This is more of a theological musing than an in depth study. I was recently discussing the problem of evil with my students and the idea of the “best of all possible worlds” was raised.
In Voltaire’s Candide, the character of Pangloss takes a accepting, complacent attitude towards the things perceived as wrong in life. He takes the view that this world is the best one possible. As such it can be argued that there is no reason to make any effort to change things perceived as evil or wrong.
This dismissive take, I guess, is one way of dealing with the problem of evil, or the Epicurean Paradox.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but unable?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
The he is malevolent.
Is he both able, and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God.
Epicurus’ argument is reliant however on the existence of evil as a tangible “thing.” It fails to put “evil” in a context. One counter to this is to contextualise evil. Darkness in the absence of light. Evil similarly is the absence of good. Augustine of Hippo called evil “the privation of good.” Evil is not a thing itself, but the absence of the standard of Good which is God. In a sense it could be argued that without God (therefore reinforcing His existence) one could not perceive “evil.” I will not here explore Augustine’s conception that the creation was perfect because God is perfect, and it was the corruption of free will that cause the “privation.”
An alternative argument for the existence of evil is a step beyond Pangloss. Rather than dismissing imperfection as being part of “the best of all possible worlds,” Irenaeus’ asserted that the perceived evil in the world is meant to be here in order to perfect us in dealing with it. The term he used was soul-building. In much the same way as an infant perfects themselves and move away from their self-centred morality to a higher state through age and experience, our souls too are developed through our responses to “evil.” Put simply, evil serves the purpose of soul-building. What is your take on that? I find it an interesting take, but one fraught with potential problems when looking at the nature of God. These of course can always be countered with the idea that God sees not as we see, and that He alone knows the purpose and outcomes of all things.
I will take a closer look at Augustine’s theodicy in a future post. Till then let us trust in God, and allow Him to transform us as our souls are “built” in His righteousness.