: Why God Allows Evil & Suffering
It should be noted that this is the first part of my rebuttal of Doubting Thomas’ reply to my comments on his blog [see Will Power Redux « Sirius Knotts & Thoughts for the original exchange]. The reason I address this in two different blogs is because he really brings up two different classes of exception: philosophical objections [addressed here] and specific objections, the latter of which is addressed in a post called Paint It Black « Sirius Knotts & Thoughts. Thomas’ words are in bold.
Welcome back, Sirius.
He’s big on hospitality.
You said –“not everything that happens is His (God’s) will”–. I’m sorry, but according to the ‘good book’, it is IMPOSSIBLE to go against God’s will.
Since you cite the Bible as your authority here, care to throw out a chapter and verse to back this assertion up? Meanwhile, consider this: The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God allows things to be that are not his will. He is willing that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance [2 Peter 3:9]. Jesus, moved with compassion for Jerusalem, said much the same: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killest the prophets, and stonest them who are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under wings, but ye would not!” [Matthew 23:37] He echoes this sentiment in John’s gospel: “God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved. He that believes on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” [John 3:17-19]
God does not want that anyone should suffer, but man refuses to repent. Man hardens his heart. Paul in his epistle to the Romans notes that the world is “without excuse” before God because “that which may be known of God, God has shown unto them” through His Creation. [Romans 1:19-20] Paul then notes man’s progress from knowledge of God to rejection of that knowledge: “They glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing themselves wise, they became fools. They exchange the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. They did not even like to retain God in their knowledge.” [Romans 1:21-22, 25, 28] The very concept of salvation is based on the idea that man has rebelled against God, but that whosoever will repent and believe on Christ shall be saved.
The Bible also makes it abundantly clear that God is not pleased with the present state of the world. Though he allows these things for now, he plans to restore the world to what it once was.
So despite your assertions that the Good Book states that it is impossible to go against God’s will, the burden of proof that it says this thing is on you. Even you defy His will, using your intellect to vilify God and – I daresay – even to attempt to put God on trial!
You have free will to do so.
And you ask –“Well, then why doesn’t God just save everyone? Against their will.”– You are referring to supposed free will here, yes? But, as I’ve argued before, in a world where everything is predetermined, as God knows everything that has happened and everything that WILL happen, there is no true free will. Understand I am not suggesting that we don’t have free will, just that it is not a valid argument against God’s decisions to or not to act.
Do you listen to yourself? Do you ever read the drivel you pen?
I reject your notions for the perfectly good reason that they are bunk. You’ve mistaken foreknowledge for predetermination.
Predetermination is a state of affairs wherein the results were fixed before the outcome. It comes with the implication that God scripted everything out and we’re just playing our parts without the knowledge that it’s all a sham.
If this were the case, if everything is predetermined and free will does not exist, then God cannot be called evil for destroying us or for allowing us to suffer any more than we can be considered evil for inflicting damage upon or killing the boss in a video game. Too, neither the boss nor the hero can actually be considered good or evil in a video game. Why? Because they lack free will. If free will is an illusion, so is our sentience. There is, therefore, no more moral consequence in our destruction than in tossing a block of wood into the fire. Think about it: What if Hitler were merely a character in a book by Dickens or the like and the Holocaust were merely part of a fictitious plot? Hitler would not be evil for excellent reason that he would not actually exist! A nonentity is incapable of either morality or immorality! If this life is all predetermined, down to the last bit of minutia, even the most obscure half-formed thought or aborted sentence, this conversation is scripted. Thus, if you reject it to your damnation or listen to my words, you would not be responsible for your own actions, but the Author’s morality cannot be impugned because you and I are not real. We’re mere abstractions. Fortunately, this is not the case at all.
Foreknowledge is not the same thing as predetermination. Foreknowledge implies only that we have knowledge of the outcome, not that we caused it. An analogy is reading a book. I can know the outcome of a tale by skipping ahead and reading the end of the book, but I did not necessarily write the plot and dialogue. A better analogy is a documentary or reality TV show. The “actors” do what they will. God, being outside of time, can fast forward to see the outcome of the film, but He never determined whether the actors rejected or embraced Him. He left that up to them.
You see, your reductionist argument is not valid because everything is NOT predetermined. The burden of proof is on you.
You said –“God foreordained a means of salvation for man from the foundation of the world, knowing the probability that man would reject His law.”– If, as a parent, I were to set up a test for my children that I knew would result in a number of them breaking their bones and ending up in the hospital, I should have my children taken away from me.
You either don’t have kids or you just didn’t think this analogy through. As a parent, I saw a rather glaring flaw in your argument. You see, pretty much all parents have put their children in a position where they might break a bone and end up in the hospital: It’s called teaching our kids to walk. It’s a wonderful process that opens up their world to so much more, yet so fraught with peril! One slip and they can break a bone, twist an ankle or knock out a tooth! But as a parent, I do not keep them safely away in a crib until they’re eighteen. I teach them to walk, despite the risks, because I want more for them.
The same is true of God where it concerns free will. He didn’t want pets, drones or automata. He wanted creatures in His own image, beings that could think, feel, imagine, inspire, create and, above all, choose. Choice [real choice] came with the distinct possibility of the wrong choice: to reject God and His care. He said, “I give you life and everything else – just don’t do this one thing. There is joy and distraction enough for eternity here in this Garden, if only you leave this one thing alone. Just trust me. I’ll take care of you.” Along comes a serpent. “Did God really say that? He’s lying. You could be gods, too. He doesn’t want you to know.” And with no other reason to believe the serpent – certainly there was no prior reason given why they should not trust God – they spat in God’s face and decided they didn’t trust Him after all. It could not have been more tragic if the test had been a hammer they were forbidden to swing at the glass wall of paradise. Yet God had seen that this would be the outcome, so He already had a plan in place to restore man – at least, those who were willing to be saved.
The fact that God set up a situation where he KNEW man would fail him is not an example of a God that deserves to be worshiped, regardless of the whether or not he gave me free access to everything else, made me, gave me breath and sustains my universe.
So you believe that a God who set up a situation where He knew man would fail is Him is unworthy of worship, basically because you’re ungrateful for your very existence. You refuse to acknowledge that you owe your Maker anything. You resent the implication. God owes you, right? He made you, so He’s responsible for your happiness, right? What if the key to that happiness was to stop rebelling against Him? But you don’t want to believe that. Where God is concerned, you paint it all black and you will not even admit to the existence of light or color. You forget that if God had not given you existence, life, self awareness, sentience and sapience, you could not even reject Him with such abandon. Ach! Kids these days almost never say thank you and they think the world owes them everything.
Or maybe you could be more specific as to why His worthiness of worship for our existence, life and sentience would be negated by His putting us in a situation that He foreknew we would fail and, thus, foreordained a means of salvation for whoever was willing? When you’re formulating your response, keep in mind that an actual choice is required is free will is valid, which means that the wrong choice can be made. Choices have consequences. If you choose to reject God, the sustainer and originator of life and Creation [“In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” –Acts 17:28- “For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers— all things were created by Him, and for Him; And He is before all things and by Him all things consist.” –Colossians 1:16-17], you have actually chosen the alternative: death. Show me a test that allows for unlimited free will wherein you cannot choose to reject the God who sustains your existence? You could neither choose to reject nor worship God without such unlimited free will. Limited free will is simply remote control. You can walk as far as you want, so long as I push the button that says “walk.” You will worship when I hit the “worship” button; you will profane when I hit “profane.” If you do not have the free will to reject God, you are forced to worship Him and obey His commands. You can’t even eat what you want to eat [point in fact, “forbidden fruit”] unless your God wills it. This is not really free will.
If your god truly didn’t want anyone to perish without acquiring their ticket to heaven, none would. It is GOD’S PLAN that set up the inevitable outcome of hundreds of millions of souls languishing in the bowels of hell. Also, Lucifer and the other angels who rejected God, did so BEFORE mankind was ever created OR given the ‘gift’ of free will.
Here you pick up your worn “everything is predetermined” axe and grind out more vitriol at the God you would have us believe scripted such monologue. It’s been said before, your point is invalid on two counts:  the absence of man’s free would absolve God of moral considerations in the same way that my destroying a rock has no moral consequence, and  we live in a world where free will actually exists. If it doesn’t, it’s a heck of an illusion! You make choices every day, as do all of those around you. Heisenberg put a stake in the corpse heart of determinism.
Now, it is not correct to state that God’s plan has set up the inevitable outcome of hundreds of millions of souls languishing in the bowels of hell because the outcome was not inevitable. You’re trying to drag determinism back into the ring. It was not inevitable. Every man and woman, including Adam and Eve and even ol’ Slewfoot, makes a real and actual choice. God knows the outcome of that choice, but he did not make it; we did.
God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but without the ability to choose the path of destruction, you wouldn’t be anyone; you’d be no one.
It is also not correct to state that God’s plan set up the possible outcome of hundreds of millions of souls in hell unless you also admit that God’s plan set up the possible outcome of hundreds of millions of souls in eternal bliss through the avenue of repentance. Why do you paint the canvas black, Thomas? What are you trying to hide from?
As for Lucifer and the other fallen angels, we’re given scant details upon which to speculate. We’re not even given a timeline, so we have no way of determining whether Lucifer sinner before or after mankind’s creation. We only know it was prior to Man’s Fall. It’s also immaterial. Put simply, this matter is between God and them. We have only been made aware of the barest overview of the situation.
No ‘perfect’ or truly ‘good’ all powerful god can either create evil OR allow it to exist.
Here’s an unqualified argument if I ever heard one.
First of all, what’s your definition of all-powerful [omniscience]? Omniscience does not imply that God can do absolutely anything. It should be noted that there are things that God cannot do: He cannot cause Himself to cease to exist, make good evil, make mistakes, lie or do anything that is against His nature. These limitations are present because of God’s perfection. The problem of perfection is that it is incapable of imperfection; just as imperfection is incapable of perfection. God can do anything consistent with His nature that is possible; He cannot do anything inconsistent with His nature nor can He do anything that is impossible. This is what the Bible teaches. Where did you get your stained-glass drivel?
Second of all, what are your definitions of good or perfect? Most folks equate the idea of good with something kind, polite or nice. To bowdlerize an analogy [taken from a real-life situation] from Ryan Dobson’s book, Be Intolerant, if you were driving along, minding your own business and I shot your windshield with a flare gun, would that be good? What if you continued toward me and I picked up a big rock and smashed your windshield with it? Was that good? What if I dragged you out of your car forcibly? What if it was all because I knew the bridge was out and that you wouldn’t see it in time to stop? Was all that nice? Polite? Not a chance. Was it good? Yes.
We don’t have all of the facts, lacking omniscience. We cannot say that God does not have a good reason for allowing evil. Like a parent teaching a child to walk, God may be allowing something that causes suffering for our better good.
While I will agree that a good God cannot create evil, it is a non sequitur to say He cannot allow evil. As previously noted, Christian orthodoxy teaches that an all-knowing God is in full possession of the facts; we are not. There might be perfectly good reasons to allow evil. To those who say there cannot be a good reason why God would allow evil, I defy you to conceptualize a better world than the one He created. Then add the concept of total free will. Think out every ramification. If a man has free will, he has free will to choose evil. You see, God didn’t create evil. He created free will, which is the potential for evil. Man actualized that potential.
While we’re on the subject of evil, have you considered that when you call something evil you’re judging it according to a notion of good, what you think ought to be? The concept of good corresponds to something real, the ideal known as Ultimate Good: another name for God. Your very concept of good comes from God. You would impugn God with borrowed ethics! Ha!
Period. As to the common, ridiculous opinion that the understanding of right and wrong comes ONLY with ‘faith’, I feel I must ask you, if ‘faith’ is required to be moral and know right from wrong, exactly which god must I have ‘faith’ in? Only the Christian god, meaning only YOUR god? Are Scientologists incapable of knowing right from wrong? Buddhists? ANY of those who worshiped the thousands of gods that have been worshiped in the history of our civilization? In other words; To understand right from wrong, must I belong to YOUR religion, Sirius?
Is there a particular reason you feel the need to put the word faith in quotations?
This is a sodding straw man. I have never stated that faith [in quotes or otherwise] or religion is a requirement for understanding right and wrong. Nor have I stated that to know right and wrong one must have faith in God.
I stated that morality comes from God. It is a grace common to Man which is present whether he believes in God or not and no matter which religion he ascribes to. I believe what Christian orthodoxy has to say about conscience: it is common to man as the law of God written on our hearts [Romans 2:15]. While this common sense of morality can be warped or seared, it is initially present in everyone, regardless of their beliefs. CS Lewis, in fact, has made a famous argument of conscience in a chapter of Mere Christianity called Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe. You don’t need to be a Christian to understand right and wrong, but only a Christian led by the Holy Ghost can understand it with true clarity. It’s rather like noting that while other religions and philosophies contain elements of truth, only Christianity is pure truth. I realize that such exclusivism is unpopular these days, which bias is likely why you brought up such a cheap straw man! Some call it arrogant, but that’s avoiding the issue: is it true?
And it could be argued that the religious don’t do what is right (when they do) because of their morality but out of FEAR.
It could be argued that when the religious do what is right they do so out of fear rather than morality. Perhaps this it true for other religions. Certainly it seems true of some who call themselves Christians. Since the irreligious act morally a good portion of the time, being evil, it seems more natural to suggest that both the religious and the irreligious do what is right because of morality and sometimes also out of fear of the consequences. On the other hand, it could also be argued that Christians do what is right out of gratitude for Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice and love for their savior rather than simple morality or fear or consequences. Perfect love casts out fear [1 John 4:18].
Mother Teresa comes to mind.
And fear of burning in eternal hellfire because you worked on the Sabbath is not a basis for morality.
Your snide comment is also a straw man. You’ve suggested that fear motivates the right actions of the religious rather than morality. You’ve not proven it.
The argument you’re presenting here is a variation of the whole “You can’t legislate morality” theme. Can you cause someone to be moral through fear of consequences? Yes and no. You can cause them to act morally [or face the music]. Our laws against theft and murder are good examples of this. But you cannot cause them to BE morally good. Laws are codified expressions of morality. Some laws are just. Others aren’t. The first five commandments of the Mosaic Law, including the one regarding the observance of the Sabbath, deal with loving God; the last six [you cannot honor God whom you haven’t seen if you cannot honor your earthly father, so the fifth commandment applies to both categories] to loving our fellow man. The laws were given because man’s conscience is warped and he has to have things spelled out to him. Even then, as Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, he tends to go by the letter of what he can get away with rather than the spirit the law was intended for. Fear of consequence was given, not as a basis of morality, but because morality was skewed and being ignored. This is still the case. Laws and the fear of consequences are needed because morality is unheeded. They are not the basis of that morality.
Morality and ethics do not come from a god, it is the result of an evolved, higher functioning brain that is capable of understanding the consequences of an action. It is really that simple. Let me be clear, here; the idea that someone who gains benefit from killing or stealing is behaving morally is just absurd. These people KNOW what they are doing is wrong, not because your god told them that but because the law told them that. They chose to do the crime anyway, thus they chose to behave immorally. This example doesn’t even REQUIRE any consideration of a personal moral or ethical belief as these people are basing their decisions on an external set of moral standards. But there is no denying that people are born with compassion, empathy and a conscience. Granted, some seem as if they aren’t but this is always a matter of someone’s will overcoming these qualities. Understanding the consequences of your actions and using logic and reason to judge whether it would be right or wrong has far more to do with individual morality than faith.
The idea that morality and ethics do not come from God but rather is the result of evolution is purest speculation. Try proving it.
The claim that men know they are wrong because they have laws to tell them so is purest nonsense. Men recognize injustice and hypocrisy in a heartbeat, no matter what the law books and rules of order say. Laws must agree with the law written on our hearts. There are just laws and unjust laws. There is an Ultimate Good or Moral Law upon which our laws are based. You’ve got the cart before the horse!
And finally, the insult. You said –“This bit of childish reasoning is beneath you” in reference to me ASKING THE QUESTION of whether or not God was strong enough to overcome Satan’s will. The point was that it was a question that occurred to me as a result of my observations on this subject. It was not an assertion. Although, to be fair, I believe I have made this assertion before in another post. You then go on to ask “Are you really willing to say you equate the absence of intervention with the inability to do so?” No, in fact the opposite is usually the case. Let me use your example to make my point: If my cat bites me, I have the power to end all its biting by snapping its furry little neck. I don’t because I actually like my cat and there’s a different way I can handle it. In his case, I can train him bit by bit until he ceases to bit. IF this were how God behaved what a lovely god he would be. But this DOES NOT accurately represent your god. Instead, when the cat bites his hand he gets to his feet and stomps all of its kittens to death. You see, I equate the absence of intervention with an UNWILLINGNESS to do so. Everytime one of the faithful prays that the light stays yellow long enough for them to make it through the intersection, or prays that they get that raise/promotion, or that their wife doesn’t find out about the affair with the babysitter, or thanks Jesus for winning the Best New Hip Hop Artist Award, AT THAT VERY MOMENT, somewhere in the world a child is being raped, or a child is being beaten, or a child is starving to death, or a child is being murdered, and you can bet your life that that child is ferverently praying to whatever god their parents taught them was real. And God does NOTHING. And not because he can’t.
Ach! Schrödinger and I owe cats everywhere the gravest of apologies!
Apparently my feline analogy was misunderstood. At the very least it was misappropriated!
According to Christian orthodoxy, there aren’t really any innocent kittens to crush. All are guilty before God. We are all born into sin. Like the vampyric mutants of I Am Legend, we are all cursed and worthy of destruction. We are offered grace because we were originally made in the image of God. Salvation is only available to those who want it. Christian orthodoxy likens fallen man to the walking dead. We are abominations, animated corpses who deserve only the death we resemble. If God, knowing all possible futures, chooses to harden the hearts of those He foreknows will never come to Him [under and circumstances] or to hasten their destruction to spare others pain [how would we know?], well, these vessels of wrath were fit only for destruction. If God forbears destruction on all mankind that he might show grace to those vessels of mercy [whoever will come], He is not impugned. [Romans 9:14-24]
Thank you for your comment, Sirius. And please continue to peruse my site and leave more comments when you feel inclined to do so. But please try and refrain from the insults.
Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps this reasoning is not beneath you. Maybe it’s actually your speed. Or maybe you’re just hiding behind hastily thrown arguments so that you won’t have to face the truth. Yet we must all face God one day. If your arguments didn’t stand up to my scrutiny, how well do you think you’ll fare against Him?