The Problem Of Evil
The article was published by the Catholic Education Resource Center
In this blog the article appears in italics and my comments are indented and in bold type.
The Problem of Evil
The problem of evil is the most serious problem in the world. It is also the one serious objection to the existence of God. No sane person wants hell to exist.
So how should we regard the sanity of the god who created hell?
The problem of evil is the most serious problem in the world. It is also the one serious objection to the existence of God.
When Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his great Summa Theologica, he could find only two objections to the existence of God, even though he tried to list at least three objections to every one of the thousands of theses he tried to prove in that great work. One of the two objections is the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God; and the other is the problem of evil.
More people have abandoned their faith because of the problem of evil than for any other reason. It is certainly the greatest test of faith, the greatest temptation to unbelief. And it's not just an intellectual objection. We feel it. We live it. That's why the Book of Job is so arresting.
The problem can be stated very simply: If God is so good, why Is his world so bad? If an all-good, all-wise, all-loving, all-just, and all-powerful God is running the show, why does he seem to be doing such a miserable job of it? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Notice that here Kreeft agrees that god is all-good and all-wise.
Later, when it suits him, he will totally ignore these very important traits.
The unbeliever who asks that question is usually feeling resentment toward and rebellion against God, not just lacking evidence for his existence.
That is just so wrong. How is it possible to resent something that doesn’t exist? Christians do not believe in the existence of the god named Zeus – does that mean they resent Zeus and rebel against him? I should say not.
C. S. Lewis recalls that as an atheist he “did not believe God existed. I was also very angry with him for not existing. I was also angry with him for having created the world.”
When you talk to such a person, remember that it is more like talking to a divorce than to a skeptical scientist.
Talking to an atheist is like talking to a divorce! What does that mean?
The reason for unbelief is an unfaithful lover, not an inadequate hypothesis
Unbelief is caused by an unfaithful lover? How does that work?
The unbeliever's problem is not just a soft head but a hard heart.
Didn’t take long did it? The personal attacks have begun. Kreeft is saying that unbelievers are soft in the head and hard hearted!
[Christian love and tolerance ... more honoured in the breach than in the observance.]
And the good apologist knows how to let the heart lead the head as well as vice versa.
There are four parts to the solution to the problem of evil . First, evil is not a thing, an entity, a being. All beings are either the Creator or creatures created by the Creator. But every thing God created is good, according to Genesis.
Not everything was good, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight,” says Genesis 6:11, and the corruption was caused by humans: “the earth is filled with violence through them.” (Genesis 6:13). So how did god solve this problem of violence among the humans? “Behold I will destroy them” he said - and bingo, the Flood! [Solving the problem of violence by acting violently – a novel approach.]
We naturally tend to picture evil as a thing—a black cloud, or a dangerous storm, or a grimacing face, or dirt. But these pictures mislead us.
It’s not a natural tendency at all. I have never pictured evil as a thing and I know I am not alone in that.
If God is the Creator of all things and evil is a thing, then God is the Creator of evil, and he is to blame for its existence.
That’s correct. God clearly states that he is to blame for the existence of evil. In Isaiah 45:7 he says, “I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” [Some versions of the bible have translated the Hebrew word “Ra” as disaster, calamity, or even woe, but many version insist that “Ra” means evil.]
No, evil is not a thing but a wrong choice, or the damage done by a wrong choice.
Consider the pain and suffering experience by humans and animals torn to pieces by natural disasters. Is that not evil? Where is the choice?
Evil is no more a positive thing than blindness is. But it is just as real. It is not a thing, but it is not an illusion.
I imagine that the victims of the Christian Inquisitions may have felt that their torturers were positively evil.
Second, the origin of evil is not the Creator but the creature's freely choosing sin and selfishness.
But in Isaiah 45:7 (see above) God said evil did originate with him. He created it.
Consider also, the pain and suffering of hundreds of thousands of innocents swept away in tidal waves, or crushed by collapsing buildings during earthquakes. Is that not evil? Is every victim sinful and selfish, and therefore deserving of that evil? I think not.
Take away all sin and selfishness and you would have heaven on earth.
Christians boast that God took away all the sin and selfishness with his Flood, but the very first thing Noah did after the ark landed was to create more pain and suffering when he slaughtered birds and animals on the altar. Doesn’t sound like heaven on earth to me. Sounds like the only humans left alive on the planet were a family of perverted sadists who got their kicks by killing defenceless animals.
Even the remaining physical evils would no longer rankle and embitter us.
Yeah, those tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes and cyclones are real easy to take. Who could possibly feel rankled and embittered as they searched through the ruins for the broken bodies of their friends and relatives?
Saints endure and even embrace suffering and death as lovers embrace heroic challenges. But they do not embrace sin.
I warn anyone with a weak stomach – do not read about the masochistic behaviour of St Alacoque, St Simeon Stylites, and others like them. You’ll have nightmares for the rest of your life. Seriously, their stories are some of the most sickening you could ever read.
Furthermore, the cause of physical evil is spiritual evil. The cause of suffering is sin. After Genesis tells the story of the good God creating a good world, it next answers the obvious question “Where did evil come from then?” By the story of the fall of mankind. How are we to understand this? How can spiritual evil (sin) cause physical evil (suffering and death)?
God is the source of all life and joy.
Easy to say. Let’s see the proof.
Therefore, when the human soul rebels against God, it loses its life and joy.
As mentioned above, unbelievers are not rebelling against God, so the claim is obviously false, and the hundreds of millions of joyful atheists shows it to be false.
Now a human being is body as well as soul. We are single creatures, not double: we are not even body and soul as much as we are embodied soul, or ensouled body.
So far there is no evidence for the soul, so anything said about its existence is pure speculation.
So the body must share in the soul's inevitable punishment
More speculation and not a skerrick of evidence behind it.
—a punishment as natural and unavoidable as broken bones from jumping off a cliff or a sick stomach from eating rotten food rather than a punishment as artificial and external as a grade for a course or a slap on the hands for taking the cookies.
Notice how Kreeft has so little evidence for the human soul, that he is forced to use natural events to explain the supernatural.
Whether this consequence of sin was a physical change in the world or only a spiritual change in human consciousness—whether the “thorns and thistles” grew in the garden only after the fall or whether they were always there but were only felt as painful by the newly fallen consciousness is another question.
A question which Kreeft does not answer.
But in either case the connection between spiritual evil and physical evil has to be as close as the connection between the two things they affect, the human soul and the human body.
Pure speculation. There is no evidence that we have a soul.
If the origin of evil is free will, and God is the origin of free will, isn't God then the origin of evil? Only as parents are the origin of the misdeeds their children commit by being the origin of their children.The all-powerful God gave us a share in his power to choose freely. Would we prefer he had not and had made us robots rather than human beings?
This argument is nothing more than a sop to the reader’s emotions. Kreeft is implying that if God does not exist then you are nothing more than a robot, but you know you are not a robot – therefore God exists!
A third part of the solution to the problem of evil is the most important part: how to resolve the problem in practice, not just in theory; in life, not just in thought. Although evil is a serious problem for thought (for it seems to disprove the existence of God), it is even more of a problem in life (for it is the real exclusion of God).
Here again, it is implied that God actually exists and the unbelievers have had to deliberately exclude the deity from their life. That is not the case at all. The unbeliever has no more reason to deliberately exclude Yahweh, than has the Christians to deliberately exclude Zeus from their own life.
But even if you think the solution in thought is obscure and uncertain, the solution in practice is as strong and clear as the sun: it is the Son. God's solution to the problem of evil is his Son Jesus Christ. The Father’s love sent his Son to die for us to defeat the power of evil in human nature: that's the heart of the Christian story. We do not worship a deistic God, an absentee landlord who ignores his slum; we worship a garbageman God who came right down into our worst garbage to clean it up. How do we get God off the hook for allowing evil? God is not off the hook; God is the hook. That's the point of a crucifix.
A poetic retelling of the New Testament stories that does nothing more than send us around in circles: The New Testament stories are true because they are in the New Testament and the New Testament is true.
The Cross is God's part of the practical solution to evil. Our part, according to the same Gospel, is to repent, to believe, and to work with God in fighting evil by the power of love. The King has invaded; we are finishing the mop-up operation.
There is no evidence for this claim.
Finally, what about the philosophical problem? It is not logically contradictory to say an all-powerful and all-loving God tolerates so much evil when he could eradicate it?
As long as the Christians don’t claim that God is all-good, there is no reason to expect him to eradicate all evil and that’s why this aspect of god’s nature is discarded at this point; because the defense of god will not work if that trait is carried beyond this point.
Why do bad things happen to good people? The question makes three questionable assumptions.
First, who's to say we are good people?
Here Kreeft is implying that none of us are good and we deserve whatever evil may befall us. In truth, however, there are good people and bad people and many who are a mixture of both. Just for the record, I will say that most of us are “good people”.
The question should be not “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but “Why do good things happen to bad people?”
This is an old Jesuit debating trick – when a question cannot be properly answered, then change the question! Highly unethical, but also highly effective when used against a gullible audience.
If the fairy godmother tells Cinderella that she can wear her magic gown until midnight, the question should be not “Why not after midnight?” but “Why did I get to wear it at all?” The question is not why the glass of water is half empty but why it is half full, for all goodness is gift. The best people are the ones who are most reluctant to call themselves good people. Sinners think they are saints, but saints know they are Sinners. The best man who ever lived once said, “No one is good but God alone.”
Here Kreeft is not advancing his solution to the Problem of Evil, but merely encouraging the reader to go along with his plan to avoid the difficult question and ask an easier one.
Second, who's to say suffering is all bad? Life without it would produce spoiled brats and tyrants, not joyful saints.
This would have been a good time for Kreeft to cite a peer reviewed psychology paper that backs up his claim, but he didn’t - so I shall assume the claim is pure speculation on his part.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel says simply, “The man who has not suffered, what can he possibly know, anyway?”
Interesting question. I wonder where he’s going with it? It sounds like he’s just stringing words together and hoping that his audience will add their own meaning to it.
Suffering can work for the greater good of wisdom.
When he says “Suffering can work for the greater good,” Kreeft is saying that the victim’s suffering will result in long term good results and therefore it should have happened, otherwise god would not have allowed it to happen. But if that is true then we could deliberately harass innocent victims and if we succeed in making them suffer, then we would know it was the right thing to do and our unethical behaviour will produce long term good results, otherwise god would not have allowed it to happen. But in the real world, of course, we know that we should not deliberately harass innocent victims and that long term good results will not excuse unethical behaviour. In situations like this, the ends do not justify the means.
It is not true that all things are good, but it is true that “all things work together for good to those who love God.”
Here Kreeft is making a special pleading to his audience (whom he probably assumes to be god believers). He is saying that no matter what evil befalls you, no matter how bad things may get, as a believer in god it is your duty to set aside your doubts and assume (despite the evidence) that everything will turn out for the best. Kreeft is also using peer pressure as a way to get his opinion accepted. He suggests that “those who love God” will agree with him and therefore, by implication, anyone who disagrees is not a true Christian.
Third, who's to say we have to know all God's reasons? Who ever promised us all the answers? Animals can't understand much about us; why should we be able to understand everything about God? The obvious point of the Book of Job, the world's greatest exploration of the problem of evil, is that we just don't know what God is up to. What a hard lesson to learn: Lesson One, that we are ignorant, that we are infants!
So our understanding of god compares with an animal’s understanding of us. We don’t know what god is up to. When it comes to god we are ignorant infants! Yet here is Kreeft, telling us everything he knows about god; what god is doing, and why he is doing it? Call me cynical, but I think Kreeft has just lost all credibility. I think he’s making stuff up as he goes along.
No wonder Socrates was declared by the Delphic oracle to be the wisest man in the world. He interpreted that declaration to mean that he alone knew that he did not have wisdom, and that was true wisdom for man.
A child on the tenth story of a burning building cannot see the firefighters with their safety net on the street. They call up, “Jump! We'll catch you. Trust us. “ The child objects, “But I can't see you.” The firefighter replies, “That's all right. I can see you.”
We are like that child, evil is like the fire, our ignorance is like the smoke, God is like the firefighter, and Christ is like the safety net. If there are situations like this where we must trust even fallible human beings with our lives, where we must trust what we hear, not what we see, then it is reasonable that we must trust the infallible, all-seeing God when we hear from his word but do not see from our reason or experience. We cannot know all God's reasons, but we can know why we cannot know.
But we have good reason to trust fallible human beings. When the firemen say they can catch me, I will jump. As far as I know there is not a single incident in the history of the world when the firemen have lied about their safety net. But consider the number of people trapped in burning buildings who pray for god to rescue them – and their prayers remain unanswered. The rescuing abilities of fallible humans far outweigh those of the god named Yahweh.
God has let us know a lot.
A few paragraphs ago Kreeft was saying, “we just don’t know what God is up to” and our understanding of him is no better than that of ignorant infants – but now “God has let us know a lot”. I guess it’s all relative.
He has lifted the curtain on the problem of evil with Christ. There, the greatest evil that ever happened, both the greatest spiritual evil and the greatest physical evil, both the greatest sin (deicide) and the greatest suffering (perfect love hated and crucified), is revealed as his wise and loving plan to bring about the greatest good, the salvation of the world from sin and suffering eternally. There, the greatest injustice of all time is integrated into the plan of salvation that Saint Paul calls “the righteousness (Justice) of God”. Love finds a way. Love is very tricky. But love needs to be trusted.
At this point Kreeft is preaching to the choir. He is not supplying new evidence for his point of view, merely repeating what he has read in the New Testament and then implying it is true because it is in the New Testament - and the New Testament is true.
The worst aspect of the problem of evil is eternal evil, hell. Does hell not contradict a loving and omnipotent God? No, for hell is the consequence of free will. We freely choose hell for ourselves; God does not cast anyone into hell against his will. If a creature is really free to say yes or no to the Creator's offer of love and spiritual marriage, then it must be possible for the creature to say no. And that is what hell is, essentially. Free will, in turn, was created out of God's love. Therefore hell is a result of God's love. Everything is.
In the first sentence we are told that hell is “eternal evil”, but in the last sentence we are told that, “hell is a result of God’s love”. How did that happen? Kreeft says that we have the free will to accept god’s love or reject it. He says it is a free choice, but it is nothing of the sort. God is not saying, “Will you accept my love, yes or no?” He is actually saying, “Accept my love or you will burn in hell for eternity.” There is no freedom in that choice and Kreeft’s introduction of the free-will concept is a red-herring. It’s like a robber saying, “Your money or your life?” It’s not really a choice is it?
No sane person wants hell to exist. No sane person wants evil to exist.
We’ve already discussed this situation but it is worth asking the question again: If no sane person wants hell to exist, then how should we regard the sanity of the god who created it?
But hell is just evil eternalized. If there is evil and if there is eternity, there can be hell.
Here Kreeft is trying to plant the idea that there is a logical reason for the existence of hell, but that isn’t true. It is an uncorroborated statement and he could just as easily have said that if there is evil and if there is eternity, there is no need for hell.
If it is intellectually dishonest to disbelieve in evil just because it is shocking and uncomfortable, it is the same with hell.
Well not really. Hardly anybody disbelieves in evil because there is plenty of evidence that evil has occurred – just think of the innocent victims tortured to death by the Christian inquisitors in the basements of the local churches. Tens of thousands of evil acts perpetrated against humanity over a period of six hundred years! But now look for the evidence for hell – a few texts in the New Testament written two thousand years ago by a bunch of hillbilly preachers who used those texts to keep the flock under control, and paying their tithes. That’s all the evidence we have for hell; nothing more.
Reality has hard corners, surprises, and terrible dangers in it. We desperately need a true road map, not nice feelings, if we are to get home. It is true, as people often say, that “hell just feels unreal, impossible.” Yes. So does Auschwitz. So does Calvary.
In effect Kreeft is saying, “Don’t worry about the horrors of hell – life wasn’t meant to be easy – just grit your teeth, trust in god, and try not to dwell on all the bad stuff that goes with the Christian religion.”
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