The Existential Problem of Evil: Theodicy, Theosis, and the Threat of Meaninglessness

Angela Rae Sager, Fordham University


Traditionally, philosophers have treated the problems posed by evil as potential counterarguments against theism. Theistic philosophers remedy problems posed by evil by constructing arguments that square the existence of a personal, providential God with the reality of evil. However, as many critics point out, these philosophical solutions bring little comfort to sufferers. Even if these solutions resolve conceptual difficulties, they fail to adequately address the personal damage done to the sufferer. A more contemporary and secular approach to evil eschews philosophizing about evil and instead develops techniques that amend instances of suffering. Although technique may ease physical and psychological pain, it ignores or trivializes suffering caused by meaninglessness. I contend that a sufferer’s inability to be consoled by conceptual or technical solutions to her suffering may stem from the fact that evil can render her life meaningless—which I call the Existential Problem of Evil (the ExPoE). ‘Meaning’ here refers to a person’s own subjective experience—how she relates personally to the world and the effectiveness of human effort in that world—and to the meaning of things outside of the person (how a person understands the structure of the world and the purpose of non-human things in that world). Existential suffering reveals to us the possibility of an ultimate futility at the heart of the natural and cultural systems in which we find ourselves as well as in ourselves as finite beings. If we approach evil and suffering by way of the ExPoE, I argue we can arrive at a guiding model of evil that is both theoretically and existentially adequate. This guiding model is a two-pronged approach premised on the development of the world over the process of time. First, understanding evil in light of evolutionary theodicy does existential work so long as it makes sense only of natural suffering necessary to the emergence of free, conscious being. However, only theosis aimed at the atonement of the world can make sense of suffering caused by free, conscious being. Existential suffering seeks eschatological redress, and the hope found in a Christus Victor model of the Atonement addresses this suffering.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Philosophy of religion|Metaphysics|Theology|Religion

Recommended Citation

Sager, Angela Rae, "The Existential Problem of Evil: Theodicy, Theosis, and the Threat of Meaninglessness" (2021). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28496133.