteous will forever enjoy eternal life.

SEE ALSO: Evil; Free Will; Milton, John (1608-1674); Openness Theology; Evil, Problem of; Suffering

References and Suggested Readings
  • Augustine (1964). On free choice of the will. Prentice Hall Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
  • Davis, S. T. (ed.) (1981). Encountering evil. John Knox Atlanta, GA.
  • Feinberg, J. (1994). The many faces of evil. Zondervan Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Hick, J. (1966). Evil and the God of love. Harper & Row New York.
  • Leibniz, G. W. (1985). Theodicy. Open Court Chicago.
  • Lewis, C. S. (1940). The problem of pain. Macmillan New York.
  • Plantinga, A. (1974). God, freedom, and evil. Eerdmans Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Swinburne, R. (1998). Providence and the problem of evil. Clarendon Press Oxford.
  • van Inwagen, P. (ed.) (2004). Christian faith and the problem of evil. Eerdmans Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Clay Butler Jones
    Wiley ©2012

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