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How can God exist when there is so much evil in the world?

25 August 2011

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“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?”

— Epicurus

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The Greek philosopher Epicurus, lived in the third and fourth centuries before Christ. He is regarded as the founder of a school of philosophy that we refer to as Epicureanism. The “Epicurean Paradox” suggested in this quote above is a version of the problem of evil.

1) If God is all-powerful and good, then there would be no evil.

2) There is evil.

3) Therefore God does not exist.

There are multiple slightly variant versions of this same problem that is referred to as the logical problem of evil, or simply Theodicy.

It is not the Christian belief that God is the originator of death, or that it is his will that anyone should suffer. He did not create evil. Christian belief from the earliest times has been that Evil has no hypostasis. It has no existence as such. Evil is a negative. It is the absence of good. Death has no existence as such. It is the absence of life. For a created being to experience Evil is to experience estrangement from the Creator. It is the experience of loss for human beings who were created good. The sinner dies because he, or she, has become alienated from the source of life. God is not responsible for evil. He is not its cause. And He receives no satisfaction at the death of his creation.

God created humankind with freewill. That freewill, if it is to be truly free, necessarily carried with it the possibility of the human beings making choices that cause them to become alienated from God. If it were not so then human beings would not in any real sense be free.

Christian belief is that God created us with the intent that we should be His co-workers creation. That we should be responsible for our own eternal destiny. God permitted these things to exist out of respect for our freedom. He permits trials and sufferings without having created them. But he also knows in His infinite wisdom how to transform the causes of evil into that which is profitable for man’s salvation. God has secured our salvation from this impaired state we are in, if we will only, of our free will, cooperate with that salvation.

Salvation is not something that God imposes on us.  It is not determined for us despite our wishes. Neither can it be had merely by the works of human will. It does not depend upon whether or not we find ourselves able to believe certain propositions about God. We have to work out our own salvation, but not all alone. We do so in a synergetic cooperation with God. God does not override the freewill that He created us with, but to neither is it true that we are able to redeem ourselves without His help. Salvation cannot be purchased by keeping the law, or by living virtuously. Our attempts to do those things may only signify our will and resolve to be in restored communion with God. To really accomplish our part of this synergetic cooperation we must only rely on God to give us what we need.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 August 2011 4:32 pm

    I’m afraid you are partaking in a mere semantics game. Evil, as you have described it, may be as you assert (I don’t wish to argue this assertion, really), but you know as well as I what Epicurus meant by Evil. Evil, in this case, is interchangeable with suffering. Suffering is not the absence of anything, but rather a positive force in one’s life. Furthermore, it matters not if God created evil/suffering. What matters is that evil is present and God is unwilling or unable intervene in evil’s destructive path.

    Also, your free will rejoinder is not applicable to natural disasters. You did not address the suffering caused by such natural disasters as earthquakes in populous areas, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.

    ” He permits trials and sufferings without having created them. But he also knows in His infinite wisdom how to transform the causes of evil into that which is profitable for man’s salvation.

    This is contradictory to your whole premise and we return back to Epicurus’ point. If God permits trials and sufferings, even if God did not create them per se, then you are simply validating Epicurus’ argument.

    • 29 August 2011 2:31 pm

      Thank you for taking your time to leave a comment on my blog.

      Am I engaging in “semantics”? Yes, somewhat. As I am sure you know, there is a kind of objective meaning that the words we use are somehow reaching out to grab hold of. I am trying to draw attention to the distinct possibility that the reality that people are reaching out to grab hold of when they use words like, darkness, cold, death, evil, is not exactly what they have thought. — Call that mere semantics if you like.

      Heat and light exist and can be studied. Cold and dark have no existence of their own, because they are merely the absence of heat and light. Likewise evil has no existence of it’s own. It is merely the absence of good. Death has no existence. It is the absence of life. This may seem an unconventional idea to you, but I didn’t originate the idea. Better minds than mine have seen it just this way.

      Perhaps Athanasius summed it up best when he said that “God alone exists, evil is non-being.” God is not accountable for man’s turning away through sin. That act of turning away separates man, and the world that man was created to have dominion over, from his presence and as a consequent separates him from his only real existence, whose source is in God. So evil then does not really have on existence of its own, it is simply the absence of good. God is not the maker of things that are non-existent, so he can in no way be the author of evil. There is therefore no contradiction in God’s character. He is omnipotent. He is all good. Evil is not everlasting. In fact it is non-being. It is only our slavery to sin and our passions that keep us from seeing this.

      A 500 word, or so, blog post is a lot different from a dissertation. I did not attempt to answer every possible challenge, nor should any reader expect that from a very brief expression of some thoughts on this big of a question. Perhaps in the future I may want to try a longer explanation of my thoughts on the subject.

      The contradiction that you claim exists though, is in fact nonexistent. If it was God’s intent to create human beings with a free will, then we have a free will, and the guilt for my misuse of that freewill belongs to me.

      You mustn’t think though, that in the post above I am trying to argue you into belief in God’s existence. I am not. Real faith doesn’t come about that way. I am merely saying that this argument that many use to claim that God CANNOT exist, has some deficiencies.

      • This again...? permalink
        8 January 2013 10:47 pm

        You rant on trying to strengthen faulty points. Free will is a cop out excuse. Innocent (NOT sinners) people die everyday from murder, starvation and various other natural and unnatural causes…. People suffer and your God does nothing.

        I would stop a rapist if I could. I would feed someone starving if I could. That’s the difference between me and your “God.”

  2. DrScheuerman permalink
    20 September 2011 10:39 am

    I really don’t usually leave comments. However, I have to thank you for this posting this.

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