Journey Back to God explores Origen of Alexandria's creative, complex, and controversial treatment of the problem of evil. It argues that his layered cosmology functions as a theodicy that discerns deeper meaning beneath the apparent injustices of the world. Origen asks: why does God permit cosmic disparity - that is, why do some suffer more than others? On the surface, the unfair arrangement of the world defies theological coherence. In order to defend God against the charge of injustice Origen develops a theological cosmology that explains the ontological status and origin of evil as well as its cosmic implications. It interprets suffering as a stepping stone to the soul's ascent to God. Essentially, Origen's theodicy hinges on the journey of the soul back to God. Its themes correlate with the soul's creation, fall and descent into materiality, gradual purification, and eventual divinization; the world is a schoolroom or hospital for the soul where it undergoes the necessary education and purgation. Origen carefully calibrates his cosmology and theology, and portrays God as a compassionate and judicious teacher, physician, and father who employs suffering for our amelioration.
Journey Back to God frames the systematic study of Origen's theodicy within a broader theory of theodicy as navigation; that is, as the dynamic process whereby we integrate our observations and experiences of suffering within our religious worldviews. Moreover, it unites the logical and spiritual facets of his theodicy, and situatesit in its third-century historical, theological, and philosophical context, correcting the imbalanced perspectives on Origen that pervade scholarship. Furthermore, the study clarifies his ambiguous position on universalism and its place in his theodicy. It demonstrates the contemporary relevance of Origen's approach, which confronts the perennial questions of theodicy with a bold, constructive, and optimistic vision.
Visiting Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity, Department of Religious Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia
Preface ; Acknowledgements ; Introduction ; Chapter 1: Theodicy as Navigation: Toward a Theoretical Paradigm ; Chapter 2: Framing Questions: God and Evil in Paradox ; Chapter 3: Far From Home: Pre-existence, the Fall, and the Origin of Evil ; Chapter 4: The Physician of Souls: Suffering as Remedial Punishment ; Chapter 5: Theology of Ascent: The Journey of the Soul to Perfection ; Chapter 6: Journey's End: The Triumph of Good and Universal Salvation ; Conclusion ; Bibliography