There is no question that the most ancient and the greatest obstacle to belief in God is the existence of evil. When it is said “the problem of evil” it sounds abstract, but suffering and evil is as real as the existence of the universe. Evil seems to be omnipresent and far more powerful than the good. Suffering and hardships, man’s inhumanity to other heartbreaks and unjust social structures, hunger and widespread poverty, and other acts against humanity lead people to the conclusion that God does not exist. One must simply be an atheist. Where is God? Why God does not care? If God exists then why He does not help? The history of this world is an inconceivable story, of suffering and death indicating the absence of God. The question must be analyzed on the existential and logical level , but one must remember always the emotional , personal and concrete experience of evil in individual lives.
Rabbi Harold Kushner in his book: “ When Bad Things Happen to Good People” gives a vivid illustration of possible reaction to evil when it is experienced on personal level. Although it is impossible to agree with his conclusion , one must acknowledge the fact that abstract analysis of evil, it’s existence and concrete personal experience are two different ways of approaching the question. When unexpected tragedy strikes in personal life humans simply lose their balance and accuse God of extreme cruelty and unnecessary evil which seems to be absolutely incomprehensible. This is how people become atheists usually for personal emotional reasons.
This attitude is a dogmatic and unproved assumption of those who do not bother to justify it in any way and accept the views of atheism even if it violates and neglects the most fundamental principles of logic and experience.
The problem of the existence of evil is only a serious problem for a believer in God. Not only of any god like the pantheistic god, or the deistic god or even a god who is on the same level as the evil god like the Persian notions of Ahriman and Ormuzd. The God of Judeo Christian theism is radically different from any other. This is why the theist faces the obvious seemingly unsolvable situation, as below:
1. God exists .
2. God is all good and omnipotent.
3. But evil both natural and man-made exists too.
Conclusion: (a) God cannot exist.
(b) Either He cannot abolish evil, then He is not omnipotent, or
(c) He does not want to abolish evil then He is evil too.
Our knowledge of God begins with the surprise that something exists. It is the Leibnizian question : why is there anything at all rather than nothing. The existence of any being must be somehow intelligible to the human mind. From analysis of a finite being the mind moves to the idea of contingency and causality. There must be one being which is self-existing that is existence is it’s very essence . This way the mind arrives at the existence of the Prime Mover , the First Cause, and Designer of the Universe. This is the philosophical notion of God. The problem of God’s existence must be separated from the problem of the existence of evil in the world. Those are two separate questions. Quite often the distinction is not acknowledged . People say “… if evil exists God does not exist…” The idea is the following: An all good and Omnipotent God cannot allow any evil whatsoever to exist. This conclusion does not follow at all. God is Omnipotent, immaterial absolutely transcendent and perfect. In Himself God is completely infinitely happy and therefore He did not create the universe, for any other reason, but only to share in some form his goodness with His creatures. Being good is always the very root of any perfection and value of any kind. Nothingness does not exist therefore cannot be known or created in any way. Even the minimum degree of any perfection or value must be good and the product of good. Therefore God being infinite is infinitely good and His creation must be good. This is why St. Augustine expressed the question very simply: “…If God does not exist why so much good, and if God exists why so much evil?...” God’s perfection and His Omnipotence enable God to create all finite beings “… out of nothing…” This expression however must be properly understood. It means that nothing existed, but God the creator alone. The power of His creative word was enough to let existence be given to what was not existing. God is completely happy in Himself and in absolute independence and freedom . It follows that God did not have to create a universe. He did not need to call non existent entities into being . Ultimately there is only one reason why God called the universe into existence: to share in some way His happiness with His creatures. The personal God let persons be. God being good cannot intent directly evil in any form.
3This brings the analysis to the important question : what is evil?
Thomas Aquinas defined evil as lack of perfection which ought to belong to some being. For example a stone has no vision because the stone has no power to see and therefore it is not evil but absence of vision in a human is evil because normally vision belongs to the human nature. Being is first in existence and evil is parasitic on a being which is in itself good, but limited and deprived of some perfection. It follows that God by creating finite beings did not intend evil, however by creating humans, He indirectly allowed the possibility of abuse of freedom given to man. Freedom of choice is the expression of the nature of man created as a person capable of own choices.
Without free choice humans simply would not be human beings. They would be manipulated things only. As such there would not exist any moral value or responsibility of any kind . Freedom of choice gives man independence and self-determination. Man can reject God’s offer and ignore God’s directions. This is the essence of sin and spiritual decay. It is a positive rebellion and rejection of God. In the first Chapter of Genesis there is the story of the rebellion against God. Sin and evil became part of man’s existence destroying his relationship to God, to other people and also making man a slave of sin. Evil seems to be more attractive , more effective and far better in practice than the directions given by God. Evil becomes all pervasive and omnipresent. This is visible in all aspects of human existence , all social systems , even within the closest human relationships in families. As mentioned above evil is parasitic on the good. It destroys man himself and brings death, moral corruption.
Moral evil can be compared to leprosy. It attacks the spiritual life of man and deprives the person of the ability to recognize the difference between moral evil and moral good. Man recognizes clearly the difference between moral evil and moral good but with time and repeated silencing his conscience he loses the ability to feel the difference of moral activities and he continues to live quite often in complete blindness to the obvious evil in which and with which he habitually lives day by day. Moral values simply become unimportant and considered nonexistent. What remains is self-centeredness , self-interest and the competition by all means in the fight for survival and material gain.
Once this happens man is practically enslaved by the power of evil and becomes accustomed to it. Evil becomes normal way of living. It is now a habitual way of thinking and decision making and creating temporal idols in human life. Man loses the ability and desire for change because change requires an awakening to evil governing one’s life. It requires strong and deliberate decision to begin a new life in freedom and according to the plan of God. But that is exactly what man does not want because he does not want to surrender to God’s will. Freedom of choice is like double edged sword. It can cut both ways. However it is the greatest gift given to human’s by the Creator. Man is an image of God.
God cannot create evil in any way . God is goodness itself . By giving man freedom of choice God created the possibility of manmade evil . This is why human beings are afraid of their own great calling: to be eternal participants of divine life as chosen children of God who is Omnipotent Love.
Summary of the above points: 1.God did not create evil but only good. 2.Man as a creature of an all good God was created also good because he is called the image of God. 3. Human freedom of choice is necessary condition of being a person. 4.Freedom of choice involves the possibility of choosing evil. This is the very condition of true freedom. 5. Man rebelled against the will of God, chose disobedience, and became infected with evil, hostile to God, and to other humans losing the clarity of vision of his own nature and destiny . 6. Evil and sin multiplied and became man’s habitual way of living. The image of God became disfigured, tarnished and poisoned, infected towards sickness unto death.(S. Kierkegaard) 7. Only God can liberate man from the deadly slavery of sin. 8. God is the God of freedom and liberty and He respects the freedom of man, even if man turns against Him and can opt for eternal loneliness without God. 9. God desires the salvation of all men from enslavement to evil.
The real question is the co-existence of evil and God . Usually the problem is formulated as follows:
1.If God exists evil cannot exist.
2. Evil does exist.
3. Therefore God does not exist.
Existence of God is evidently proved by the nature of the universe and the demand of the First Cause , the Intelligent Designer of the universe and the First Mover of the dynamism observable in the world. Those proofs are metaphysically certain on their own , independently on other problems. Therefore the problem of God’s existence is separate from the fact of the existence of evil. The real question is whether God and evil can co-exist. The answer to this problem of co-existence of God and evil is in the affirmative, yes God exists and evil exists too. Why is this so?
God being all good cannot directly create evil but since He wanted to have free and responsible persons He opened the possibility of choosing evil. This explains why evil and God co-exist. So the first part of the syllogism : if evil exists God does not exist is false.
It can be asked why did God create the universe and human beings at all. The answer seems clear: God did not have to create the universe at all because being God, He is perfectly happy and did not have any need to create. The motive for creation can only be love. God wanted to share His own happiness with conscious , responsible free persons capable of loving answer to his love and participating in some way in His divine nature even for eternity . Man’s personality and his free choices are the necessary conditions for fulfilling the vocation to be a living image of God. Man is a responsible creator of his destiny because it depends on the way he responds to God. This is the burden of responsibility for one’s own free decisions. Responsibility is understood as real burden and everyone must try to grow up towards being responsible for his own decisions and actions. By decision and action humans shape their own character . Sadly enough history of humanity shows the depth of man’s depravity. One would not exaggerate by saying that it is written in blood and horror. The depth of human depravity makes man far worse than other animals. The saying of Thomas Hobbes ”homo homini lupus” – man is the wolf to the other man remains painfully true.
The concept that this life here and now is destined for human happiness is a misunderstanding. The problem of coexistence of God and evil has it’s roots in
God’s plan cannot be frustrated by human evil . God did not give up on humanity and revealed His will and plan for humans.Man in his rebellion against God is enslaved in his own evil and is inclined to worship human made idols which temporarily may fascinate him only to lead to final frustration.
The concept that this life here and now is destined for human happiness is a misunderstanding. The problem of coexistence of God and evil has it’s roots in
the fundamental vision of life, the nature of the universe and the meaning and destiny of human life. The adequate solution of the problem is given in the context of Christianity in a very special way. Human life can be understood adequately within the Christian dogma. The basic errors and distortions enter when life is conceived as the time from conception to the moment of physical death. In such view that is all man is given. It is all of his existence . Eternity existed before man’s birth, he lives for a short time without any direction or meaning of his life and he dies forever. This creates the anxiety and the fear which dominates his life. Man is not certain practically of anything at all. He does not know what the others will do to him and subconsciously as Thomas Hobbes said, …man considers everyone else as potential enemy against whom he must arm himself and he is not even certain how much time is left for him before the inevitable death. Man does not put his hope in God but in whatever he can accumulate of material values , popularity , power over others and climbing the social ladder . In everything he does he wants to be first and he would eliminate anyone in the fierce fight for survival. Objective moral values in such existence are obstacles to his success. They would limit his self-adoration and pride. Consequently man creates his own values which make it easier for him to dominate others. The language of such people becomes completely devoid of any moral good or evil . Instead words are used completely morally neutral such as like productive, effective progressive, scientific and so forth. Man greedily acquires many things not because he really needs them but to impress others with his possessions and show that his material goods are far better and more valuable than those of others. For example he would buy an expensive new car not because he needs one, but to feed his vanity. Life becomes a constant competitive effort to outshine others. It is deprived of honest , true human relationships and it becomes selfish , short and finally ending in death.
This is the evil created by man himself in his falsely understood nature of life which becomes one dimensional , horizontal and ultimately frustrating . The evil described above is not only situated in the very soul and spirit of man , but according to the Bible, nature itself, that is the world in which man lives is also affected by the fall and hostility. According to the words of St. Paul: It is yearning for liberation. The universe follows it’s own ways of development from the beginning and becomes also a dangerous place to live in : diseases, old age, all kinds of suffering and the inevitability of death are all part of the human experience.
If looked upon in the above described way the world seems to be a very difficult place to be born into and there are those who accuse God of cruelty and unloving despotism and hostility to man. In Dostoyevsky’s book “The Brothers Karamazov,” Ivan , the brother of Alyosha says the following: “If in this world which you think God made even one small child suffers and cries then the world is not worth living and I myself give the ticket back.” There is seemingly too much pain and disappointment in this world and many people lose their faith in a loving and good God . When suffering and pain become overwhelming some commit suicide. As discussed before, God is all good and God cannot directly create evil , and He did not . Evil originated in the hostility and rebellion of man against the plan and commandments of God. The Will of God seems to be an intrusion, and a burden from outside. It seems to suffocate man and his imaginary independence Briefly speaking God is not wanted. For many people God has no place nor meaning in their lives , they live as if God does not exist, and they do not bother even to know anything about God , His existence and His plans for humanity . The fascination of pleasures of this life and their successes in this or that area and the constant hunger for entertainment of all sorts does not leave much time for deeper reflection and search for truth. Man becomes deeper and deeper alienated from God and other people and does not even question the fundamental issues of existence. The evil perpetrated by humans in history is beyond any description. But man does not want to accept the obvious fact of the evil done by man and the responsibility for it . Man blames always either God other people , the circumstances of his life or anything else but himself. The Grand Inquisitor in his accusations against Christ whom he recognized in the streets and ordered to be arrested for creating a tumult gests more and more excited and finally he completely dumbfounded by Christ silently kissing him shouts: Go away ,go away and never come back, never! The Grand Inquisitor could not forgive Christ that He gave freedom of conscious to men.God respects human freedom. Man is endowed with immortal soul and destined for eternal life.