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Calvin’s «Theodicy»and the Hiddenness of God

Calvin’s «Sermons on the Book of Job»


Paolo De Petris

Calvin’s Theodicy has been substantially ignored or simply negated until now on the assumption that the issues raised by the modern problem of evil and Calvin’s discussion of providence and evil would be different. The unspoken premise underlying this conviction is that theodicy is a modern problem, since earlier formulations in no way attempted to justify God’s actions.
This book goes decisively in the opposite direction. It aims to understand the core of Calvin’s Theodicy and to demonstrate that one of the most important reasons that prompted Calvin to preach for almost 2 years 159 Sermons on the Book of Job was to «vindicate» God’s justice by demonstrating the meaningfulness of God’s activity in human life.
After examining the status of the recent research on Calvin’s Theodicy, this work studies the steps that led the French reformer to his insights and the drafting of the Sermons. Further, it studies the juridical framework of Calvin’s defence of the justice of God. Finally, the author analyses the answers given by Calvin to the problem of human anguish: Why do innocent people suffer? In what way one can still believe in an Omnipotent God?


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Chapter I Calvin’s Theodicy and his Sermons on Job: The State of the Research 7


7Chapter I Calvin’s Theodicy and his Sermons on Job: The State of the Research It is strange, to human reason, that the children of God should be so surfeited with afflictions, while the wicked disport themselves in delights; but even more so, that the slaves of Satan should tread us under foot, as we say, and triumph over us, however, we have wherewith to comfort ourselves in all our miseries, looking for that happy issue which is promised to us, that he will not only deliver us by his angels, but will himself wipe away the tears from our eyes. John Calvin “Letter to the Prisoner of Lyons” in Tracts and Letters, Vol. 5, p. 413. 1.1 Introduction: The terms of the Theodicy problem The term theodicy (in French Théodicée) “is derived from the two Greek words meaning ‘deity’ and ‘justice’ and refers to the attempts to justify the Goodness of God in the face of the manifold evil present in the world.”1 It was coined by Gottfried Leibniz in the late seventeenth century.2 From his youth Leibniz had used the phrase the Justice of God when discussing the problem of evil. The term Theodicy did not appear until the late 1690s. Having been trained in law, Leibniz regarded theology itself as the highest form of jurisprudence and, consequently, treated the problem of God’s relation to the evils of the world analogously to a court case. It was the widespread popularity of his Essais de Théodic...

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