The problem of evil is an age old problem that has it’s own branch of theology reserved for it –Theodicy. The problem has probably been stated best in a quote usually attributed to Epicurus:
“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 willing and able?
Then whence comes evil?
Is He neither able nor willing?
Then why call Him God?”
There you have it in a nutshell. Centuries later and volumes of discussion there still isn’t a satisfactory solution for those holding to the goodness of an all-powerful god.
The Westminster divines, in a sleight of hand that would amaze most magicians, got around the problem by simply stating it away:
“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (Westminster Confession of Faith).
God ordains “whatsoever comes to pass” but isn’t responsible for “whatsoever” happens! Huh? Doesn’t god say:
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? (Amos 3:6)
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isa 45:7)
But god isn’t to blame? Of course not, man is to blame. Paul said:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned–(Rom 5:12)
Doesn’t this let god off the hook, so to speak. This is the standard free-will argument that some use to explain evil in the world. However, I don’t think it is a satisfactory answer. There are several reasons why:
1. According to the bible, who created man and who ultimately tested him? God created man with the ability to disobey him but without the knowledge of good and evil (see Gen 2:17, eating of the fruit of the tree gave this knowledge). Without this knowledge how did Adam and Eve even knew what they were doing was wrong! And even if they did, a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient god put them in a situation in which he KNEW they would fail. Since he knew for certain they would fail, one can argue that he wanted them to fail. He wanted all the evil that resulted from that fall to occur. (If he didn’t, he could have easily created Adam and Eve differently.) The evil that resulted from the fall, according to Paul was sin and death. Wonderful. One act of disobedience and a world full of misery. And this god is supposed to be good and merciful and just?
This is like putting a candy jar out in front of your children, telling them not to eat of it and then leaving the room. I’m guessing that most children would eat the candy, especially if they have never been punished before and had no real concept of “no”. And I’m guessing that most parents, in response to that violent disgusting act of disobedience, would throw the child out of the house forever. And I’m guessing, just guessing here mind you, that any parent who did such a thing would be arrested, tried, found guilty and would be serving some prison time. I don’t think any judge would accept the defense of “I told him not to eat the candy. He disobeyed so it isn’t my fault that I threw him out of the house. He is to blame.” To the same effect, god is not guiltless. He can’t wash his hands of the situation and say “It’s not my fault”.
The Islamic sage and heretic Ibn al-Rawandi (9th century) said the following: ” A God who inflicts illness upon his slaves cannot be counted as one who treats them wisely, nor can he be said to be looking after them or to be compassionate toward them. The same is true concerning he who inflicts upon them poverty and misery. Also unwise is he who demands obedience from a person who he knows will disobey him. And he who punishes the infidel and disobedient in eternal fire is a fool.”
If god exists, maybe he is just a fool?
2. If you want to argue that god needs man to have free-will so that he can know that man freely loves him, then god really isn’t omniscient is he? And then, what about heaven. It will be impossible to sin in heaven, so where is free-will if it is so important that death and destruction are minor problems in comparison? If mans nature is to sin as the doctrine of original sin states, then why couldn’t god create man with a nature not to sin? Wouldn’t that be better than what we have now?
3. We may not be a “free” as we think. Neurology is showing that much of what we think we are freely choosing may be more determined that we think. (e.g. see NY Times: Free Will. Now You Have it Now You Don’t for a quick into into this subject).
What about the justification that god’s thoughts and ways are not like ours? Man’s moral sense, which God supposedly gave us, tells us sin, misery, death, destruction, poverty, natural disasters, etc. are bad things, but the “loving” God says – NOPE. If you had my understanding then you would see all these things show my love for you? If this ridiculous statement was made in another religious system, you would see it for what it is – an empty justification. Tell this to the child starving to death. Tell this to the person ravaged with parasitic diseases, never knowing a day of health in his life as he toils endlessly under the son. Tell that to the parents whose child dies of cancer. Tell that to the 200,000+ people who died in a Tsunami a few years back. Tell this to the citizens of Pompeii as they are covered with volcanic ash. Tell this to the victims of Katrina. Tell this to those who died on 9/11. God’s ways aren’t our ways because fortunately, man, in many cases, appears to be much more compassionate than the all loving God. (Not that man can’t be as mean and cold hearted as god.) Of course, there will always be those who will give praise to God for whatsoever comes to pass. Interestingly, if they see someone in another religious system do that, they pity them and call them deceived.
More than one person has joined the ranks of atheists or agnostics because of this problem. Dr. Bart Ehrman, who was an evangelical before becoming an agnostic said this: “I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things.” (God’s Problem. Kindle loc 110)
I have to agree with Dr. Ehrman.
Note: This is a vast subject and I can’t possibly deal with all the justifications and implications of Theodicy. For a good readable book on the subject, I highly recommend Bart Ehrmans, God’s Problem)