22 January 2016

The Problem of Evil - Part 2


This then is the question that everything hinges on: is the level of evil in the world so great that there is no way a benevolent being could be behind it?


Let us suppose, as many philosophers have, that the answer is no. C.S. Lewis, arguably one of the most assertive Christian apologists of the twentieth century, wrestled with this question after losing his wife to cancer. The pain of her death caused Lewis to consider a worldview much darker than both atheism and Christianity. Having decided long ago that God must exist, Lewis now wondered whether God was in fact a “cosmic sadist.” In his book A Grief Observed, Lewis writes: “I am [not] in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘so this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”[1] Perhaps all these conceptions of beauty and goodness are part of a great cosmic joke, only to be snatched away when we have almost come to believe in it. In Lewis’s own words, “time after time, when [God] seemed most gracious, He was really preparing the next torture.”
Lewis eventually decided that the idea of a cosmic sadist was unlikely. Perhaps God provides the illusion of goodness only to snatch it away, but all illusions have a model. If God was truly evil, how could He have invented goodness in the first place?  The question is not whether our experiences of love and laughter are real, but whether a truly evil God could have conceived the idea of love and laughter in the first place. The Sheriff of Nottingham tortured Robin Hood by threatening to kill Marion. But no sane person would argue that the Sheriff invented Marion. Villains are notorious for their cruelty, but not for their imagination. If God is evil, he may “bait” us with pleasures, but he cannot have produced the bait itself.
It can be argued that the cosmic sadist theory is too extreme. We have accounts of artists and writers throughout the centuries who have led morally impure lives and yet still produced beautiful things. It is false to say that evil can produce goodness, but an evil being may have some goodness in him and therefore be able to produce it. Perhaps God has a mix of both good and evil in him. But we have already established that God is omnipotent. History shows us that only the people of great power are able to be great forces for good or for evil. The more powerful a person is, the more impossible it becomes for them to sit on the sidelines. When that person becomes the most powerful being in the universe, that possibility vanishes entirely. If God is truly omnipotent, He must be either wholly good or wholly evil. A sort of in-between God is not a viable option.
So far we have provided reasons for believing that God is omnipotent. We have also provided reasons to believe that God is good. And yet the evidential problem still remains: is it plausible that God could be both powerful and good and yet allow evil to the degree that we observe it? Are we in scenario A (the death of the lizard) where the amount of evil is trivial in comparison to the goodness that can come out of it, or scenario B (the suffering of a brother) where evil seems to have no redeeming value? The atheist would say that we are in scenario B. We have discussed their reasoning: allowing the suffering and torment of another rationally thinking human for the benefit of another is not only unfair, but cruel. I concede that is true, if that were the whole story. But there are several other factors to consider, which we will explore here. I will begin by saying that both scenario A and scenario B have elements of truth in them, but neither them are perfect analogies for the reality of the universe. If we accept the Christian God, then we necessarily accept what He has to say in His written word. Some argue that the Bible promises delusional happiness and does not ever address the problem of human suffering. This is simply untrue. The Bible addresses the problem quite directly; we reject it only because the answer is wholly unpleasant.
The book of Job tells the story of a perfectly righteous man who deserved no punishment and yet lost everything he owned. Job asks questions asked by Lewis and thousands of others. He asks why God does not punish the wicked: “Why do the wicked still live, continue on, also become very powerful? Their houses are safe from fear, and the rod of God is not on them.”[1] Job asks why God ignores the suffering of the innocent: “From the city men groan, and the souls of the wounded cry out; yet God does not pay attention to folly”[2]
One can dislike God’s answer to Job, but no one can argue that He never answered. God’s answer, which spans from chapter 38 to 41, flings the question back at Job’s face, saying: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? I will ask you, and you instruct Me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? When the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy?”[3] God’s meaning is clear: I am God, I can do what I want. Again, we question whether this kind of God could possibly be good.

Part 3 coming on Wednesday the 27th!

[1] Job 21:7, 9, NASB
[2] Job 24:12 NASB
[3] Job 38:2-4, 7 NASB

[1] C.S. Lewis “A Grief Observed” 


  1. Really enjoying this. How many parts are there? And must you wait so long before posting the next?
    Thank you for the intellectual stimulation this morning. This is one of my favorite debates of all time.

    1. Just three parts. and hey, anticipation is 90% of the fun :P