Soul-making & the Greatest Good as divinely willed ends in an Anti-theodicy

As I have grappled with the problem of evil, I have been rationally satisfied by different logical accounts of the divine economy, all which seem, more or less, consistent with special revelation, some seeming not to be necessarily mutually exclusive from others, none seeming to necessarily be the case.

I view soul-making and the greatest good as divinely willed “ends” for which neither evil nor suffering are divinely willed “means,” which, instead, include, for example, epistemic distance and theosis.

Epistemic distance necessarily introduces finitude and contingency, which, while they can constitute failures to cooperate with grace, merely result from “inabilities.” While moral evil can also constitute such failures, those result, instead, from “refusals” to thus cooperate, in a word, sin.

An anti-theodicy can logically affirm both divinely willed soul-making and the greatest good as “ends,” while denying evil and suffering as necessary “means” in the divine economy? God would never intend evil or suffering but whenever confronted with same could work — not with, but — providentially against and around them and seemingly, perhaps, could even opportunistically exploit every new set of circumstances to bring about the greatest good (Romans 8).

Now, in this scenario, anthropological questions would beg for me about why we wouldn’t necessarily suffer from mistakes, only from sin (but, oh what a better world it would be!) Still, I’d rather remain theologically skeptical, on one hand, about how epistemic distance and theosis, alone, might have (even if somewhat implausibly so) operated in a possible world without evil and sin than, on the other hand, skeptical regarding God’s lack of moral intelligibility vis a vis what might exculpate Her from employing sin and suffering as necessary means (often seemingly repugnantly so).

Did Hugh McCann offer a soul-making, greater good evidential theodicy, arguing — not only “that,” logically, but — “how,” plausibly, sin and evil were “necessary” divine means?

Or did he otherwise recognize that, logically, the realities of sin and evil, even if probable, were definitely not necessary, and could successfully be worked around without overwhelming the divine economy with its eschatological, soteriological, sacramental, ecclesiological or sophiological ends?

As for the uninstantiated “possibilities” for moral evil, as logically entailed by freedom, they would have no ontological status. Arguably, too, sinful choices would result in axiological privations, evil, itself, having no ontological status?

Also, God, in McCann’s acount, appeared to be ontologically authoring, pre-morally, only an indispensable ontic evil (via epistemic distance as finitude not sin), which a proportionate reason would underwrite with the currency of a greater good, but otherwise remained teleologically uninvolved with any intentional agency, who, alone, would have directly intended such an evil, hence, alone, committing a morally culpable act.

Perhaps this is all more consistent with Scotus, who believed that the Incarnation was in the divine will from the cosmic get-go and not occasioned by some felix culpa.

God neither needs nor wills sin. Epistemic Distance requires ontic privations, not deontic depredations.

Apart from the life of prayer, there can be no talk of doing theology.

We all engage, whether explicitly or implicitly, in a philosophical triad of saying, unsaying and weighing.

We aspire to descriptive accuracy of God in saying what He, analogically, is like, then unsaying what He, literally, is not, or analogically, is not like, weighing the cumulative evidence presented by tradition, only ever coming up with successful references to — but, not descriptions of — God.

This is often called natural theology or philosophical theology but it’s, essentially, philosophy. It provides no proofs. It frames up questions but gives no conclusive answers. It does demonstrate that our existential leaps in faith can be reasonable, a reality most seem to know, implicitly, in their very bones and via common sense, but which, for others, needs to be worked out, explicitly, in our heads.

A theological triad, however, engages in saying, unsaying and praying, telling stories about our encounters of divine immanence, quieted by our encounters of divine transcendence and reflecting on our experiences in prayer:

how our cooperating with the Spirit in synergia, loving God, others, cosmos and even self, has, theopoietically, taken us from image to likeness

how our surrendering in the loving contemplation of theoria has, theotically, gifted us unitive experiences of divine communions, partakings and participations in the activities, works and energies of God!

The divine antinomies of theology — as expressed in scripture, tradition and reason — are not finally resolved philosophically but get dissolved existentially by an Answer that arrives in the form of intimacy via a robustly, Personal relationship.

Apart from the life of prayer, then, there can be no talk of doing theology.

Now, there can be a philosophy-speak that takes place within the life of faith and after the leap of faith, a true theology of nature. But it’s much more closely related to psalmody and scriptural allegory than it is to philosophy. It’s moreso a prayer of the heart.

So much of the impulse for philosophical theology today seems animated by the search for a persuasive evidential theodicy, which, for all sorts of reasons, I believe is misguided. For one thing, theodicies seem rather cold, hence cruel, responses to many of life’s victims. For another, theodicies can be so summarily and cursorily dismissive of the enormity of human suffering and immensity of human pain. Let us eschew, then, specific theodicies in response to the evidential problem of evil and be content, rather, with general defenses in response to the logical problem of evil, as have been handed down and refined in our traditions.

The most effective response to a world disoriented, lost, hungry, wounded, marginalized and deformed, then, will come from a missiology, wherein we cooperate with the work of the Spirit in the fivefold Christological mission that will

  • orient us, eschatologically
  • save us, soteriologically
  • nurture and heal us, sacramentally
  • empower us, ecclesiologically, and
  • transform us, sophiologically.

The problem of evil doesn’t finally resolve, philosophically, but dissolves, existentially, through the realization that we are be-loved. Far more than any conceptual map-making, our participatory imaginations will gift us divine communion along with all the gifts it entails.

What return shall I make?