One Theodicy to Unite Them All: Or, The Explanatory Power of Narrative Theodicy

Of the tasks required for theodicy construction, first comes a sort of theological prolegomena; namely, the question as to why one should bother with a theodicy at all. More specifically, in his 1985 “Self-Profile,” Alvin Plantinga criticizes the entire project of identifying such God justifying reasons for evil, stating:

And here I must say that most attempts to explain why God permits evil – theodicies, as we may call them – strike me as tepid, shallow and ultimately frivolous. Does evil provide us with an opportunity for spiritual growth, so that this world can be seen as a vale of soul-making? Perhaps some evils can be seen this way; but much leads not to growth but to apparent spiritual disaster.

While Plantinga has since retracted this position; his point is clear. Alongside William L. Rowe, he finds most theodicies to fail in their justifying account of “the variety and profusion of suffering in our world.” On this view, a theodicy fails if it only partially accounts for evil by way of its explanatory framework.

Essential theological anthropology, however, begs to differ. As a result of human finitude, writes Marilyn McCord Adams, “the mystery of Divine goodness is permanently inexhaustible by us and permanently partially inaccessible by us.” Consequently, any God justifying reasons for evil, notes Adams, “are only partial, and that for any disclosed to us, there are and always will be deeper ones we cannot fathom.” As such, an all-encompassing approach—one that claims to account for every instance of suffering under its explanatory framework—is not necessary in order for a theodicy to succeed. Rather than proposing “global and generic” theodicies for God’s permitting evil; the theodicist should instead examine partial justifying reasons in which “some evils can be seen.”

In keeping with this methodology, the proposed paper introduces a novel response to the problem of evil—namely, a Narrative Theodicy. This unifying approach integrates the partial reasons of Free Will Theodicy, Best of All Possible Worlds Theodicy, Soul-Making Theodicy, Higher Order Goods Theodicy, Aesthetic Theodicy, Felix Culpa Theodicy, and Thomistic Theodicy into a single justifying account. While still partial in its explanatory power; by integrating each of the aforementioned “immanent goods” and “transcendent goods,” the Narrative Theodicy combines a number of partial justifying reasons into a more wholistic and overarching response to the world’s present suffering.

4 thoughts on “One Theodicy to Unite Them All: Or, The Explanatory Power of Narrative Theodicy”

Leave a Comment