Original Abstract: Considerable effort has been expended on constructing theodicies which try to reconcile the suffering of unwilling innocents, such as Job, with the existence and nature of God as understood in Christian theology. There is, of course, abundant reflection on the problem of evil and the story of Job in the history of Jewish thought, but this material has not been discussed much in contemporary philosophical literature. I want to take a step towards remedying this defect by examining the interpretation of the story of Job and the solution to the problem of evil given by one important and influential Jewish thinker, Saadia Gaon.
Saadya’s second category is purgation and punishment. When someone has done something wrong, the crime can leave a stain on the sinner’s character or soul. Though this metaphor needs some cashing out, Saadya was of the opinion that pain and suffering can play their role in helping to reform the sinner. This second category of suffering keeps ‘a person who has done something bad from getting worse’ and rectifies ‘his accounts so that he is not in moral debt any more’.
Saadya’s third category of pain and suffering, is the trial. This type of suffering is reserved only for those human beings who God knows will pass. He inflicts pain and suffering on them in order to increase their merit, and therefore, their eventual reward. ‘According to Saadia, then, God permits suffering to come to an unwilling innocent, but apparently just for the sake of rewarding him in the afterlife for his having endured such suffering.’
- One thing that Saadya and Aquinas share is the assumption that God can be judged according to the standards of human morality. This tradition seems to begin with Abraham, and his despairing remark, ‘Shall the judge of all the earth not act justly?!’ But, if we take seriously the inscruitablity of God’s ways, and the formidalble difficulties in the way of even describing God, can we really claim to have the tools to judge him at all? Isn’t the whole idea of a theodicy reductive of Divinity? Or, perhaps the same question can be put without appeal to the inscrutability of God, but to the primitive nature of the term ‘good’. Wittgenstein, for example, argued that Euthyphro’s approach to piety (that the pious is only pious because it is loved by the gods) was more profound than the alternative (that piety was loved by the gods because of its piety) because Euthyphro’s approach ‘cuts off the way to any explanation ‘why’ it is good, while the second interpretation is the shallower, rationalist one, which pretends ‘as if’ you could give reasons for what is good’ (pg. 115, Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: Conversations Recorded by Friedrich Waismann, ed. Brian McGuiness, 1979, Oxford: Blackwell – Thanks to Gabriel Citron for showing me this quote). If God’s actions are good by definition, however they may appear to us, then theodicy is transformed from reductive to unnecessary.
- A suggestion: perhaps the assumption underlying question 1 goes some way towards explaining Maimonides’ theodicy, which Stump raises difficulties with in the paper. Maimonides’ considered position is that we can’t really say all that much about God at all. Even the active attributes and predicating perfection of God, Maimonides seems to waiver over. Some times it seems like they pass, but at other times, it seems that even they can’t really be said meaningfully. Thus, when Maimonides says that God never allows pain or suffering to go on without a just cause in terms of the sufferer’s sin, he is saying something that by his own lights he can’t really say. I would venture, that he thinks Saadya’s position is heretical because it seems to imply imperfection on God’s part, in the guise of injustice. But that he doesn’t really believe his own theodicy, he just thinks that it’s the only kosher theodicy out there. But, the intellectually perfect, who see through the various purposeful contradictions and riddles of the Guide to the Perplexed will realise that theodicy isn’t possible.
- Why doesn’t Stump elaborate more, in this paper, on what seems to be a hugely significant difference between Aquinas and Saadya, in that Aquinas has a doctrine of the Fall-of-man and the cancer of the soul, whereas Saadya doesn’t? Is the difference less important than it seems?
- What is the nature and what are the virtues of the collectivised, or communal epistmology that Stump so tantalisingly alludes to at the end of the paper?
- Another suggestion: Perhaps the Midianite and Cannanite children that Saadya puts into category three really were going to have terrible lives. Their parents were to be killed, presumably because of their moral corruption, and they were going to live their lives as outcasted orphans, instead, they were given the trials and tribulations, in their short lives, which helped them to escape a whole lifetime of misery and led them to an eternity of Divine reward. Is such an account convincing for the suffering of all children? I don’t think so. But perhaps it works for the case at hand.
- A final question: for Aquinas, why couldn’t God create a world in which our moral cancer had a less harsh cure than the sort of ‘chemotherapy’ envisioned by Aquinas; and, similarly, for Saadya, why couldn’t God create a world in which the damage done to the soul of a repentant sinner could be removed without pain? Don’t these theodicies leave some work to be done?