The problem of evil is such an interesting philosophical question to examine. If God is all powerful, and loving, how can evil exist? Surely, God must either be limited in power, or in His capacity to love if He will allow evil to exist? Wouldn’t any other option merely be an attempt to justify evil? Today, I would like to take a look at one aspect of this quandary and see if we can find a scenario that does not limit any of the premises in the problem of evil. At the end of this article, hopefully, we will have a single scenario where God can be loving, all powerful, and allow evil.
First, I would like to do a quick mental exercise. Imagine that you are in a loving relationship with someone that you care very deeply about, but this person does not seem to return the same feelings. Although this person claims to want to be in a relationship with you, they do not honestly reciprocate your feelings, desires, or even your general worldview. You do not have the same interests, or goals, and it is very likely that the relationship is based on a sense of security, rather than passion. Do you think that it would be best to allow the relationship to continue, even though this person seems to want to stay with you, knowing that they are not currently, and will likely never be happy?
In the above scenario, I am correlating the imaginary relationship to a relationship that God may currently have with people across the world. Some people may very well desire a relationship with God, but are merely doing so out of a desire for the reward of eternal life, as opposed to eternal love. This type of person only values the security of the relationship, and not the relationship itself. Do you think that this type of person would truly desire to spend eternity with God if they do not truly love Him?
Here is where it gets difficult. We have a God that is all powerful and all loving, and a person that is not quite so loving but still desires the reward of eternal life. This puts God in quite a unique situation. If He loves the person, He does not want them to die, He does not want them to suffer needlessly, and He does not want to change them against their will.
God Does Not Want Death
A basic understanding of the Bible might make this statement seem counterintuitive. With the Noah’s flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues, and so on, one could easily adopt the idea that God loves to kill off large portions of humanity for His own amusement, but this would be a mistake. In each one of these examples, God has given people the opportunity to avoid disaster, and usually He has gone incredibly far out of His way to provide that opportunity. But this isn’t supposed to be a defense on the morality of God, as the premise of our conversation is that we have a loving God, so let’s focus on that.
A loving God does not desire to see the death of His creation, which He loves. The person, who may not be so loving, desires eternal life, which is in alignment with God’s desire. On this point, there is no disagreement.
God Does Not Want Needless Suffering
If we accept the premise that God is loving, then it stands to reason that God would not want to see, or inflict, needless suffering amongst humanity. Given that we have accepted the premise, and given that we are able to witness and experience suffering, then we must ask if the suffering we are experiencing is necessary for some reason.
In the previous section, we agreed that our hypothetical person does not want to die, and that God does not want that person to die, and so, their desires in that sense are in alignment. But we have also agreed that our hypothetical person does not desire to be in an eternal relationship with God, and forcing this onto the person would create needless suffering. So, what options do we have at our disposal?
Take Away Free Will
This is one premise that is left out of our initial discussion, but has to be accepted in order to continue. If we accept that God exists, and that we do not have free will, then bickering about the nature of God would be no different than if you decided to have a debate with yourself, using finger puppets. It may be entertaining to you, but it is ultimately pointless and unnecessary. Given this, let’s assume that we have free will so that the remainder of this experiment can be fruitful.
God has the ability to take free will away from the person in question, but wouldn’t this effectively end the individual existence of the person? If it did not, then forcing a person’s mind to silently ride along in their body, unable to control their own actions, would certainly cause unnecessary suffering. So this option has two potential outcomes, spiritual or conscious death, or unnecessary suffering, neither of which could be lovingly tolerated. This brings us to the third thing that a loving God would reasonably not want to do.
God Does Not Change Your Personality Against Your Will
You are a free agent, you have the ability to come to logical conclusions about things that should be done, and you have the ability to execute based on those conclusions. The idea that God could simply change your personality, either your emotional state or the way that you analyze various situations, in order to make you love Him, is sort of a grey area between allowing you to have free will and taking it away.
Now, let’s be clear, I am not suggesting that God cannot use situations in order to effect change, I am saying that God will not force change in your personality without your permission. There is a significant difference between these two concepts, effecting change utilizing a situation is a method which ultimately depends on your free agency to look back, analyze what happened and how you reacted, and to come to a logical conclusion about how you should or could improve yourself in the future. Forcing change without your permission is essentially the same as reprogramming you. While reprogramming people may seem like a reasonable solution in the short term, it is a moral atrocity. If you would reprogram people without their permission, why make them the way that they were to begin with?
Why not just create a race of morally perfect people? While this may seem like a logical question at first, let me ask a question. If you have no choice but to always take the optimal moral path in any situation, do you have free will? The answer was in the first premise of the question, if you have no choice, then you do not have free will. As I stated earlier, without free will, the problem of evil is no longer concerning as we are simply doing what God desires all the time. If God has no issue reprogramming us at will, then we must be doing what God desires, else He would reprogram us. If we accept that we have free will, and that God is loving, we can be sure that God will not change our personality without our permission.
Then Why Does Evil Exist?
In this particular scenario, using the examples we have outlined, we can say that evil exists out of necessity. Our hypothetical person wants eternal life, God does not want the person to die, but our two characters are incompatible to spend eternity in each others’ presence without causing needless suffering. Given this, and given the few remaining options available to a loving God that wishes to avoid needless suffering and death, we can only conclude that in this scenario, God will use different situations in order to effect change in our hypothetical person. These situations may vary depending on the person, sometimes they will be positive situations and sometimes they will be negative, but they will always occur in order to effect change. Of course, how we respond to these situations is up to us.
There is, of course, one more option that we have not addressed. God could offer eternal life, separated from Him. In this scenario, our hypothetical person would be granted eternal life in a place like heaven, along with other people that would not have been happy in heaven. The trouble with this idea is that everyone who does not willingly allow God to transform them, would end up there. Over time, as more of the worlds serial killers and demented souls arrived, this place would quickly turn into a place of torment and needless suffering. Certainly not an ideal way to spend eternity. If you think this example sounds a lot like the modern idea of Hell, I would agree. So let’s try one more twist, our hypothetical person could choose to spend eternity alone, rather than with others. This may be ideal at first, but eternal solitude does not sound incredibly appealing. What is the meaning of being alive, if it is not to share our experiences with those we love?
At this point, I only see a few options that a loving, all powerful God could provide to our hypothetical friend without violating his free will. The first is true death, in the sense that this person would cease to exist. The second is an eternal experience that will undoubtedly cause needless suffering. The third, and final option is salvation, willingly accepted by our hypothetical friend and graciously offered to all by God. It is only by living a life where we are exposed to true suffering, that we can understand just how valuable a gift of salvation truly is.