John Hick’s Irenaean theodicy of soul-making is a response to the Epicurean problem, if God is omnibenevolent, then why is there suffering in the world? Unlike Augustine’s soul-deciding theodicy, the concept of original sin is not central to it. It states that we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), and by overcoming suffering we grow into the likeness of God echoing a remark by C.S. Lewis, “pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world”.
Originating from Keat’s Ode to a Nightingale Hick uses the phrase, “a vale of soul-making” to illustrate that in order for one to grow and develop spiritually we need obstacles in our lives to be challenging. Anthony Hopkins, in his portrayal of C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands reflects on this idea when he says “the blows from the chisel that hurt us so much are what make us perfect”. Hick also asserts that “virtues are better hard won than ready made”, however, one must carefully unpack this statement and one could easily be seduced by Hick’s protestant work ethic. It mirrors Thessalonians 3:10 “He who does not work shall not be fed” which later became a socialist slogan. It is also important to note that there are degrees of hardness with regards to suffering and in certain cases it can be too intense, for example, the third world suffering in Ethiopia is easily soul destroying and not soul making.
The world is religiously ambiguous as we are created at an epistemic distance (not in spatial terms as God is incorporeal). By looking at natural theology the theistic hand becomes evident. This concept is outlined in John Wisdom’s The Parable of the Gardener, the gardener is analogous to God who is continually restoring beauty and order in the world. Alternatively, Richard Dawkins argues for a secular Neo-Darwinian view of the world arguing “design occurs through a step by step process of non-random selection”.
Hick employs a counterfactual hypothesis to answer the question of why the righteous suffer as much as or more so than the wicked. The hypothesis argues that a world where evil deeds were rewarded with suffering and good deeds rewarded with happiness would not enable us to grow spiritually and morally as we would be acting out of a desire for reward and fear of punishment. Self-regard and self-giving love could not occur. Innocent suffering, like of that in Matthew “the Lord sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) allows us to show love and compassion to those who need it, for example, living a lower standard of living in order to give more to charity.
Hick’s theodicy postulates eschatological verification, the righteous ascend to Heaven and the wicked are damned to spend eternity in Hell. Heaven allows us to understand why we have to go through this process of suffering and demonstrates that God is truly holy if we require this altruistic growth. Hick argues that if the justification of evil and the universality of evil are within the creative process then salvation must also be universal, “only if it includes the whole human race can it justify the sins and sufferings of the entire human race throughout all history”. However, in The Brothers Karamazov Dostoyevsky, through the character of Ivan disagrees, arguing that the end (Heaven) does not justify the means (innocent suffering), Heaven is not worth this horrible process.