Two people return to their garden, which they have neglected for quite some time now, and find, among the weeds, the flowers they had planted were still thriving. The first person believes that someone must have been taking care of the garden in their absence. Due to the presence of the weeds, the second person disagrees. I would like to examine this parable, originally written by John Wisdom, and look at the parallels between this story and the theological problem of evil. How can there be an all powerful, good God, while evil still exists in the world? How can there be a gardener, if there are weeds in the garden?
So, two people have returned to their garden, discover their flowers are still thriving, but there are now weeds that have sprung up as well. The first person assumes that someone must have been taking care of their garden, but due to the weeds, the second person disagrees. They agree to investigate the matter and speak to their neighbors who claim that they have not seen anyone in their garden. The first person claims that the gardener must be coming at night, the second again disagrees because the weeds are too plentiful and the neighbors would have heard them. But the first person notices new plants, as well as pointing out their arrangement within the garden, and claims that certainly someone must be coming at night to take care of the place.
The discussion goes on, and the first person is forced to the conclusion that someone, perhaps invisible, must be taking care of the plants, while the second person refuses to acknowledge such a possibility. Both people are looking at the same evidence, and both have reached conclusions that they deem to be logical. Both people are satisfied with the conclusions that they have reached and do not desire further evidence to be convinced. To me, this perfectly summarizes the problem of evil.
We have all experienced hardships, suffering, disease, and death. We have seen natural disasters, as well as man-made disasters. We have taken our positions, and have arrived at our own conclusions. There is either a reason for good and evil, or there is not. Some believe that merely because good and evil exist, and we can recognize it, there must be a higher authority or something that defines good and evil for us. Others claim that because evil exists, there can not be a “good” higher power.
Now that we have drawn the correlation, let me ask you, what is a weed? There are a great number of plants that I enjoy, which others would consider to be a weed. Dandelions are a great example of this. I love to see my yard full of Dandelions, however, my HOA does not seem to appreciate them the way that I do. Where I see beauty, they do not, and thus I am forced to remove them. So let’s define the term.
Weed – a plant that is not valued where it is growing.
Well, now things are starting to make a bit more sense. In my scenario, I value the beauty of Dandelions, and so I want them in my yard. My HOA does not care about subjective beauty, only about ensuring the property value and contentedness of their members, and so they see the Dandelion as a weed that needs to be removed. In this same way, the two people above see their original plants as desirable, while the other plants are seen as intrusive. The second person believes that a gardener would have removed the weeds, and yet they do not know the personality of the theoretical gardener. Perhaps the gardener does not see them as weeds, just like I do not see Dandelions a weeds.
In this same way, when we look at certain kinds of “natural evils” in this world, we see them as unnecessary from our perspective. We do not see the garden as a whole, the system as a whole, and so we do not see any value in these kinds of events. Perhaps, with more perspective, we would change our minds, as we so commonly do, and agree with the creator of our garden. This is not to downplay the emotions felt when negative things happen, but it is rather to say that there is a need for it, perhaps we just do not realize why quite yet.