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Soul-Making: Why It Stands

When presented with two choices, Kristi Karrenbrock always picks the harder
one. That may be in part why she is currently living in East Jerusalem working as a
schoolteacher, right in the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her daily life is not
your average schoolteacher’s life, that is for certain. Kristi’s life consists of many difficult
realities amid harsh circumstances of a nearly warring city. However, because she made
the decision to teach in the Middle East, she as a person and Christ follower has grown
dramatically. John Hick’s soul-making theodicy in response to the problem of evil shows
that evil’s presence in our world molds us into Christ’s likeness. Through explaining
Hick’s defense to why God allows evil I will present why the soul-making theodicy
justifies suffering and how it stands amidst opposition.
“To many, the most powerful objection to belief in God is the fact of evil.
Probably for most agnostics it is the appalling depth and extent of human suffering more
than anything else, that makes the idea of a loving Creator seem too implausible and
disposes them toward one or another of the various naturalistic theories of religion” (John
Hick 126). With this bold introduction, John Hick sets the stage for his defense on why
God allows evil to exist. Hick gets straight to the point. Many people view the allowance
of evil and it’s effects on humans as a bit more than tough love from God. It is something
that non-Christians and Christians alike call into question. What is the point of evil? Why
would a loving, all-powerful God allow His creation to undergo suffering? In response to
this, John Hick puts forth two theodicies. A theodicy is an attempt to say why God allows
sin and suffering in the world. The first theodicy is the free-will theodicy, which
essentially states that because God wanted intimate relationships with us, he risked the

possibility that we would sin so that we could have free will and choose to love him. The
second theodicy is the soul-making theodicy, which states that through the existence of
evil and suffering, our souls are developing to form godly traits that without this evil in
the world would be impossible.
Hick defines evil in two ways: moral evil and non-moral evil. Moral evil is
“wickedness” or sin, that which stems from man (Hick 127). Non-moral evil is “suffering
and pain, both physical and mental” or natural evil which is caused not by man, but by
nature (127). Hick explains moral evil more fully by saying that, “an enormous amount of
human pain arises either from the inhumanity or the culpable incompetence of mankind.
This includes such major scourges as poverty, oppression and persecution, war, and all
the injustice, indignity, and inequity which occur even in the most advanced societies”
(128). To show the distinction, Hick also explains non-moral evil, “Even though the
major bulk of actual human pain is traceable to man’s misused freedom as a sole or part
cause, there remain other sources of pain which are entirely independent of the human
will, for example, earthquake, hurricane, storm, flood, drought, and blight” (128-129).
Whether it be man or natural disasters, which seem to be an innate part of the earth itself,
that is at the root of suffering, the point is that suffering is a part of the human experience
and both evils are intermingled and have the potential to produce similar soul-making
results (129).
The fact that evil exists does not disqualify the opportunity for good. After all,
“evil is essentially parasitic upon good, being disorder and perversion in a fundamentally
good creation” (127), therefore if evil is a distortion, there must be a counter act to
combat and oppose it. It is through this act of undergoing suffering and pushing back

against the evil that our souls are being made, “Christianity, however, has never supposed
that God’s purpose in the creation of the world was to construct a paradise whose
inhabitants would experience a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of pain. The world
is seen, instead, as a place of “soul-making” in which free beings, grappling with the
tasks and challenges of their existence in a common environment, may become “children
of God” and “heirs of eternal life” (129). This world is believed to have been made not as
a hedonistic utopia where we live lives of comfort and indulgence, but as a place where
we are utterly reliant on our Creator for joy, well-being and salvation. Soul-making is
made possible through the fallen nature of this world and the saving grace of Christ,
“Following hints from St. Paul, Irenaeus taught that man has been made as a person in the
image of God but has not yet been brought as a free and responsible agent in to the finite
likeness of God which is revealed in Christ. Our world, with all its rough edges, is the
sphere in which this second and harder stage of the creative process is taking place”
(129). It is in part through our sufferings that we undergo sanctification and are truly
shaped and stretched. Without the suffering of hard times, how can we be challenged and
learn the tough lessons necessary to build our wisdom, perseverance, and faith? “Courage
and fortitude would have no point in an environment in which there is, by definition, no
danger of difficulty. Generosity, kindness, the agape aspect of love, prudence,
unselfishness, and all other ethical notions which presuppose life in a stable environment,
could not even be formed [in a hedonistic paradise]” (130). A broken world in which we
undergo suffering enables this essential soul-making that brings out characteristics of
Christ.

One opposition against John Hick’s soul-making theodicy is William Rowe’s
evidential problem of evil. Rowe believes it is highly likely that there have been evils in
this world that have led to no greater good or soul-making whatsoever and that God could
have easily prevented such acts without causing any equal or further damage. Among
such evils include terrible evils and pointless evils. Terrible evils are ones in which there
can be no justification for such horrendous acts done to another person. A pointless evil
would be one where we never know about it and thus cannot learn from it, an evil where
someone suffered without reason and without benefit. Therefore, partly, it is with these
two evils that are present in the world that Rowe believes God’s omnipresent, allpowerful, all-good existence cannot be so. “ The problem Hick’s theodicy leaves us is
that it is altogether reasonable to believe that some of the evils that occur could have been
prevented without either diminishing our moral and spiritual development or
undermining our confidence that the world operates according to natural laws” (William
Rowe 103). Essentially, there is a great deal of evil in this world that far surpasses that
which is necessary for character development, in fact some that can go against the
process of soul-making. With this, Rowe does not believe Hick’s soul-making theodicy
stands.
In response to Rowe’s objection that there is an overwhelming amount of terrible
and pointless moral and natural evils in the world that do no go towards soul-making or
can serve to go against soul-making, Hick believes that that does not trump his theodicy
or the existence of God. Hick argues that yes there are terrible evils in this world that
leave us baffled as to why they need to exist at all, however evil must be so hideously bad
in order for all people to truly grow morally, whether or not they themselves are the ones

suffering or not. If we lived in a world where the amount of evil allowed only served to
help the suffering person’s soul-making process, other people who are not immediately
suffering as well would not be able to also grow in that process as they would only see it
as beneficial for the one suffering. While those who are suffering may be so consumed
and greatly disheartened by the amount and intensity of the suffering they are undergoing
as to temporarily not gain from it, others who see this terrible suffering and evil are then
grown in compassion and evoked to action and kindness and thus experience soul-making
(John Hick 333-336). This shows how holistic the soul-making theodicy is. It is clear that
those who are immediately suffering are the ones who are in the midst of soul-making
and being grown in Christ-like qualities like courage and whole-hearted trust in God. But
what can be unclear or easily forgotten is that through the observance of those suffering,
others can undergo soul-making by being witnesses to those in hard times and can
develop hearts for those in need and become dedicated givers to charity, etc. Therefore all
amounts of evil can lend way to soul-making, whether through actual suffering, seeing
suffering, or being so in despair by the level and amount of suffering and evil in the
world that one cries out to God. Whatever way we experience suffering and evil in a
given circumstance, the possibility for soul-making and thus growing closer to God is
undeniable.
So what if Kristi had not seen her difficult choice as a means to experience soulmaking? What if I had gone straight to Wheaton freshman year instead of first trying the
clearly harder option of becoming a student athlete at UCLA and having the opportunity
to learn and grow in ways I could not foresee? What if the disciples had remained simple
fishermen and tax collectors in their towns and forewent the far more difficult yet

rewarding path as Jesus’ close companions? What then? Does a life absent of suffering, a
life of comfort and safety produce in us the people God meant for us to be? Without
experiencing suffering in any way, do we possess the innate capacity to give our utmost
for His highest? This world is an utterly broken, evil, suffering-filled place. We do not
grow Christ-like qualities through walking on eggshells and avoiding hardship at all cost.
It is by living fearlessly in the shadow of our Heavenly Father that we can live the life He
has envisioned for us- suffering, shaping, redemption and all. As Christians we are not
promised easy lives. But we are promised God’s eternal love, and whether or not we are
in the depths of suffering from the evils of this world, or we are atop a mountain full of
joy and peace, that is enough.

Works Cited
Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love. New York: Macmillan, 2007. Print.
Hick, John. "There Is a Reason Why God Allows Evil." Philosophy: The Quest for Truth.
By Louis P. Pojman. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 125-29. Print.
Rowe, William L., and Nick Trakakis. William L. Rowe on Philosophy of Religion:
Selected Writings. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007. Print