If God is all-loving and all-powerful, then how can there be evil & suffering? In this short episode, we'll look out how God is not only compatible with evil/suffering but, ultimately, is the only solution.Support the show
One of the most difficult problems for humanity to deal with is the fact that there is a significant amount of evil and suffering in the world. Our history is filled with the consequences of moral horrors and treacherous natural disasters. Evils like Nazi Germany, terrorist attacks, and the destruction resulting from things like earthquakes and tsunamis, shake us to the very core of our being. Most of us would clearly say, that If we had the power to stop these things, we would.
But that leads those of us who believe in God to a pretty significant question. If God is real, and he is all-loving (like Christians say), and He also has the ability to prevent these evils (because He’s all-powerful), then why doesn’t He?
This question is what many theologians and philosophers have dubbed, “The Problem of Evil” and it has been an issue wrestled with for thousands of years. Many atheists insist that the co-existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God with all of the evil and suffering in the world, is just impossible or very unlikely. Some say that the idea of God not preventing evil is like the idea of a married bachelor or square circle, a contradiction that can’t be real. Their argument would sound something like: Either God has to exist without evil, or evil has to exist without God. Since we know that evil exists, then God cannot be real. And this actually brings us to a very important realization, the so-called problem of evil can be looked at from two different perspectives: an intellectual one and an emotional one.
From the intellectual perspective, it seems like there are really two issues hidden under the surface that need to be addressed by anyone who believes both God and evil exist. The first is the idea that if God is all-good, then He would prevent evil & suffering. And the second is that if God is all-powerful, then He WOULD BE ABLE to prevent evil & suffering.
Let’s think about that first issue for a minute. Is it really true that because God is all-loving, he would prevent evil & suffering in the world? This doesn’t really seem all that obvious. Maybe it’s possible that God has good reasons for allowing the evil & suffering to take place. Most of us could probably think of examples where we allow suffering to occur in our lives for some overriding purpose. Maybe God has that same kind of justified reason for allowing the evil and suffering we see in the world. If that is even possible, then God and evil are not like the married bachelor or square circle we referred to earlier. If He really does have a sufficient reason for allowing evil and suffering, then there’s no contradiction at all.
But what about that second claim, that because God is all-powerful, then He is ABLE to prevent evil and suffering. Well like we just said, maybe God is ABLE to prevent certain evils or suffering but He has a good reason for allowing them. But at an even deeper level, just because God is all-powerful, it doesn’t necessarily mean that He can create just any old reality. If God wants to create a world of creatures who really do have free will, then it’s possible that a world without evil is just not an option for Him. Maybe in every world that God creates free creatures at least some of them go wrong. He couldn’t force them not to because then they wouldn’t be free creatures (which is what He wanted). Forcing someone to freely do something is like our square circle or married bachelor, THAT is a contradiction and so can’t be real. And so it may be the case that even though God prefers His creatures not to do evil things, they do them anyway.
So it’s just not necessarily true that if God wants to create a world of creatures like us, who have free will, then He would prefer or even could prevent evil & suffering.
Alright, so maybe the existence of God and the existence of evil are compatible with each other, but someone still might say that evil makes it VERY UNLIKELY that God is real. Maybe the AMOUNT of evil & suffering makes it unlikely that God actually DOES have a reason for allowing it. And if God really did have reasons for allowing it, why wouldn’t he tell us what they are?
A couple of things, first, we are in no position to figure out whether or not God has any reasons for allowing evil and suffering in the world. We are so limited in our perspective and in time & space, it would be impossible for us to make that kind of judgment. Maybe God’s reasons are so complex and far-reaching, that we couldn’t even understand them. Maybe they span through history over hundreds or even thousands of years. We just can’t say with any certainty that “God probably doesn’t have a good reason for allowing evil.”
Ok, but why doesn’t He give us His reasons? Well, we don’t really know why. Maybe sometimes He does. Maybe He can’t tell us His reasons because if He did, we might then act in a certain way that actually hinders those reasons. Maybe we wouldn’t even understand them if He told us. So we don’t really have any justification to think that if God did have good reasons for allowing evil & suffering, then we should be the ones to know about them.
But secondly, we shouldn’t only be considering “the problem of evil” when trying to determine the likelihood of God’s existence, but instead, we need to look at all the evidence. Think of a court case where evidence is presented against a suspect of some crime, you wouldn’t just look at one isolated piece of evidence to determine the verdict, you need the full scope. Maybe evil & suffering could give us a little room for doubt on its own, but what about in the context of other evidence for God’s existence or of our direct experience of Him. Relative to all that information, maybe it’s very likely that God is real.
Even more, if Christianity is true, then God’s priorities are not human comfort and happiness in this life. His desire is that we know Him and love Him, which is an infinite good that far outweighs any suffering that’s used to get us there.
So, as deep of a discussion that we can have about the problem of evil, when it boils down to it, I think it’s the emotional force of suffering that we struggle with the most. We can understand all the right things and yet still struggle to not get angry with God or to doubt his goodness. But if Christianity is true, we can take comfort in knowing that God has not abandoned us in our suffering.
He Himself has come to earth, to suffer alongside us, and redeem us from the evil that surrounds us. This seems to be the greatest of all goods, that an infinitely perfect creator would condescend so much for the sake of His creatures.
So maybe evil & suffering is difficult, confusing, and frustrating for us, but ultimately, the solution can only rest in the hands of the God it seemingly calls into question.