At some point, most Christians have probably encountered questions such as, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” or “If God is perfectly good, then where does evil come from?“ These are challenging questions that don’t necessarily have simple or easy answers. But they do have answers.
This post is by no means intended to be a thorough critique of the problem of evil. That would require several books, at least. Instead, by falling back on minds greater than my own, I hope to probe some of the chinks in its armor. More specifically, I want to address the Epicurean Paradox (given below).
“If God is willing to prevent evil, but unable to
Then He is not omnipotent.
If He is able, but not willing
Then He is malevolent.
If He is both able and willing
Then whence cometh evil?
If He is neither able nor willing
Then why call Him God?”
To this day, I occasionally hear friends and acquaintances refer to these few lines as if they were a fatal knockout punch to the Abrahamic religions. There is, however, an obvious element that seems to be missing. What about free will?
While the Epicurean Paradox seems intimidating, there is clearly some important information that it fails to account for. One might say that God is willing to prevent evil…and able to prevent evil…but unwilling to achieve this state by creating puppets or robots instead of children.
“Then whence cometh evil?”
Rather than being “the opposite of good”, I sometimes think of evil as being “the absence of God”. It’s what happens when we rebel against our Creator…and most of us intuitively recognize that rebellion involves collateral damage (ask Alderaan). Sometimes terrible things happen to good people. C.S. Lewis probably explained it most eloquently:
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk.”
As a final point, I think there is another issue here that people have a tendency to overlook. There are many who view God as a detached, indifferent ruler looking down on human suffering from his comfortable throne up in the clouds. Yet this image stands in direct contradiction to the Christian narrative. I once again give the floor to Dr. Plantinga:
“…as the Christian sees things, God does not stand idly by, coolly observing the suffering of his creatures. He enters into and shares our suffering. He endures the anguish of seeing his Son, the second person of the Trinity, consigned to the bitterly cruel and shameful death of the cross. Some theologians claim that God cannot suffer. I believe they are wrong. God’s capacity for suffering, I believe, is proportional to his greatness; it exceeds our capacity for suffering in the same measure as his capacity for knowledge exceeds ours.”
So although God allows evil to exist, he doesn’t just stand by and watch us suffer from it. Rather, he chooses to share in the suffering with us (and for us).
And to me, that in itself says a lot.