A Discussion of Evil

** AMENDMENT** According to legend, Oliver Cromwell famously responded to an artists painting of him without his warts by saying, “Show me as I am, warts and all”.  Reviewing this post just a few days ago (April 28, 2017), I found that there is a line in here that I would not write if I was writing this today.  It is an ugly line and come from a place when I had an inferior appreciation of what God has done for me through suffering.  I would remove it except that I believe that one of the huge problems with the church today is that we do not understand that the human journey is a path where we are continually growing and changing.  If you read this site, then you are seeing my journey as it happened.   Warts and all.

Aren’t you forgetting that god could simply have created us as he wants us? Why test us if he knows what we will do anyway? If he knew the tests would fail, why create us imperfect? The angels did not need testing. You start with the premise that god loves humans – they then did he create everything such that man could fail him? These are the questions that the Christian needs to answer.

You seem to infer that he cannot create the perfect companion nor do you explain why omniscience needs companions. You are still presupposing many things for which you offer no explanation. If humans are to be judges over angels, 1/3 of which abandoned him, then your god created two failed species. How does this speak to his supposed omnipotence and omniscience? Is your god experimenting? How is this omnipotence or omniscience?

These are the words of MyAtheistLife responding to my previous post where I was attempting to go through my belief’s concerning God’s plan.  His words really annoyed me and I overreacted a bit to his second comment.  So before I begin, allow me to apologize to him for overreacting.

The reason I got so annoyed is that I have been struggling with how to present my ideas on this subject for a long time.  In A Rational Faith, I cover these ideas in Section 3 and at other points, but I have never been satisfied with those presentations.  Those of you who have done some writing will know what I mean.  You have a set of ideas but you cannot present them in an elegant way.   Because I was stuck, I started with a section that I am happy with (Section 4) and the first comment I get is that I need to do Section 3.   Arggh!

I really don’t know what I am doing here.  I just started to write and hoped it would lead somewhere beneficial.  After years of futilely trying to come up with a good way of explaining these ideas, I am going to see if just answering the questions works.

Aren’t you forgetting that god could simply have created us as he wants us?

What if he couldn’t?  I know that Jesus says with God all things are possible, but what if self-contradictory “things” were not a part of the set of “things” that Jesus is talking about?  What if his words should really be translated, “The existence of all things that are possible can be realized by God”?  How can you create a car with 50,000 miles on it?  If the car is newly created, does it not by definition have no miles on it?

If God cannot do certain things because they are self-contradictory, then maybe creating human beings “as he wants us” is one of those self-contradictory things?  How could creating human beings “as he wants us” be self-contradictory?  Let us make a simple statement that is suggested by the Bible and see where it leads.

Goodness and self-existence are essential to one another.

The Bible clearly says that God alone is good and the Bible clearly tells us that God alone is self-existent.  What if these properties were inextricably linked?  What if everything that was self-existent had to be good and everything that was good had to be self-existent?  What if being one and not the other was like having 2 + 2 = 5?  What would this mean?

One of the corollaries of this statement is that all created beings must be evil.  Why?  Because if they were good they would be self-existent and they would not need to be created.  (I am here using a definition of evil that is very effectively pointed out in this propaganda video.  I do not believe that Einstein ever said the words attributed to him, but the definition of evil is a good one.)

At this point, I know I am going to get a raft of objections.  Allow me to list them and give the short form answers as to why they are invalid.

  1. Adam was good in the garden – No he wasn’t.  Adam was sinless in the garden.  If Adam had been good like Jesus Christ, he would never have fallen.
  2. The holy angels are good – No they aren’t.  They need God and they know it and they will rebuke a human being who attempts to say they are worthy.    (Revelation 22:9)
  3. We are not all Nazis as is implied by you saying that we are evil.  –  Evil in the sense that I am using it does not mean Nazi, it really means selfish and self-centered.  A Nazi is an evil person that has become depraved.
  4. There is no reason to believe that goodness and self-existence are inextricably linked.  – This is true, all I have is the fact that God ascribes both of these properties to himself in the Bible and to no other being.

So if goodness and self-existence are inextricably linked, then God can only create evil beings.  Being good himself, God cannot use violence of force to make people good.  How would that even work anyway?  “Be good or I will beat you over the head!”?  The only way for God to make good human beings is for his Holy Spirit to live within us and live through us “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me”, but God cannot force his help on us (forcing someone to do something they do not want to do is not good), so he puts us in circumstances where we learn what it is to choose evil.  Why does he do this?  This is in Section 5 which I do like and will post soon.

“Why test us if he knows what we will do anyway?”

There is a difference between a test and a demonstration.  In a test, there is some question as to how the test will turn out.  In a demonstration, a certain result is expected.  God knew we would fail “the test” but we did not know that.  As human beings we think we are good enough on our own and we don’t need God’s help.  This error is the entire reason for the pain and suffering of the world.

“If he knew the tests would fail, why create us imperfect?”

If good and self-existence are linked, then he could not create us perfect and this was not an option.

“The angels did not need testing. You start with the premise that god loves humans – they then did he create everything such that man could fail him?”

Given that all created beings are evil (selfish and self-centered), there are evidently three kinds in God’s plan:

  1. Angels have absolutely no doubt about the goodness or the existence of God when they choose whether or not to be like God.
  2. Human beings have every doubt about the goodness and the existence of God when we choose whether or not to be like God.
  3. Animals are incapable of choosing to be good.  They live with the created nature and cannot choose to be like God.

Because human beings demonstrate a trust in God that is greater than the angels if they choose to be like him, the eventual state of human beings is higher than that of angels.  “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3)  So human beings can rise higher than angels, but it is because we start lower.  Starting lower was the fundamental aspect of God’s plan for human beings and this is why we were put in a place where we were guaranteed to fail.

“You seem to infer that he cannot create the perfect companion nor do you explain why omniscience needs companions.”

God cannot create perfect companions and he does not need them.  God created imperfect companions and helps us to be like him because wants to bless us beyond anything we could ask or think.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

“You are still presupposing many things for which you offer no explanation. If humans are to be judges over angels, 1/3 of which abandoned him, then your god created two failed species. How does this speak to his supposed omnipotence and omniscience? Is your god experimenting? How is this omnipotence or omniscience?”

God’s omnipotence and omniscience do not allow him to do self-contradictory things.  Creating human beings “as he wants us” is one of those forbidden self-contradictory things.

“2 – Your god is said to love humans, so it is difficult to understand why he would create us as failed beings all the while knowing that he would create us as failed beings and which of us would not pass muster thus being condemned to eternal torture before we are born. Further, knowing we would fail, he created existence exactly as it needs to be for us to fail. Why? Why did he create Satan and let him loose on the garden/world to do as he pleases. He could have just started out with heaven since he is omnipotent.”

Eternal torture is a reference to hell.  I have a post describing my beliefs on hell which are different than what you have been told by other Christians.  This bears some explanation.  (Can you begin to understand why I hate these kinds of discussions?  They go hither, thither and yon and we only spend a couple of seconds on a large number of very important issues.)

I became a Christian nineteen years ago when I was in graduate school.  All of my Christian beliefs were filtered through my skeptical and critical faculties.  Other Christians learned their theology out of a popup book when they were in Sunday school.  Turn to page 4 and the cardboard flames jump out to burn you!  Their thinking is flawed and must be rejected as the artifact of a medieval understanding of the Bible.  (Also  see my posts on understanding the Old Testament if you want to see other ways in which medieval thinking contaminates modern Christian theology.)

As for your question about Satan and giving us every opportunity to fail, I need to turn this question back on you.  This world was designed to make it obvious to you that you need God’s help to be good.  Do you deny it?  Are you so perfect that you could live selflessly enough to be a part of an eternal paradise?  (The point of my previous post.)  Billions of people deny their need of God.  They are self-righteous and do horrible things and have not even the faintest inkling that they need God’s help.  People are, in fact, so bad at this that even the itsy bitsiest tiny amount of faith that you need God is enough for God to say “Okay!  you’re in!”

And yet look at how much of the suffering and pain in this world is our fault.  Murder, rape, theft, lies, fraud, betrayal, corruption.  Look at the movie Black Hawk Down.  People want to blame God for the starvation and the suffering associated with that Ethiopian famine, but it was actually corrupt human beings who stole the food aid.  There is a song in the musical “Paint Your Wagon” which goes, “Snow can burn your eyes but only people make you cry”.  This has long been one of my favorite lines in any song and it perfectly illustrates where I think the bulk of the blame belongs for the pain and the suffering of this world.

3 – You speak of a chosen nature, one learned over a lifetime. Despite 2 days or months not being long enough for a child to learn much before death, he is supposed to be omniscient and already knows before your birth what your decision will be at death. Given that this would seem to be the case according to what we’re told of your god, what then is the point of this life?

This is the best and the most difficult question you have asked so far.  It is very tough and I have asked it many times myself.  (Especially in contemplating why it is I have to remain in this God forsaken hell hole.  I don’t much care about the rest of you to be honest.)  The best that I can do is to say that I think that God keeps us here after the decision has been made because there are things we can learn here that we cannot learn in paradise.

4 – That simple math that you talk of will give us a figure of less than 1% of all humans to have ever lived will go to heaven if Christianity (or your sect of it) is correct. It would seem that your god is fairly picky about who gets to heaven. Why is this acceptable to your god for so many of his loved creations to be condemned to eternal torture by design of “his grand plan”?

Eternal torture is hell again.  Bottom line if you read my post, hell isn’t really that bad if you don’t choose to rebel against God before the Great White Throne.  Otherwise, it is still not literal flames, but you live in the presence of evil that makes Stalin and Hitler look like a couple of choir boys.  That will not be fun, but nobody goes there who doesn’t want to go there.

So there you have it.  A brief and totally unsatisfactory “drive by” overview of how I approach the question of God’s purpose for pain and suffering.  It took me all day and it is still crap.  I quickly pass over topics that deserve a good deal more discussion.  Oh well.  I will have to give the question of how to present these ideas a good deal more thought.

Next related post

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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19 Responses to A Discussion of Evil

  1. I’ll comment on this tomorrow. It’s getting late for me. Good post.

  2. Reblogged this on myatheistlife and commented:
    I’ve started a conversation with ‘A Thoughtful Christian’ – if you are interested in following, be my guest. They are trying to work through their thoughts so a lot of negative probing would probably be counterproductive. I’m going to follow along and continue the conversation if you’re interested in how it works out.

  3. makagutu says:

    I saw this on MAL’s blog.

    The Bible clearly says that God alone is good and the Bible clearly tells us that God alone is self-existent. What if these properties were inextricably linked?

    But the same bible says god looked at his creation and so it was good. What good then was he referring to?
    How does creating us as he wants us to be be contradictory? So he created us as who wants?
    For the life of me, I don’t understand the correlation between being created and being evil? What does it imply about the person doing the creating?
    The first objections you make based on the bible I will ignore. They don’t represent a factual position, they are based on myth and to that extent I don’t think they contribute much to this argument. What is so wrong with being selfish and self centred? We are products of evolution and if you have a problem with that, there is no helping you. Some of us as a result have pursued goals that have been very detrimental but we can’t blame them neither can the rest who haven’t followed suit take any credit!

    There is a difference between a test and a demonstration. In a test, there is some question as to how the test will turn out. In a demonstration, a certain result is expected. God knew we would fail “the test” but we did not know that. As human beings we think we are good enough on our own and we don’t need God’s help. This error is the entire reason for the pain and suffering of the world.

    What demonstration is going on here and how do you know?

    God cannot create perfect companions and he does not need them. God created imperfect companions and helps us to be like him because wants to bless us beyond anything we could ask or think.

    In this sense you admit there must have been a problem with the first draft or why would he need to do any of this if he was satisfied with what he had done?
    Your explanation on hell will be as varied as another christian’s just as there are several christians and that is expected, it still doesn’t explain hell away. And the same can be applied to your understanding of the bible.

    People want to blame God for the starvation and the suffering associated with that Ethiopian famine, but it was actually corrupt human beings who stole the food aid.

    God could have prevented the famine, the food aid was donated by god either. So which is it, is your god powerful and not willing or willing but not able to prevent suffering?

    I will have to give the question of how to present these ideas a good deal more thought.

    You really need to do this quite more.

    • When God looked at creation and said “it is good” He was talking about rocks and animals. In what sense are these morally “good”? Maybe he was using the word good to mean “well-fashioned”? “Good” is one of the most flexible words in the world. The pizza that I had last night was “good”, but I don’t feel “good” this morning.

      Have a good day,

      rob

      • makagutu says:

        Have a good day Rob.
        Well, if you want argue that he meant well fashioned and he was talking about stones and animals but did not include humans, by all means have it that way.

        However, look at Genesis 1: 26-31. In verse 31 it says god saw what he had done and it was good, that included men. So in what sense is good used here? Two if we were created in god’s image, what image is this? His face. his character or what?

    • The rest of your points are garbage.

    • “In this sense you admit there must have been a problem with the first draft….”

      It’s possible for something to be created which is both flawless and imperfect. Imperfect because it is not impervious to failure, but flawless because it does not contain failure at its inception.

    • I went over these questions in more detail in a recent post entitled, “Questions from an Atheist” http://wp.me/p3bwQl-C4

  4. Robin Claire says:

    Hi, I’m just commenting so I can click the “Follow” button below. I would like to have read your post but it’s so long and this makes it hard for me to concentrate on it.

  5. Pingback: The Great Mystery | A Thoughtful Christian

  6. vonleonhardt2 says:

    I take issue with the fact you are trying to prove things to an Atheist that don’t exist and you are both arguing mostly superstitions.

    Fallen Angels? That the Devil is a fallen angel is apocryphal, and the only scriptures containing such a story is the Koran. The serpent is punished as a species in Eden… strange if an Angel did it that snakes get screwed. Isaiah 14 is about a human, I have a lengthy paper on my blog about it. And Satan in Job is not exactly the same as in the New Testament… he’s more like a lawyer.

    God is Love does not equal God loves everything. That’s a huge myth that people promote because an all Loving God is actually quiet passive, just a cosmic force for good that wishes you would do better next time. A free-to-love-who-he-wants God “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” is far more scary because he may actually do something to screw up our personal little worlds. Its a living God. Over all though, the question why make the bad things is akin to you asking him to explain himself to you… what God would? He’d be submitting to your puny authority and allowing you to judge him (that’s the thing going on with “you’ll be like gods in the garden”) (Also, Reformed theology in a nutshell)

    The real issue is most people don’t realize in the J (Yahwistic) source which is the most relational, the real problem is humans seeking autonomous moral authority apart from God. Thus it’s simply sin is not “evil” but separation from God which = death. On this though you are spot on. But the P & E source God is mysterious and distant, and the D source see’s him as kinda mean but you freaking really really personally deserve it.

    Atheist tend to not see God because they are looking for the wrong one. And many Christian’s God really does not exist. You would do yourselves both good to look into “why” you find these philosophical arguments determinative in a discussion of a theological reveled religion argument

    • Thanks for the comment.

      Not quite sure I understand your position well enough to comment on it. Do you believe that Satan exists? I would guess that you do, but that you don’t believe that he is a fallen angel. Any idea what he is or do you believe that we cannot know?

      I agree with you about Isaiah 14. Not such a huge fan of the Documentary Hypothesis.

      As for the validity of seeking to understand what God is doing with regard to evil, it almost seems like you are a presuppositionalist here. There is a big difference between the proud and evil attempt to hold God accountable for what He has done (Daniel 4:35) and the honest and humble search for understanding. God would obviously not respond to an attempt to do the former, but might allow the latter.

      • vonleonhardt2 says:

        I think Satan is personified evil, which real or not, is a useful description for the fact that evil is cunning and should be treated as an organized / strategic opponent. In the Old Testament (Job), he is a lawyer who’s purpose is to be like a prosecuting attorney against creation. Lucifer is a blend of Assyrian /Babylonian Kings and their new year myth, particularly regarding how their king takes on the roll of the God Tamat. The similar passages use the same scheme, except sometimes it’s more Baal’s myth in view. The “Sons of God” are more an explanation for heroes of old… why they tie into Nimrod. The Old Testament nowhere puts Satan and angel or Satan and devil together.

        In the New Testament, there is one passage with Satan & angel together where he “masquerades as an angel of light.” Shows he plays one but doesn’t claim he is one. Now, the New Testament introduces the Devil, and calls him Satan (Enemy/ accusor/ etc.) and this is probably best taken as a shift of meaning from the OT to the NT or a broader term being narrowed.

        But a revolt in heaven, etc. No mention except in apocryphal writings. The theme isn’t developed in a “mainline” religious text till the Qur’an. And the doctrine seems to gain the pop theology form there when Aristotle is re-introduced by way of Arab theologians.

        I am not a presuppositionalist because I think non-Christian logic can be valid. You Daniel passage proves my point though, “No one can stop him or say to him, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?'” It is an issue of Power that plays out in the Job text I pointed to. The Theodicy at the end of the day is normally just a way to justify Evil against God by stripping him of sovereignty and dragging him to court where we judge if he is good or bad. Normally it sets us up as righteous against him, Job 40:8 “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”

        The real issue is that we as human live within an environment and a culture that effects us. The post-modern critique of Scholasticism is to simply point out that we can never pop outside the universe and time, look back, and then render judgement on something with no limitations of language or mental capacity or per-programed cultural biases. To talk about God being good/ evil with any clarity would require that type of omniscience. That’s why some thing the tree in the Garden granted independent moral authority… that’s very God like… but it would be evil because applied to God it is literately a case of “you don’t have enough info.” And then you get into which ethic is best for a God to have, Utilitarian? etc.

        There is freedom to complain strongly to God, very common in the psalms and elsewhere. And there is no need to hold God accountable, that’s a big part of the cross. It is him holding himself up to us as much as us being held up to him; moreover, there is never anywhere is Scripture where God shucks responsibility. He even says he sent lying spirits 2 Chron 18:21 “the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’ “‘You will succeed,’ said the LORD. ‘Go ahead and do it.’ There is no verse where God says tone it down, the Holy Spirit wrote that. & to go with Calvin the HS only writes what we should know and God thinks we should know that he doesn’t need us to protect his ethical integrity.

        I don’t know how to end this, so again like all religious debates it goes to the cross. Jesus dies to Justify us, and it was a validation of Jesus’ incarnation. Nowhere does it say we justify even ourselves; to try and do God the favor just shows how ignorant we are. Suffering has been around since the religion was founded, and has never been a sufficient reason for the elect to stray. I’d focus on feeding the lambs and not entertaining the goats.

      • Von,

        I have given your comment some thought and I have two basic reactions.

        First, while you may not technically be a presuppositionalist, your admonition to focus on the faithful is similar to what they would say. While the hard hearts of atheists have often caused me to question the use of apologetic endeavour, reason forces me to conclude that it is not entirely worthless. If we look around us we find that the world is swimming in an ocean of deception and lies, what can this be if it is not the result of demonic activity? And why would the demons bother flooding us with an ocean of deception and lies if it didn’t further their aims? Spreading the truth, therefore, must be a useful activity and the attempt to make sense of God’s word with those who do not believe is a worthwhile task.

        Secondly, those who do not believe are not the only people who have read my posts. I have been thanked by those who believe in Jesus Christ because they were wrestling with an issue that they found difficult and they appreciated my thoughts. Even if atheists are unreachable through reason, believers struggle with the questions that are asked by atheists and examining these questions is worthwhile if it can be an encouragement to brothers and sisters.

        Once again, thanks for your comment and God Bless,

        rob

      • vonleonhardt2 says:

        I think Jesus’ command to “feed my sheep” and to “shake the dust off you feet as a curse” guide my methodology the most. Like Splurgon said, “we need to make sure we are feeding the lambs and not just entertaining the goats.”

        Now, I did not say that there are no such things as demons; I said the bible doesn’t back our beliefs about those demons. Which means we need to bring OUR demonology back in line. Not try and rectify the existing assumptions we have. Most problem of evil issues are the same type of thing.

        And, as regards a focus on other Christians, a major problem we have in that regard is that we have a gospel that states salvation is furthered by Christian’s loving each other (John’s tradition). That voice shouldn’t be blended in with the other 3 Gospels to create our fifth. Moreover, there is a practical problem James epistle points out that we screw the pooch when we ignore that call as primary.

        Which church is more powerful in the world, one that has sharp economic divisions and good funded mission, or one where if I’m sitting on the pew next to someone and know they are hungry I reach out and help with their bills? The mission will just call more people to stay poor but to do so with membership cards; the latter will heal everyone so much that people outside will see and mission is redundant. You’d have to sell tickets.

        Listen to Atheist complaints (God bless atheist, they at least remind us Christmas is religious) they complain about inequity, suffering, etc. You can from an ivory tower say it’s God’s will and throw some cash at it while driving you lexus and ignoring the fact you FELLOW Christian’s (who Jesus died for) Geo Metro doesn’t run… Or you could buy a Honda and fix that metro and give Jesus that cup of water. I think it’s just as bad to also just fix a person’s situation and not address the spiritual side or to get to Gospel of wealth-ish.

        I mean imagine you had all the money in the world literally, you could buy all the farms, fix the roads, etc. but problems will still remain.

        No, the only problem with the Atheist arguments is that dying is not the greatest tragedy. Not knowing Jesus is. And that is something only God can fix.

        I do not find anything wrong with an apologetic; I dislike an apologetic based on ideals that are contrary to the belief system. Sometimes, believers wrestle with their beliefs and reality because those beliefs are incongruous with the scriptural witness. For, while a major use of the bible is yes to tell us what to believe it is equally to free us from what we already believe.Sometimes the problem with trying to intersect faith and reason is reason is really pointing you towards a need to re-evaluate your faith in good faith.

        Why does it feel your blessing isn’t really one? IDK.

      • Von,

        I don’t know why you would find my blessing isn’t sincere. I have not read your posts with hostility and, in fact, I have found your views fascinating. Actually, we seem to have similar beliefs about Christians and I have often considered your “focus on the family of Christ” evangelizing strategy. There are a couple of problems that have prevented me from adopting your strategy, though I have helped people “fix their Metro” and given water to my brothers and sisters who were in need.

        “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) seems to preclude an exclusive focus on believers. Likewise the command to “love thy neighbour as thyself” interpreted in the light of the parable that Jesus gave in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” seems to preclude focusing exclusively on those who believe.

        On the other hand, the church is called the body of Christ and the body has many members. Though all of us are called to witness to those around us, we are not all called to go to some remote location.

        Thanks again for your comment and (sincerely) may God bless you,

        rob

      • vonleonhardt2 says:

        I’m just to jaded I think. Bless you seems to be often used dismissively on the intra-webs.

        I don’t think it’s an either or thing. We should be doing both.

        I didn’t know I evangelized or had a strategy, lol.

        Godspeed-
        Paul

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