Letters Column in January: “Why Does God Allow Bad Theodicies?”

Posted on January 10, 2012 by Jenna

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Your idea of obedience not being good and rebellion being right makes me think about young Vincent idolizing his father, who is almost certainly evil, and the Monster, sitting on the throne of the world as he does, being functionally similar to God (in a less-than-omnibelevolent way).
— Xavid, on And Three Points is the Game

Why, good sir, are you really accusing the monster of not being perfectly benevolent?

What would that even mean?

How would you even define goodness, if the monster hath all of it not?

Er, I mean, haha, yeah. What was I talking about there? That was crazy. I slipped! Bad theodicy, Jenna. Bad theodicy!

The thing I was meaning to say is: the funny thing about “Vincent and the Devil” is that Vincent really is damning himself just fine on his own. The Devil isn’t manipulating him. This isn’t a story of the Devil tricking him. If anything, it’s a story of how and why Vincent is so dedicated to his path that the Devil himself couldn’t sway him from it.

Now, if it were a story about the Devil, and one day when we talk more about the Devil it will retroactively so be, then I’d have to talk about why the Devil bothered trying; what he hoped to get out of this; what he does get out of it, out of tempting or trying to save Vincent, I mean. But this isn’t a story about the Devil. It’s a story about Vincent. Vincent is very, very scared of being damned and doesn’t listen to anybody who suggests that possibly his path might lead that way already.

At least, I guess, not if they’re the Devil. Admittedly, he’s a rough one to listen to; in a lot of stories, you know, listening to the Devil isn’t ever the right thing to do, and Vincent doesn’t know he’s not in one of those.

And, heck, counterfactuals are trouble in general.

Maybe Vincent is in a story like that. Maybe walking away was the right thing to do. Maybe Vincent would have hurt more kids, or wound up dying worse, if he’d gone with the Devil’s offer; though I think I explicitly said late in Vincent’s story that that’s not how things are.


“How beautiful!”
— Rand Brittain, on And Three Points is the Game

Hahaha. Yes, exactly. Well spotted!


I’m trying to come up with motives for a God who doesn’t give answers, and who allows for and appreciates rebellion, at least in some forms. Perhaps God himself has a question he can’t answer, and the universe is an attempt to create something greater than himself that has the answer. Or God wanted to create something greater than himself out of benevolence (or boredom, if we’re being cynical), and by necessity such a thing has to have answers God doesn’t have. Making God imperfect is the easy way out of theodicy though. Perhaps God was perfect in himself when he was the only thing that existed, but as soon as he created something other, things got complicated. Along the lines of mathematical systems of sufficient complexity lacking some proofs, say any world complex enough to have the subject-object relation by necessity lacks some answers.
— dave.o, on And Three Points is the Game

Infinities are difficult. One theodicy I encountered at some point pointed out that even if the world were not perfect, the capacity of a perfect world to imagine this world, or the possible existence of this world as part of an infinite series converging to the perfect world, would suffice to give this world a certain kind of reality. And how are we to know that that is not exactly as much reality as it actually has?

I think ideas like this are relatively inadequate, though, because they have the feel to me of a transitional theodicy—that they’re a different way of invoking “God,” in this case abstract details of the structure of mathematics, and that a deeper understanding of that invoked God will restore the need for a theodicy. It may be totally legitimate to dodge the problem of suffering in the real world by invoking possible worlds and mathematics and limited knowledge, but if you take that dodge far enough you’ll wind up—

I suspect!—

Right back in a conundrum again.


“That’s bad number theory!” Six protests.

And Seven is close in on her now, and with a knife held in her trembling hand, and Seven demands, “Silence!”

And all becomes tableau.

Until finally, Seven withdraws a bit and says, “What you say is true, but like any other problem in mathematics, the difficulty may be resolved using limits.”
Six’s Story