Until the reviews of That All Shall Be Saved started coming in, I never considered theodicy as a possible objection to the greater hope. Roberto De La Noval was the first reviewer to raise the question:
If God can be judged morally evil for permitting the possibility eternal suffering, even if not directly or antecedently willed, why would God not also be evil for allowing the possibility of temporal sufferings of the most horrendous and egregious kind, and then, through creating us, for ensuring that this would be the reality for all born into a world already fallen?1
I judge Noval’s to be a thoughtful, well-reasoned presentation of the theodicy objection; but at the time I did not find it compelling (sorry, Rob)—not because I brilliantly discerned the fatal flaws in his argument but simply because I found it personally irrelevant (more on that later).
Michael McClymond, a respected Jonathan Edwards’s scholar, quickly followed suit with his version of the argument:
If creaturely action is always “enfolded within his [God’s] decision,” and God is “making us to do” as we do, then we might legitimately ask: Why does evil exist at all? In seeking to explain how evil is finally overcome, Hart generates a new and perhaps insuperable problem regarding the origination of evil. Or is Hart’s God evil as well as good—sometimes intending and accomplishing good, and sometimes intending and accomplishing evil? That may not be the conclusion Hart wishes, but it’s a possible implication of his reasoning. Hart’s “responsible Creator argument” proves too much, for if God is morally responsible for eschatological outcomes, then why is God not also responsible for historical evils? And if creaturely choices are all dissolved into divine decisions, then God becomes the doer of every evil deed (for there is no other doer), and a universalist happy ending would not then absolve God of all the evil that had occurred along the Yellow Brick Road to the eschaton.2
I recall my initial reaction—huh? I thought it curious that someone in the Calvinist tradition would offer this objection. After all, don’t Reformed Christians, like all who stand in the Augustianian tradition, believe in some version of absolute predestination? If predestination means anything, it means that God enjoys the freedom and power to efficaciously save the elect. But perhaps I am mistaken about McClymond’s location in the theological tradition; regardless, he has misunderstood Hart’s construal of divine and creaturely causality and so I pass by without further comment.
Larry Chapp, an expert in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, has recently reiterated the theodicy objection:
However, I do also wonder if Hart’s argument does not prove too much. It seems to me that the argument brings with it certain theodicy problems that inhere in some of its premises. The argument Hart raises against a God who would knowingly create a person he knew was headed to damnation could also be used to condemn any God who would create an order that has any evil in it at all. Surely there are possible alternate universes where no creature ever sins? And our universe as a whole, no matter how immense, is also a purely contingent entity that did not have to exist. So why would God choose to bring this little shop of horrors into existence when he had better alternatives? Why not just refrain from creating a cosmos with sinners in it and only create those without sinners? For that matter, why have a hell at all even in a universe with sinners? Why not just cure sinners in a more clinical setting staffed with angelic therapists who cure through positive rather than negative reinforcements? Why not a salvific scheme that involved the sinner traversing a nested hierarchy of spiritual levels all heading vertically upwards rather than a stint in the dungeon in its electro shock room before climbing on the bus to heaven? Because no matter how “temporary” and purgative hell might be as a place of remediation, it will still be a place of great suffering, as even the great Origen noted. Origen pointed out that even though it might be the case that all are saved eventually, the process whereby that happens will be horribly painful and that is why we should still seek to avoid sin. And are not temporary sufferings as a result of evil still sufferings? And isn’t evil still evil even if God will someday do away with it? Why allow evil at all? I understand that the present evils are temporary and are perhaps allowed by God for the achievement of some greater good. And therefore that God’s permissive will is in play here and not his direct will. Perhaps in some bizarre sense a fallen and redeemed world is a more glorious thing than a world that never fell. We see this expressed in the ancient exultet prayer (“O Felix Culpa”) and in many other residuals of the Christian Platonism of the early fathers. But that seems to me dangerously close to the idea that evil was somehow necessary for God’s creative purposes, a flirtation that was common with many Christian Platonists. I am not saying these are Hart’s views. I am just thinking out loud as to what some of the possible entailments of his arguments might be.3
Chapp is only ruminating. His concerns boil down to one: if God possesses the power and freedom to redeem evil-doers in the end times, why didn’t he create a sinless world from the get-go? Now it just so happens that David Hart addressed this question here on Eclectic Orthodoxy two years ago. The objection, argues Hart, ignores the distinction between the relativity of temporal evil (permitted and redeemable) and the absolute finality of evil in the eschatological consummation:
It is one thing to attempt to judge the relative goodness or badness of a discrete evil in relation to final purposes we either can or cannot see, but another thing altogether to judge a supposed total narrative that pretends to describe the whole rationality of all its discrete events. The former can never be more than conjectural and inductive; the latter is a matter of logic. There may logically be such a thing as an evil that is redeemed in the greater good toward which it leads; there is no such thing as an unredeemed evil that does not reduce the good toward which it might lead to a mere relative value. In the former case, it is logically possible that evil may be non-necessary in the ultimate sense, but may necessarily be possible in the provisional sense. In the latter case, evil figures as a necessary aspect of the eternal identity of whatever reality it helps bring about.4
Readers are invited to read Hart’s short piece and assess the soundness of his arguments. Noval tells me that he finds it a cogent refutation of the theodicy objection.
As mentioned above, I have not given the theodicy objection serious consideration for two simple reasons:
First, if the theodicy objection holds against apokatastasis, it holds even more convincingly against the existence of an omnibenevolent Creator. Why did the God of absolute love create a world filled with evil? For many, horrific suffering poses the single most powerful, and paralyzing, objection to belief in a good God. For me personally, I have never found satisfying the theodicies advanced by Christians over the centuries. They all ring hollow in the face of the Cambodian genocide and the heinous murder of a child. Every day I must resist the lure of atheism; every day I must fight to keep my faith. Only the crucified and risen Christ, wrapped in his promise to make all things well, keeps me in the Church.
Second, if the theodicy objection holds against apokatastasis, it holds even more convincingly, indeed decisively, against the doctrine of everlasting damnation. Perdition intensifies the problem of evil to the intolerable nth degree. God freely creates a world, so says the traditional doctrine, with full knowledge that for some it will conclude in everlasting suffering. God does not conquer and redeem evil; he only quarantines it within a perduring moment of torment. Infernalism does not solve the problem of evil; it eternalizes it—thereby calling into radical question the character of God as absolute love. How is it then that thoughtful people can declare that apokatastasis raises a pressing theodicial concern, all the while ignoring the incessant screams of the reprobate. At least the doctrine of apokatastasis holds out the hope that God will convert the wicked to righteousness. Love will be all in all. The only theodicy worthy of the Holy Trinity is the deification of the cosmos in Jesus Christ.
I cannot provide a convincing Christian solution to the origin of evil; but the eschatological promise of Christ at least enables me to live in this vale of tears and not be overwhelmed and destroyed.
All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.
 Roberto De La Noval, “Universalism: The Only Theodicy?,” Eclectic Orthodoxy (16 September 2019).
 Michael McClymond, “David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism,” The Gospel Coalition (2 October 2019).
 Larry Chapp, “David Bentley Hart’s Universalism (Part 2),” Gaudium et Spes 22 (3 September 2021). After further discussion with DBH, Dr Chapp has changed his mind and no longer considers the theodicy objection sound.