The Problem of Eeeevil – a response
This is a response to my wonderful brother’s blog about the problem of evil.
Please read his blog HERE.
My post below is not as structured as one of my regular blogs as it was purely meant to be a response to my brother, but the word count was too big and blogspot wouldn’t accept it. So I put it here for your contemplation. Though I must encourage you to read his blog first, otherwise mine below possibly won’t really make much sense.
Tony, firstly I must correct you on a really simple point.
There is no problem with the existence of evil if there is objective good. As soon as God says something is good, then the opposite of that is evil. Evil is not a noun as you make out theists think. In some ways, evil does not actually exist – as an object anyway.
It’s like light and darkness. The sun is the object. It produces light. Without the sun, you have darkness. Night may feel like it has real substance and it definitely has real consequences (like stubbing your toe on the way to the bathroom) but all it really is, is the absence of light. God is the object. He is good and he says what is good. Anything that is against him or opposed to him, is what we define as evil. Hitler is not the personification of evil. The devil is not the personification of evil. They (like a lot of people) are simply opposed to one degree or another to God. In that sense they are defined as evil.
I think the experience of evil is to be expected in a world where there is a God that provides objective good, and where people reject, ignore and disobey him. I don’t really see the problem of evil’s existence.
But you move on from that to the moral dilemma of evil. I presume you have Epicurus’ argument rattling around, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
You tackle the issue of evil by saying that we must come to one of three basic conclusions.
1. God is not all-powerful.
You assume this must be the case in light of human free will. But where do you get the idea of human free will from? Not the bible that’s for sure. The idea that human will ties God’s hands is quite silly really. The God that created the universe is not limited by anyone. The idea that we HAVE to have complete free will in order for us to be responsible for our actions also doesn’t stack up as we often hold people accountable for their actions, even when we know that there are always circumstances that influenced their decision.
But the argument you seem to be making is that the idea that we have any sort of will, means that God’s sovereignty is compromised. Why is that? Why can’t God allow us to do what we want to do, be free in his ability to stop us, and deem that we have acted against his will? If you say to Levity, don’t touch the stove and you can prevent her from touching the stove but as she goes to do it, you chose not to prevent her, why does her will to touch the stove mean that you have somehow lost control? God being in control of the universe, doesn’t mean that every action that happens must either be caused by him or else he has lost control. He can allow actions against his desired will to take place. So is God responsible for evil’s existence? Well, in some sense, yes, of course! That doesn’t make him evil though or the cause of the evil.
But then you could say that if a good God allows evil then why does he still call it evil? Well, it doesn’t follow if someone can prevent an evil action you make, that means that you are no longer accountable for it. If you see a kid being beaten up by thugs and you do nothing to prevent it, that doesn’t mean that the thugs are not accountable for their actions. Likewise, God is still sovereign and able to prevent all evil, and yet we are still accountable for the evil we do.
That inevitably leads us to question God’s goodness, but that’s ok. Throughout the Bible people cry out to God wondering why he is taking so long and why doesn’t he get rid of evil (Jeremiah 12:1 for example, “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?”). Grappling with God’s goodness seems to be a healthy part of a relationship with God, though his sovereignty is never questioned.
2. God is not good.
So we come to the next conclusion. God must not be good. Now, I can’t imagine you missed the moral loop here. The idea is of course, that if God is good and he sees evil and is able to prevent it, then of course he would prevent it. A God that could prevent evil and doesn’t is ultimately not good. But where did you get the undeniable, objective truth that to allow evil is evil? Are there no exceptions? Is a time period relevant? Due you take into account the fact that God does promise to deal with and do away with evil completely and fully? Or is the issue that you just don’t like the way in which God prevents evil? Is it just that for you to judge God as “good” in your eyes, he has to deal with evil in your way and your time. And all this taking into consideration that you actually don’t believe that there is really a good or evil!
My present and limited understanding of the whole picture is that God allows the evil fruit that comes from people who reject and ignore him. Reject a good God and disobey his commands and you will find every kind of evil. Should God prevent this? I don’t see why, but I guess God is more good than me, because he does do something to prevent it. He provides the gospel – a message of what God has done to turn people’s hearts back to him. He makes it possible for the real root of the problem of evil – sin – to be dealt with. And more than that, he is coming to clean everything up and remove all evil from the world. One day, when Christ returns, evil will be prevented – not in a temporary sense, but in an ultimate, eternal sense. If one is deemed necessary to allow for the time being in order that the permanent solution is achieved then who are we to say God is not good in choosing what is best. This is the true solution to the problem of evil.
I still think it’s a valid question to ask why God deals with evil in this way, when we feel so compelled to just get rid of evil right now if we could. But possibly, if God didn’t worry about the whole gospel thing and just got rid of evil completely in one fell swoop, sure the Hitler and the rapist and the thug would be gone, but neither you nor I would be having this conversation. Would anyone be left?
Fortunately, for the non-theist though, they don’t have to worry about explaining evil or good for that matter, and this is your ultimate answer to the problem. Because if God can’t be all-powerful and he can’t be all good (by your definitions of those things), then he doesn’t exist, and so the perfect answer to the problem of evil is…
3. There is no such thing as evil.
This is apparently, the natural non-theist position, as no objective “good” means that you can’t have an objective “bad”. This position may be logically sound, but I find it deeply unsatisfying. The idea that evil is only evil because we all (mostly) agree on it or feel it is that way, makes it to be completely meaningless. It is just as likely, that what we feel about what is evil is affected by a certain cultural movement or by our evolutionary biology. Or we may be in the wrong crowd. I’m sure in the midst of a Nazi demonstration where everyone was shouting “Heil Hitler!” that would feel like it was good and anything that opposed it was evil. What shaky ground you stand on! Why trust it if you could simply be standing at the wrong place at the wrong time and be influenced to believe any evil.
Doesn’t that feel like a problem? Isn’t that the ultimate “problem of evil” for the non-theist? – the problem that you feel some things (like torture or injustice or killing innocents) are evil and yet you have no grounding for that feeling or reason to think that something else couldn’t be just as right in a different crowd. I mean, you even make the argument that if God allows evil, he can’t be good. Why? If there IS no good or evil, then where does the moral weight for that position come from? On the other hand, if you trust God to instruct good and evil, then you even have a basis to question God.
Without God you are left with so many problems. Why fight evil if it doesn’t really exist? Why do I feel that evil and right and wrong does exist if it is just an illusion? Am I comfortable with the idea that my concept of evil may just as well be good in a different time or place or culture? If there is no God then where is there any hope that evil will not win? If there is no God where is there any hope that evil will not one day be fully dealt with?
I admit that God’s ways are at times strange to me, but I have answers to those questions. I think a non-theist has the real problem of evil to have to resolve.