God, Love & Evil

Pain Pauls blog

The standard response to the traditional problem of pain and suffering, after Alvin Plantinga’s contributions1, is that there is a morally sufficient reason for a being that is God to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering.

If it is possible, not necessarily true nor believed by (a)theists, that a being that is omnicompetent has a morally sufficient reason to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering, then the traditional problem of pain and suffering fails to show that such a being cannot exists.

An atheologian, defending such a case, is now demanded to show that it is necessarily true that it is logically impossible for an omnicompetent God to have a morally sufficient reason to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering.  “No one, I think,” correctly stated William L. Rowe, “has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim.” (Rowe 1979: 335 fn1) Paul Draper concurred: “I agree with most philosophers of religion that theists face no serious logical problem of evil”(Draper 1989: 349 fn1)

What could be a morally sufficient reason for a being that is God to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering? A theologian could simply and legitimately say she does not know. As a limited being she cannot fathom the reason of unlimited Being to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering. Shouldering a harder task, this article speculatively explored love as a possible morally sufficient reason from a Christian worldview.

It is a possible, not necessary true, that God created higher sentient creatures to exemplify His morally perfect character (1 Pet. 1:16). Higher sentient creatures were created to be in a loving-relationship with God and with each other (Matt. 22:37-39). Freedom of will, the ability to or not-to exemplify God’s essential character (through loving or not-loving God and each other), is essential for there to be a genuine loving-relationship.

Genuine love necessarily requires freedom of will. For higher sentient creatures to exercises freedom of will, they had to be created at an epistemic distance from God. Instances of pain and suffering are the consequences of some of higher sentient creature abusing their freedom of will. These higher sentient creatures chose not-to exemplify God’s essential morally perfect character.

According to Christians’ account, God, who is able to eliminate instances of pain and suffering at any moment, permits instances of pain and suffering for a specific period of time. There is a time in the future where the epistemic distance would be removed. This will be the time, which God will not only eliminate all instances of pain and suffering but also bring justice and restoration to the victims, and righteous punishment to all the evil-doers.

This Christians’ account does not have to be true or believed by others. It needs only to be possible. If it is, and I think it is, then the traditional logical problem of pain and suffering fails to show that the God Christians’ believe cannot exist.

[1] (1965). “The Free Will Defense,’ Philosophy in America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,  (1967) God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God. Ithaca: Cornell University Press and (1974) God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Nelson Pike also ought to be included. Rower, William L. (1979) ‘The Problem Of Evil And Some Varieties Of Atheism,’ American Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 16. 4:335-341 Draper, Paul (1989) ‘Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem For Theists,’ Noûs 23:331-350.

22 thoughts on “God, Love & Evil

  1. True, but as I commented on an earlier post, unless the “higher sentient beings” you reference include angelic beings with the ability to cause what we regard as natural evil, then the free will defense only responds to those forms of evil and suffering that we regard as moral evil and is therefore inadequate (in my opinion) in its attempt to solve the Problem of Evil. My understanding is that Plantinga attributes natural evil to the free will of Satan and demons, which addresses the problem philosophically, but many will find it unsatisfying.

    As a matter of apologetics, an argument that accomplishes only a proof that the existence of God is not logically impossible can’t be expected to win over many hearts, particularly when the argument suggests that while the state of reality many not logically negate the existence of an omnibenevolent omnipotent God, it does make the existence of such a God unlikely. It seems to me that asking humanity (hardwired as we are with a sense of compassion and a yearning for justice) to imagine the existence of some morally sufficient set of reasons for the heartbreaking and often seemingly gratuitous suffering in our world, is asking too much.

    My own conclusion (tentatively and humbly held) is that God is indeed omnibenevolent, such that our traditional understanding of omnipotence must be in error.

    I’m enjoying your posts on this fascinating and perplexing subject.

    • Hi Bill. Thank you for enjoying my posts and for bringing a carefully thought concern on the table.

      By higher sentient beings I mean being that are personal(thus would include angelic beings both fallen(known as demons) and un-fallen. I carefully used instances of pain and suffering, instead of evil, because they encompasses both moral and natural evil.

      It is possible that instances of pain and suffering from natural cause is the work of fallen beings as Plantinga stated, if you presented his view correct, but I think of it as the consequences of moral evil (see from a Christian point of view, Genesis 3:17 and Romans 8:22-24). Going into theology, God created human being to have dominion over all nature but at the fall, man lost that dominion over nature. In the gospel accounts we see Christ Jesus having dominion over water, sickness, fallen angels &c., showing what human where originally created.

      You are correct that my article only deal with intellectual problem of pain and suffering. It does nothing to the emotional and real life pain and suffering. Honestly, I fight each day with emotional problem of suffering and the only answer that bring me up is thinking of God suffering at the cross, and learning to know that God is righteous, just, and holy. He knows what He is doing. I do not.

      As Christians I do not think we can sacrifice God’s omnipotence. Job 42:2 for example contended: “I know that you can do all things and that no plan of yours can be thwarted.” (cf Genesis 18:14 and Isaiah 14:27; 43:13.)

      Let me know your thoughts Bill.

  2. Fallen man thinks of this life and world as the all-and-end all. The Christian understands that this life is but a sliver of what the Bible calls “eternal life.” From this perspective, Paul wrote of the “light affliction” we suffer here and now and how it does not compare to the glory being worked in the elect by God (2 Cor 4:16-18). The eternal perspective changes a man’s consideration of pain and suffering.

  3. Hi Prayson, I think the problem here might be the concept of omnicompetence. As Bertrand Russell pointed out in his 1952 essay “Is there a God?” an omnipotent (omnicompetent) being should be able to achieve his ends without need of process. He also claimed in the same essay that the notion that God was not omnipotent was new to Christianity. I would be surprised to find that all Christians up until modern times have believed that God did not need to work through process, and that His plan for our salvation was therefore just a masochistic whim on his part. Something he could have achieved a lot less painfully, just by willing it.
    Philosophers can prove very little about the nature of earthly reality, and can’t even prove that they themselves exist. Perhaps it’s time to stop paying so much attention to their opinions about the nature of the Ultimate Reality. God is God and if he exists it is he who defines the philosophers, not the other way around.
    For me the real problem of pain isn’t why it occurs, but how do you get something that is basically a biological machine to experience it. That is real magic, in the sense used by the atheist philosopher Daniel Dennet.

  4. Prayson, thank you for those careful reflections about the problem of evil. I want to share two responses.

    1. Many have said that the problem of evil is beyond human understanding. Although this could conceivably be correct, it’s a terribly dangerous move. Overlooking an enormous theological problem because there may be some solution we cannot grasp could lead us to rationalize almost any belief system. In the great span of history and culture there have been thousands of different religions, and all of these cannot be true. But any of them could claim to be true by saying that every single objection to that faith has an answer which humans are incapable of understanding.

    2. Another common strategy is to say that evil is due to human free will. There are of course many cases of terrible suffering that seem unrelated to free will. Theologians can claim that they are related to free will, but humans are not capable of seeing the connection. This takes us back to issue #1.

    And of course the free will response does not address the dreadful suffering of animals, long before humans existed. I would find it very difficult to accept a faith system which treats the distress of non-human creatures as trivial.

    Roger Christan Schriner

  5. Prayson, just because you might be able to argue that it is possible does not make it probable. The fact remains that the discussion is whether or not the problem of evil and suffering disproves a god. It does put paid to one description of a god by invalidating the logic of the description of that god. As you well know, all that beleiver’s have to go on is a description because there is no credible evidence for the existence of any god.

    Second, your understanding of love is one twisted pile and you keep using that word ‘created’ without any evidence to support it. This is just two of the many places that the premises of your argument fall flat. You remind me of the blind man holding onto an elephant’s leg and swearing that your hugging a tree.

  6. “An atheologian, defending such a case, is now demanded to show that it is necessarily true that it is logically impossible for an omnicompetent God to have a morally sufficient reason to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering.”

    What an utterly nonsensical sentence! Doesn’t it bother you in the slightest that you must write such twisted and convoluted prattle just to try and justify your belief? Doesn’t it ever dawn on you that if your god were true it should all be inherently simple?

    Now, you write, “Genuine love necessarily requires freedom of will,” yet we’ve been through this. There is no freedom in the relationship you are describing. The ‘created’ has no say in the function or purpose of its existence: to worship said god. Failure to perform this single task WILL RESULT in punishment. That is bondage. The ‘created’ is a slave to the ‘creator:’ a dictatorial entity who built the gulags at the same time it created its eternally bound serfs.

    • Just a note to my first observation. As you’re fully aware not even the very best Christian philosophers know what they’re talking about today. Dr. Boundy demonstrated this perfectly. We have evidence that the words games have become so mindlessly complex that they are entirely meaningless… and it is “meaning” I was striking at. You fall within this circle of self-imposed (unnecessary, i would say) complication and confusion, Prayson, and I was wondering if it ever registers with you?

    • Jesus explains why God allows evil in Matthew 13.

      Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

      “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

      “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

      “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

      • Why would Jesus need to explain anything about god in the third person when he himself is supposed to be god?
        This is as absurd as me ( Arkenaten) explaining the motivation of my real self as if his other ‘me’ was an entirely separate entity.
        You would think me mentally unbalanced if you suspected I actually believed such drivel as well, and rightly so.

  7. Prayson,
    I’m not seeing where this resolves the logical argument I have laid out. Could you elaborate?

    As a point of order, I’m not suggesting that the argument shows that God does not exist – Calvinists and open theists have solutions. The argument simply suggests that the free will defense itself is not sufficient.

    • I know your question is to Prayson, but if I may join in.

      I read Prayson’s post, your post, and the comments. What I find is an attempt to justify the existence of evil but not what it’s cause is. In my mind evil is defined as moral wickedness, someone who causes harm or pain to another, and a power or force outside of ourselves that leads us into committing evil acts. In understanding the cause of evil I think we also can understand its justification. All the answers can be found in Scripture.

      For a proper understanding of evil perhaps an appropriate starting question would be,

      “Why Does God Allow Satan to Influence Mankind?”

      Jesus was tempted by Satan, the Lords Prayer contains this sentence – “And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.”

      We are instructed to put on the Full Armor of God in Ephesians 6. Where it states “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

      There are dozens and dozens of references to our fight against temptation and our disposition to do evil deeds and it all comes down to mans rejection of God and the things of God, and in doing so we lose the fight against Satan’s deceptions.

      The Bible tells us Lucifer wanted to remove God from the His heavenly throne and sit there himself (Isaiah 14:13, 14). He fomented a rebellion that drew one-third of the angels to his side and caused a war in heaven (Rev. 12:7-9)!

      Because of this, Lucifer and his angels were cast out of heaven. His name became “Satan.” He found his way to the earth where he corrupted God’s perfect garden creation and the two human beings who dwelt there. It has been misery for earthlings ever since.

      It’s reasonable then to wonder why God didn’t destroy Lucifer and his angels instead of just casting them out of heaven. One wonders why God didn’t just destroy Lucifer right at the beginning, when he started murmuring. Wouldn’t the destruction of Satan have prevented all the suffering in the world today? The answer again, can be found in Scripture.

      Lucifer started this controversy by attacking God’s character. He asked aloud, “Is God’s way the best way? Does God deserve to be God? Does God deserve our love?”

      God is love. The only loving way to quell this uprising was to let it complete its course so the answer would be obvious to all. The best way to answer Satan’s questions was not to destroy Satan, but for God to demonstrate why His way is the best way, why He deserves to be God, and why He deserves the love of His creation. We were given the warning about evil and what to do to protect ourselves against it. We are told there will come a day when everything will be set right.

      I can never know God’s exact reasoning with 100% certainty, but I’m told certain things about His nature.

      First, I know God is absolutely sovereign over all creation, and this includes Satan.

      Second, “I know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”.

      Third, I know that to question God’s plan and its timing is to question God Himself, His judgment, His character and His very nature.

      • I think I understand what you’re saying but I’m not sure what you’re suggesting is the solution to the logical argument. You assign God absolute sovereignty, so are you accepting the Calvinist solution – that God willed the fall?

    • With all due respect, what I’m trying to say is man-made logic or man-made arguments are not necessary to explain the existence of evil. To make the best effort to understand ourselves and ‘why we are the way we are’ is to turn to Gods word.

      It would do one good to study the subject of Angels and why it is they have (had) apparent free-will. The Bible gives a lot of information and we can interpret that information with enough clarify to come to an understanding of Satan, his nature, and his potential influence on us. It seems that when our minds are not focused and tuned to “love” and “good”, its adversary and opposite “hate” and “bad” has room to grow and take over.

      My guess is that those Angels who rebelled were then confirmed and established in their wicked state. That is, at the decisive moment, their choice radically changed them. It is now impossible for Satan and Angles like him to repent and be restored to the service of God.

      In contrast, it seems that those Angels who refused to rebel with Satan were confirmed and established in holiness – that they can now no longer sin. I believe that is how it will be for us as well, in the heavenly kingdom. Not only will it be impossible for sinners to repent and be saved after death (Heb. 9:27), the saints will be established in an eternal state of holiness (see Rev. 22:11).

      • Just two questions:
        1) Was it God’s will for the angels to rebel?
        2) Was it God’s will for the world to be the one that resulted from their rebellion?
        If you answer yes to both, then I don’t see how your position is any different than Calvin’s.

    • 1) Was it God’s will [plan] for the angels to rebel?


      2) Was it God’s will [plan] for the world to be the one that resulted from their [Satan] rebellion?


      I don’t presume to know Gods will, or plan, for all of His creation from beginning to end.

      The fact of God being God means that He has complete control over all things on earth and in the universe (both positive aspects as well as negative ones), and this necessarily means that God controls and uses “evil” as consistently as He does “good.”

      As for us humans, the Bible confidently states in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “No man can find out the work that God makes from the beginning to the end.” In a word, God often seems to do strange things from our human point of view. This is certainly true. We humans will often continue to be oblivious to the reasons (or manner) of why God performs the works that He does and in the way that He does them. God works in mysterious ways and we are not given the privilege to know the divine secrets of God regarding the manner in which He sustains and governs the earth and the universe through God’s use of “good” and “evil.”

      As far as Calvinism goes from what I’ve read it seems most of his doctrine is in error. They like to use an acronym TULIP, each letter standing for a certain teaching. I don’t claim his interpretation of Scripture as my own.

    • Very well, hopefully I made my point clear, regardless if it’s accepted or not. That is, logic cannot prove the existence of God, nor can we effectively counter the non-believers statement that, because evil exists – our God of love does not, solely using made-made logic.

      I firmly believe the Bible tells us why we have evil, what causes evil and how we can have any hope of controlling it. In order to come to terms with evil we must look for the answer from scripture and not what we deduce from our own logic and analytical thinking.

      • Yes, you have made your point clear. If you don’t mind, however, I would like to offer a brief explanation of why this type of reasoning is typically rejected. You see, you will claim that knowledge is founded on God, yet everything you know about God comes from scripture. The revelation of scripture has come to you through language and language is a structured combination of symbols which expresses the relationship between different forms of sensory experience. Logic is nothing more than recognizing these relationships and agreeing on the experiential boundaries for the symbols. So, when somebody says that logic doesn’t apply to God, it would seem that they are rejecting the very thing which informs them of God in the first place.

    • I never said, “logic doesn’t apply to God”. I said we can not win a debate with unbelievers solely using man-made logical reasoning and we cannot understand evil without Gods revelation about it. Sure, the Bible uses words and logic uses words, but in my opinion the similarity stops there.

      The evil men do is very real, how it came about, why it is allowed, and how we protect ourselves against it is detailed in Scripture. Of course I understand this explanation of evil also will not instantly sway the unbeliever but conversion all starts with the hearing of the word.

      Now, if this type of reasoning is typically rejected then so be it, but I still feel we will save more souls using Scripture to explain evil than our logic.

      • @ walk the way
        This is what Travis was at pains to explain. Your concept of your god derives solely from the bible.
        And just how much credence is a 21st century supposed to give to a collection of Bronze Age documents that have largely been debunked, especially the Pentateuch, as being spurious and mythological, and in many cases just plain nonsense.
        Only one who has suffered serious indoctrination;, one who is unable to exercise any meaningful degree of critical thought would lend any serious degree of credence to such a collection.

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