The problem of evil is often called the rock of atheism. This describes its enduring power to cast doubt on the existence of a loving God. While we think of it as a logical problem, its force reaches far deeper than the intellect.
It’s a simple matter to solve the logical problem of evil and reconcile the alleged contradiction between a triple-omni God and the existence of evil in the world.
But logical proofs are like waves crashing on the immovable rock of evil. They make no impact. They are theoretically sound, but existentially deficient.
The power of the problem of evil isn’t intellectual. Evil and suffering offend us to the core of our being. They are a defilement of the soul.
Suffering is a universal problem. Regardless of our personal beliefs about God or the meaning of life, suffering is always unwanted. Evil and suffering are problems which stand between us and the fulfilment of our true potential.
The existence of evil will always cast doubt about God’s existence, benevolence and his love for us. But ultimately, although the existence of evil causes doubts about God, he is our only possible salvation. It’s only God who can provide a solution to the problem.
The logical problem is the apparent contradiction between a triple-omni God and the existence of evil in the world.
- If God is omniscient, he knows the evil exists.
- If God is omnipotent, he has the power to stop the evil.
- If God is omni-benevolent, he would want to stop the evil.
- Then why does evil exist?
The most influential theistic response is to deny God has the power to stop the evil. Even an all powerful being can’t do logically impossible things.
God can’t create married bachelors or square circles because it’s logically impossible. Square circles are a logical contradiction, words strung together to sound like actual things. But they can’t really exist, because it’s impossible for anything to be both square and circular.
The theist says the existence of free will without the existence of evil is also a logical impossibility. Creatures with free will entail the possibility they will make the morally wrong choice.
Evil is a logically necessary outcome if creatures with free will exist. Even an all powerful God can’t create a world with both free will and no evil, just as he can’t create a world which contains square circles.
The theist says the existence of free creatures is a valuable thing that justifies the evil and suffering that must also exist. Evil is an unavoidable by-product of pursuing the greater good of free will.
The Natural Problem
While the free will defence answers the logical problem, there is no shortage of evil and suffering in the world that isn’t caused by free moral choices. There are natural disasters, accidents and diseases.
What reason could God have for allowing those instances of evil and suffering to exist? They don’t seem to produce any greater good. They don’t appear to be necessary for free will.
While they may appear to be instances of gratuitous evil, we need to consider the wider context. If God exists, making morally evil choices means we are ignoring God’s will. In this material world, we are ignorant of God’s existence. We are ignoring him and focusing our consciousness elsewhere.
And for it to be possible to ignore the foundation and cause of all existence, God must be hidden. The concealment of the divine isn’t a game of hide and seek, it’s the structure of the material reality.
To say God is omnipotent isn’t a statement about the choices God makes. It’s a fact about the essential nature of reality. God’s will is the foundational cause of all movement in the world, the origin of every other cause or source of power.
Everything in existence is following God’s will. This isn’t something we can change without changing the type of thing reality is. Just as your will is the foundational cause of the movement of your body and mind, we can’t remove your will without removing the essence of what you are.
The only possible world that can have creatures who are free to ignore God is a world where God is hidden. The material world is the effect produced if God is apparently absent, just as darkness is the effect produced if light is absent.
- Instead of an eternal reality, the material world is temporary. Everything in it degrades and eventually dies.
- Instead of a conscious reality, matter appears unconscious. Its movement never deviates from mathematical laws which dictate what it will do.
- Instead of a sentient world that moves by the force of love, nature appears uncaring and indifferent to our suffering.
- If God is all good, then not following his will produces not-good or evil.
We live in a world which is not-God. It’s the structure necessary to allow the possibility, and the opportunity, to ignore God’s will and pursue our will independently of God.
God can’t create a world where the living beings have the freedom to ignore his will and also not suffer. It’s a logical contradiction because suffering and evil are characteristics of a world where God is absent.
The Existential Problem
The mere existence of suffering and evil is our real problem. An intellectually satisfying answer to the problem doesn’t solve it. It tells us why evil exists, but the fact it exists endures. This is the real rock on which the waves of our hopes and dreams will break.
If a loving God doesn’t exist, there is no hope of a solution to our existential problem. If God doesn’t exist, there is no better world free from evil, suffering and death.
If atheism or naturalism is true, it reduces our existence to animals that must kill to survive. We can only sustain our existence by consuming other living beings. We live in a world of horrors.
While we may be lucky enough to avoid personally experiencing the horrors, that is no solace to a caring soul. It’s like enjoying life on a battlefield surrounded by the pain and suffering of others. Others must die, so we may live.
If there is no God, we can never rise above the ethical vulgarity of such an existence.
God can be our only solace, our only hope for salvation and a dignified existence. If the evil in this world exists to facilitate a greater good, if we fight this battle in pursuit of a higher ideal, we can eventually rise above our present predicament.
Theism is a story with a happy ending, a dream and ideal worth fighting for. To find the truth and source of our existence and fulfil our potential as eternal, blissful, divine beings. To live in a world where we sustain our existence by love, not by exploitation.