The Problem of Evil is a standard course topic in every philosophy of religion class. Simply put, it is the atheists’ argument that the Judeo-Christian God cannot exist. The Judeo-Christian God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Evil could never exist under this God for three reasons. 1.) Evil couldn’t hide from God, because God is omniscient. 2.) Evil would never be stronger than God, because God is omnipotent. 3.) Because God is omnibenevolent, God would not allow evil the freedom to make man suffer. But evil does exist, so God cannot exist.
Here is a link http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/ to the philosopher’s take on the conceptual question of the Problem of Evil. Just a cursory look will show how philosophers have broken down this epistemic question into nearly scientific formulas. It takes the magic out of God, but makes the argument for or against God clear and precise.
This argument presupposes some major concepts, it makes assumptions that I may not be inclined to make. Just because, even for the sake of argument, one accepts that God is all three of these characteristics, it does not necessarily follow that bad things cannot happen to good people if God existed. First of all, bad things happening to good people is certainly not necessarily the concept of evil coming into fruition. Bad things happening is not necessarly the work of Satan. Second of all, the argument that because God is omnibenevolent God is required to prevent evil from occuring or bad things from happening is not a sound argument. There is a huge divide between God being benevolent and preventing man’s concept of suffering. Let’s all agree that God knows bad things are brewing and has the power to stop them. Let’s also assume God is benevolent character. God’s lack of intervention to prevent bad things from happening is not proof that he must be hurtful or non-benevolent.
There are a couple of possibilities to reconcile this Problem. One possibility is that bad things, plague and tsunamis aren’t evil. They are natural phenomenan and have a place in life on this planet. That’s not to say they aren’t deadly and heartbreaking. To take this one step further, some might argue strife such as this has a God-inspired purpose, man just doesn’t know what that purpose is. But that’s not even required to accept natural disasters and disease and argue against the atheist’s Problem of Evil solution, and argue for the existence of the Judeo-Christian God even in a hurricane.
The Problem of Evil argument is being played out in Job as well. Job and his friends have clearly never taken an analytic philosophy class. As Brettler so succinctly lays out, these people make unsound arguments as follows:
1.) Only the wicked suffer; you are suffering; therefore you are wicked. Job replies, I am not wicked, yet I am suffering, therefore God is indifferent to the wicked.
2.) God is powerful, therefore good. Job replies : God is powerful therefore destructive.
Even Brettler claims only God can know which position is correct. Frankly, I say none of the positions are correct, and are in fact flawed. It seems to me God would claim none of these as correct because not any of these cases happen systematically or consistently. Job is suffering and God is powerful, that is all Job and his friends need to concern themselves with. It’s a matter of acceptance of reality, of what is, not why it is. They can hypothesize all they want, but in the end they will only feel betrayed because never will all situations pertaining to good things happening to bad people and bad things happening to good people work out consistently.
These are the theological stakes of Job, the Problem of Evil as established above as it relates to Job having such a hard time. I don’t see a rewarding resolution to the issues at hand. They muddle through their circumstances, and in the end Job gets his stuff back twofold. Which, frankly, is a unrealistic moral to the story. Maybe it’s a Christian interpretation, but the point of suffering is not win in the end, it’s to bring you closer to God, which is winning, but without the toys.
Below is a link to a 12 minute audio from Krista Tippett’s Being. It’s a radio show that I have found to offer the broadest coverage of matters of spirituality in mass media. From nature worship to a Buddhist-ish Catholic Poet Priest in Ireland, it’s about spiritual experience not dogma. Okay, plug over!
|Web-only audio*: Is heaven evil? A Web-only exchange with Robert Pollack on approaching the mysteries of other faiths.
Listen (12 min.)