And, of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the world, why has it gone wrong?
And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling “whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Bk. II, Ch. I).
“The Problem of Evil,” as it is commonly known, is the seemingly-impossible reconciliation of evil with the existence of God. How could suffering exist if there also exists an all-good and all-powerful God?
The problem stretches from before Christ’s time all the way up to today. Moreover, if we take St. Thomas’ selection of objections in his The Summa Theologica as any indication, the Problem of Evil is one of the only two “real” objections to the existence of God.
The first being that we need not posit a God to explain the world (which we respond to in God as Existence), and the second one is this: evil. Ironically, instead of being evidence against God, the Problem of Evil is actually evidence for God.
Let’s look at that evidence.
The Problem of Evil
First, what is the problem again? Modern philosopher David Hume, quoting Epicurus, puts it succinctly thus:
Is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then where does evil come from? (David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Pt. 10).
In other words, if God exists, then he should want and also be able to prevent evil. Yet, since evil does exist, then God cannot exist.
The argument strikes the mind, but more so the heart, and most intensely in the midst of actual suffering. In America, our experience of suffering is often mitigated by the nation’s wealth. In poorer places, where starvation or tribal conflict are rampant, suffering can be real enough to effect cries of Job-like anguish:
I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God…Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked? (Job 10:1-3).
In this state, even if our reason contends that God exists, pain may turn our hearts against us, as Blaise Pascal describes:
The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know (Pensees, #227).
Therefore, in order to bolster the mind against unforeseeable evil, let us reflect on the following.
Good and Evil
Evil is always parasitic of the good. It presupposes the good, which presupposes God.
Think of it like this: what causes pain? Physically, it’s the absence of health. What causes evil in man? Is it not the absence of virtue? Evil is defined not by presence but by absence: an absence of what ought to be, in both people and things.
Which is why darkness is the perennial analogy for evil. It is the absence of light. Darkness does not have attributes, it is simply where the light isn’t. But an absence is not something actually present.
Therefore evil, considered independently, doesn’t actually have its own existence. Missing things are just that: missing. Thus, without good things, which are able to house the missingness of evil, evil could not exist.
If evil exists—good exists.
If good exists, then there must be a cause for its existence (short proof, here), and that cause of all that exists is what we mean by God.
Thus, if evil exists then good exists, and if good exists then God exists.
Disorder implies Order
Moreover, objective disorder (or evil) presupposes objective order which presupposes an objective Order-er, as St. Thomas says:
Hereby we refute the error of those who said that there is no God through observing the presence of evil in the world…On the contrary, he should have argued: if there is evil, there is a God. For there would be no evil if the order of good were removed, the privation of which is evil; there would be no such order if there were no God (SCG III, Ch. LXXI).
C.S. Lewis succinctly explains the point, which is worth quoting at length:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.
What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too— for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…
Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning. Just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning (Ibid.).
To affirm an objective order in the world, is to affirm an objective Intelligence ordering it. Thus, The Problem of Evil becomes The Proof of a Universal Orderer.
Aside from proving God—by manifesting objective goodness and universal order—evil does not disprove Him, provided He works evil out for good. In the words of St. Augustine:
Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil. This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good (Enchiridion, Ch. III, P. XI).
Surely, all of us have experienced physical “pain which brought gain.” Or a personal fault, which led to deeper humility and repentance. Even the most horrendously painful suffering, if on the way to heavenly bliss, will in the ultimate analysis, have been well worth it. In the words of St. Paul:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18).
Therefore, let us see evil not as proof against God but proof for God, and welcome all the suffering, which the Divine hand seems fit to send us. Provided, he sends with it—Himself.