One of the most frequently posed question to the Christian believer is the question of how an all-good, all-loving and all-powerful God can co-exist with evil. Simply put, it does not really make sense to say that a being with such great qualities will permit so much pain and suffering in this world. This is termed as The Logical Problem of Evil.
I must confess that I do struggle a lot with answers when it comes to the idea of a Supreme Being not really doing anything about the bad things we encounter in this world. ‘If you say you are all-powerful, get rid of this evil right now!’ This is how the early Greek philosopher Epicurus puts it (The Epicurean Paradox):
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?
In other words, if evil exists then God ceases to be God because He’s unable to take care of that which brings intense pain to us. He’s probably a liar who has none of the qualities His followers blindly attribute to Him. Maybe, He’s just a Marvel character stronger than Superman and just a little bigger in size than The Hulk. We are his die-hard fans who hero-worship Him as if one day He will fly out of that ancient book called “The Bible” into reality. Interesting imaginations. Keep on dreaming! If you look at the argument the first time, it sounds convincing enough to destroy the foundations on which the existence of God rests upon. At the second and tenth and more number of glances, you cannot help but to notice some question marks concerning the argument itself.
Doesn’t it sound as though the asker of the question has some knowledge of that which is not evil? He or she assumes in a way that there is such a thing as ‘good’. As I mentioned in my DEEP LONGING post, if you tell me my shirt is dirty, you probably have an idea of what it means to be clean. To say that such and such is ‘good’ or such and such is ‘bad’ definitely requires a third factor that rises above both and has some kind of higher authority in the first place to make the clear distinction. In his book titled “Mere Christianity”, Clive Staples Lewis tries to explain this phenomenon by using the idea of the piano. He says that if you have a sheet of music, it gives you instructions concerning which keys to play on the instrument at each point in time. However, the music sheet itself does not constitute one of those keys you see on the instrument. It merely gives you directions as to what to play and what not to. That is the third factor here. That thing which rises above musical keynotes and determines with some kind of authority what needs to be done.
In the world we live in, you can’t help but see people react negatively towards “evil” practices like murder, torturing, rape etc. We are more than quick to label them as “wrong”. We rather view these acts in the light of moral absolutes instead of relative terms making whatever standard we look to make our judgments more objective than subjective. The truth is we don’t agree to the reason of a personal taste and preference when one murders a baby for instance. Let the so-called guilty one talk about how his personal interest in doing what he did granted him well-being and just watch out for the kind of headlines the TV and radio stations would broadcast. To him, he did what was right to bring him happiness but at once, you realize that subjective opinion totally rules that reason out. In my local dialect, we may say of the offender, ‘Ne tiri mu y3 sum papa’ literally meaning ‘there’s total darkness in his head’—He’s evil and does not value the worth of a human being.
Moving on, you notice again that this objective standard law (Moral Law in this case) has some level of authority it carries which seems to over-rule all our personal appeals. You want to do something but this law tells you what really has to be done. Left to us, we would want to pursue our own self-interests but this rule or law thinks otherwise. Though we are at liberty to go against it, it still carries ultimate authority when we weigh it against our personal feelings. This law as we know it is objective rather than subjective and has more authority than any other human preference. It simply tells us that no human being could have established it considering how we are full of personal views and opinions. In other words, whose say would have been regarded as the final word for the rest of generations (even till now) to follow suit? Forget it!
Who or what established the moral law then? Whatever or whoever established it is somewhat in a different class extending beyond man’s limited capabilities. But another question is “do we necessarily have to attribute this ‘moral law’ to a moral lawgiver?” Well, I don’t know about you but if these promptings within me “thinks” or “purposes” that I live a certain kind of life and not another, then I can assume that it has a mind to like one thing and dislike another. From experience, we know that human beings reason or think on a high scale of intelligence. I wish I could speak for vegetables or chairs or fishes but I can’t because I’m not one. I can’t tell exactly what goes on in the inside of them and just observing them externally wouldn’t give me the best of results. Let me explain. If I hit my friend on his head and he returns it with a hard blow to my tummy, I may think that is the feedback to expect anytime I do such a thing (that is if I only observe from the outside). Does it mean that it ought to be the right or expected feedback? What if he had a prompting within (just as we do all the time) to just let it go and not repay evil with evil? All I’m saying is I happen to be a human being so I can speak better from that angle since I can dig into myself for relevant information. Now, if a human like me with a mind also reasons and I find this law which ‘thinks’ I should conduct myself in a certain manner to be above human establishment, then I’m tempted to assume a super-intelligent mind behind the establishment of this moral law. The issue is if we take that super-intelligent Mind (God in this case) out of the equation, then we also take out the possibility of a moral lawgiver. Without the moral lawgiver, there is no moral law. If that which makes the distinction is absent, the two words (good and evil) lose their meaning. We end up with no good or evil so the question self-destructs leaving us with nothing to even start our argument. We have no basis to talk about what is just or unjust because as Fyodor Dostoevsky said:
Without God, everything is permissible.
It is interesting to note that the Christian account of God from the Bible describes a Supreme Being who is not only the creator of this universe but is also very concerned about the behavior of men hence setting out certain instructions to follow. The Bible goes ahead to inform us that God who is very interested in right living has graciously created humankind to reflect His very image on earth. It then makes sense to say that we possess that ‘inward moral compass’ too because of the kind of personality that made us. The super-intelligent mind creates men with minds intelligent enough to recognize and freely obey the law he finds himself under. However, we do make mistakes sometimes when we read the compass though just as we sometimes make some errors with our addition and multiplication in mathematics but it does not rule out the fact that the compass is still present and always directing.
I personally believe that the problem of evil rather affirms the existence of God even though it stands as one of the greatest objections to His existence. Without God, a hopeless life awaits to welcome us because we hit against the wall with no solution to the problem. God is the only answer to the evil in this world. He has promised us that a time will come when we would live far from pain and suffering. Cinderella and Snow White may be living happily ever after but our tale would be realer than theirs. We will live far above the description of ‘happily ever after’, enjoying uninterrupted fellowship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, GOD. If you reject His existence together with everything that makes it visibly clear that He actually does exist, please what is your other alternative?
To be continued…