How can we reconcile the existence of moral and natural evils with that of an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God?
Evil is a term used to describe something that brings about harmful, painful, destructive, unpleasant or malignant results. By its nature thus, evil could cause suffering, pain or death to a single person, or in a collective and social scale.
Moral evil – unjust thoughts and actions like murder, rape, physical or psychological harm, theft, lying, etc. – is committed by humans on their own volition. Natural evil – natural calamities and disasters, plagues, pandemics, or terminal diseases – occurs independently of human volition, thoughts or actions.
Why do such heinous things happen? How can we reconcile the existence of moral and natural evils with that of an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God?
The Greek philosopher Epicurus logically framed this problem: “If an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God exists, then evil does not. But there is evil in the world. Therefore, an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God does not exist.”
Attempts To Solve The Problem Of Evil
1. The free will response. The existence of “free” beings is of tremendous value because with free will comes the ability to make morally significant choices. It also comes with the potential for abuse. But the disvalue created by the abuse of free will is easily outweighed by the great value of free will and the good that comes from it. Thus, God is justified in creating a world where free will exists, instead of a world where neither free will nor evil exists.
The free will response fails to address the existence of natural evils, which are outside of human free will.
2. Soul-making or Irenaean theodicy response. It submits that evil and suffering are necessary for spiritual growth.
This argument is inadequate. If it were true that God permitted evil in order to facilitate spiritual growth, then we would expect evil to disproportionately befall those in poor spiritual health. But this is not the case. Rather, we see decadent people enjoying lives of luxury, while many of the pious are poor and are suffering.
3. Previous lives and karma. Suffering is just a res8ult of bad acts. Thus, there is suffering in the world, but there is no undeserved suffering – and, in this sense, there is no evil.
But, if one inflicts harm and causes suffering upon another, is the suffering of the victim a result of his own bad act from his past life, or caused by the one who caused harm? Karmic law holds that “bad acts are punished; good acts are rewarded.” But why are innocent people punished with suffering and guilty people rewarded with pleasure? Inverted karmic law?
4. Skeptical theism. Because of their limited knowledge, human beings cannot expect to understand God or his ultimate plan. Therefore, the impossibility of finding a plausible explanation for evil in a world created by an all-good God is to be expected, unless it can be shown that God’s reasons would be comprehensible to us.
This begs the question: Why have we not been given a clear and an unambigupous assurance by God that he has good reasons for allowing evil which would be within our ability to understand?
5. Evil is the absence of good. Propounded by St. Augustine, this argument maintains that evil exists only as a privation or absence of good. Ignorance is evil, but it is merely the absence of knowledge. Disease is merely the absence of health. Callousness is the absence of compassion. Since evil has no positive reality of its own, it cannot be caused to exist, and so God cannot be held responsible for causing it to exist.
This argument, if pushed to its highest form, may identify evil as an “absence of God”. Likewise, it does nothing to undermine the absence of goodness, which should have been pushed instead; thus, it is only superficially successful.
6. Evil as illusory. Evils such as suffering and diseases are illusions.
But, from empirical experience, there seems no difficulty in understanding that we are indeed afflicted by such painful sensations – and thus cannot be dismissed as illusory.
My Own Take
I am rather inclined to posit the following points apropos the problem of evil and suffering.
1. The existence of evil may be reconciled with the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God because “God’s act of creation is the same as God’s act of judgment”. When God created the world, he likewise executed and expressed his condemnation of evil. In other words, the evils or imperfections and suffering in this created world are simultaneous with his expressed judgment – a judgment that is unstoppable due to God’s all-powerful will, and His constant and eternal judgment that becomes announced and revealed on Judgment Day.”
It may be added, from the theological perspective, that while moral evil may be due to human free will, natural evils are a consequence of the “fall of man”, which corrupted the perfect world created by God. Thus God passed judgment on such.
2. The existence of natural or non-volitional evil may resonate, logically and scientifically, with Charles Darwin’s “law of natural selection”. Natural selection, operating blindly on a pool of biological diversity, according to Darwin, could produce nature’s carnages and waste.
In his autobiography, Darwin wrote: “Suffering is quite compatible with the belief of natural selection, which is not perfect in its action, but tends only to render species as successful as possible in the battle for life with other species, in wonderfully complex and changing circumstances.”
Hence, in a sense, with a corrupted world due to “man’s fall” and God’s primordial judgment, humans and the natural world are in constant state of “becoming”, developing and evolving.
In a soulful pondering, in this ever-continuing evolution, there is reason to believe and hope that one day we will conquer these “evils” in our world.
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