Why Doesn't God "Do Something" About Evil?

A man walking down the beach comes across an old bottle. He picks it up, rubs it and out pops a genie! The genie says, "In exchange for freeing me from the bottle, I will grant you three wishes."The man says "Great! I want one billion dollars in a Swiss bank account." Poof! There is a flash of light and a piece of paper with account numbers appears in his hand!He continues, "Next, I want a brand new red Ferrari right here." Poof! There is a flash of light and a bright red, brand-new Ferrari appears right next to him!He continues, "Finally, I want to be irresistible to women." Poof! There is a flash of light and he turns into a box of chocolates. ~ Edited from Christiansunite Clean Jokes 
It is probably the most consistent challenge raised to the existence of God: the problem of evil. It has been most succinctly and accurately stated with the following syllogism: 
  1. If an all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God exists, then evil (suffering) does not exist.
  2. Evil exists.
  3. Therefore, an all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful God does not exist.
Not only is it the most consistently raised challenge, it is almost certainly the best argument against the existence of God. It is so powerful, that St. Thomas Aquinas found it to be only one of two arguments against God's existence that he considered worth answering in his Summa Theologica. C.S. Lewis, probably the greatest Christian apologist and popularizer of the 20th Century, basically devoted an entire book to the problem of evil when he wrote, The Problem of Pain. Of course there have been others who have tackled the problem of evil and, in my humble opinion, provided outstanding responses to the challenge. Some excellent shorter responses by well-known Christian authors that are available on the Internet are Peter Kreeft's "The Problem of Evil," William Lane Craig's "The Problem of Evil" and Dallas Willard's "God and the Problem of Evil." With such renowned thinkers already having tackled the problem, I recognize that anything that I write will probably be mere parroting of earlier thoughts. But it seems to me that there is an angle that I cannot recall seeing much written about the Problem of Evil that I can tackle here, i.e., assuming that the problem of evil does not make it logically impossible for God to exist, why doesn't he do something about all of the evil?

The Problem of Evil as a Logical Problem

It is important to first recognize that the problem of evil has several components. The syllogism is what one might call the patriarch of the "Problem with Evil Family." It is the logical question: "If God is all-powerful and all-good, then why does evil exist at all?" In other words, if evil exists is it logically impossible for an all-good, all-powerful God to exist?  But the logical question is only the first part of the question. Assuming that the Christians have solved the primary logical problem (which they have) and established that it is not logically inconsistent for God and evil to co-exist on earth, a second question is whether it is less probable that God exists. After all, if God isn't completely wiped out as a logical matter by the existence of evil, doesn't the fact that evil exists make it less probable that God exists. It is to these two logical problems that the links shown above generally respond and I invite readers to consider them as quick primers on the Christian answer to the challenge.

The Problem of Evil as a Practical Problem

A third part is a more practical question:  "If God is all-powerful and all-good, then why doesn't he do something about the evil that exists?" The last time I posted, I wrote of the very sad situation of little Victoria - a ten year old girl who was drugged, sexually abused and killed by her mother, her mother's boyfriend and her boyfriend's cousin. The question becomes "if God is all-powerful and all-good, how can he allow that to happen to this poor, helpless child?" At this point, this isn't really an objection to God's existence, but a challenge to God's goodness and power. It is a question with a lot of emotional power behind it because it is very difficult to imagine someone who we would call "good" allowing such a thing to happen when they have the power to do something to stop it. 

The "why doesn't God do something" question fascinates me. You see, when the skeptic challenges God in this way, it is usually in those exact words that she presents the challenge, i.e., if God is all-good and all-powerful He would "do something" about evil. As an example, this is exactly the language used by the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy which introduces the problem of evil this way:

If God were all-powerful, God would be able to do something about all of the evil and suffering. Furthermore, if God were morally perfect, then surely God would want to do something about it. And yet we find that our world is filled with countless instances of evil and suffering.

The problem is that those raising the objection are usually pretty vague about what that "something" is that God ought to "do." But this objection ultimately raises two questions: what should God do and to whom should He do it? In at least one instance, God chose a means to stop evil which skeptics loudly denounce.

Noah and the Problem of Evil

Why doesn't God "do something" about the problem of evil? The simple answer is that at one point God did do something to stop it. At one time, God decided to wipe out all evil in the world. It was an event that is regularly discounted by the secular world as a tall-tale -- Noah's flood. To the extent the secular world even know about the flood (probably from watching Evan Almighty), it only recalls that Noah built a big boat and loaded it up with two of every animal in the world. To them, it is a quaint tale on the order of the Paul Bunyan stories, but to the Christian committed to Biblical truth it tells us of a time that God did exactly what the atheists complain that God would do - he "did something" about the evil and he did it in a way that permanently stopped the evil doers with whom God dealt from committing evil again. The account of Noah begins: 

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved [e]in His heart. The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the [f]sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:5-8)

As the reader will notice, God saw the evil in the world and decided to "do something" about it - he destroyed all of the wickedness by destroying all of the life on the planet except for Noah and his family who "found favor in the eyes of the Lord." Isn't this what the skeptics are seeking? The argue that if God is all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, they insist that he should "do something" about the evil in the world, and He did. In a sense, it is like the joke about the genie mentioned above. The skeptic "wishes" for God to "do something" about evil, and he does so -- just not the way that the skeptic would have liked. You see, the skeptic wants God to act, but only in the way that the skeptic wants God to act. But the skeptic misses the lessons that come out of the Biblical account of Noah and the flood. 

Evil is Part and Parcel of the Human Condition

First, the story of Noah establishes that even the destruction of most living things and leaving only a remnant surviving who are considered good will not destroy evil forever. Notice, in the flood account, God destroys virtually all non-plant life -- every last person and animal except those which were preserved on the Ark -- but this did not result in the eradication of evil. Rather, evil returned to the earth shortly thereafter and has remained with us ever since. So, purging the world and only retaining a remnant of good people is not the solution to the problem of evil. But why not?

The answer is simple: on this side of heaven, as long as people exist, evil will exist, too. Christianity teaches that humanity is a fallen race. When we fell, we brought "original sin" which is a shorthand way of saying that people are all inclined to evil over good.  Jesus clearly taught that evil comes from within humanity. 

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” ~ Mark 7:20-23

While some outside Christianity argue to the contrary, there is ample practical evidence that evil emanates from within us.  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason said that we may be able to convince ourselves that we're okay, but all one needs to do is look at the newspaper to see that there is something wrong with the world. We are a fallen people, and as long as we are a fallen people evil will be part of humanity. 

What do they want God to do and to whom?

I can truly relate to the skeptic's dissatisfaction with the flood account's solution to evil. The "something" that God chose to "do" is unsettling because the cure in that case seems worse than the disease. At first glance, it seems like overkill to destroy all life to get rid of evil. Still, even destroying all of the life on earth except a few people and the animals was insufficient to result in a permanent end of evil. Perhaps that's why the skeptic seems so vague when she is asked to identify specifics as to what God should do.

Consider the alternatives: Should God allow the evil to happen first to establish that evil was really about to happen and then destroy the evil-doers? That would not stop the evil because the evil would happen before God intervenes and people would still be arguing that God is either powerless to stop the evil or he is indifferent to the evil occurring in the first place. Alternatively, should God only intervene before evil happens and destroy or punish the evil doer for what has not yet happened? That would stop the evil, certainly, but wouldn't people now condemn God for suddenly and (to all appearances) unjustly spirited away a loved one? Should God destroy the one who commits the evil or merely punish them? Punishing a person who commits evil would seem less harsh, but for some people punishment is evil in and of itself and so God is committing evil by punishing the evildoer.

What level of evil is sufficient to call for God's intervention? Murder? Rape? Theft? Lies? Gossiping? Visiting Internet porn sites? Gambling? Using illegal drugs? Cheating on our Income Tax Returns? Failing to notify the cashier that he gave us too much change? Calling another a "fool" without cause? Not loving our neighbor as ourselves? All of these - and a great many more things - are evil in the eyes of God. Should God stop all of them or just the ones that the skeptic believes are sufficiently evil to warrant God's intervention? Are each one of us (especially the skeptic demanding that God should "do something") included in the call to be destroyed or punished before we commit evil? Would the skeptic prefer that God be an all-knowing playground attendant standing over our shoulders watching everything we say and do and intervening whenever we do something wrong? What is the skeptic's response when God says "It's your turn to be punished/destroyed for the evil you have done (or might do)?" What is it exactly that the skeptic wants to happen? I believe that is a legitimate question and saying God should "do something" is not a sufficient response.

The Ultimate Solution 

Or maybe the solution is this: God has determined that we have chosen this path of evil and He will let us follow it to our ultimate destruction. We have been born into a world where evil is part and parcel of being human, and we will live in this place for a time. Ultimately, God promises to come again and destroy the world -- not with water but with fire (1 Peter 3:10). At that time, all of the evil will be destroyed and the deeds of the Earth (evil) will be exposed and judged.. But in the meantime, those of us who truly want good and hate evil are left here and have to endure the evil borne of humanity. 

Yet, for those who truly want evil to end -- not just the really bad stuff, but all of the evil -- and who want to see the world without evil, God has created a pathway for them to live everlasting lives in a new world where there is no longer any pain, hunger, tears or evil. Yes, little Virginia was slain because of the evil that is part of humanity, but Virginia -- if she really wants to live in a world where no one will ever do such a thing again -- had the opportunity to do so by merely accepting the gift of Jesus' atoning death (and I would argue that those who are not yet competent to make that decision are welcomed into God's arms based upon the degree to which they accept the light that they have). 

God is going to be doing something about evil. The only real question is whether the skeptic will be on the side that sees the new Earth which will then be free of evil, or whether he will be considered part of the evil with which God is dealing. 


Jason Pratt said…
Thought I saw a little reference to Rom 1 going by there, Bill! {g}

Paul, in Romans 1 and 2, actually makes the same reply -- but aimed at warning Christians, that if they (we) insist so hard on God 'doing something' about those-evil-people-over-there, we should remember God's saving patience (God's {makrothumia}) with all people including us, regardless of how big or small our sins seem to be.

Paul even goes so far as to warn that if we despise God's makrothumia for other sinners, that will be the same as if we despise God's makrothumia for us (for example if we disregard what we think of as our own little sins, gossiping etc., as not needing God's makrothumia because really why would anyone even bother over those): and so, whether we despise the makrothumia one way or the other way (or both), we ourselves will be the ones storing up God's wrath for ourselves in the Day of judgment to come.

Which doesn't negate your good answer at all, of course. Just extends it to us, too. {g}

BK said…
Good addition, Jason. Thanks.
Don McIntosh said…
Excellent post, Bill.

I agree that it's always in our own best interest, and the interests of humanity at large, to seek forgiveness of sins from God and leave the very complicated job of judgment to God alone.

Of course, both mercy and justice were fulfilled in great measure at the cross of Christ. Now that Christ has come, we wait patiently for the fullness of his kingdom and invite others to join up in the meantime.
Anonymous said…
I think you missed the point.

The argument is not about why God doesn't "do something" about evil. According to the Bible, he will "do something" ultimately, so that's not even up for debate. The argument is why does God not prevent evil, or more accurately, why does he not prevent harm being done against the innocent.

In the flood story, God doesn't prevent any evil, he punishes evildoers. He judges man and finds him wanting, save Noah and crew. He doesn't stop any of the evil being done, he simply gets rid of the evildoer and for good measure, razes the whole earth. You might argue that by doing so he would thus prevent future evil, but an omniscient God would know that would not solve the problem. Thus his only possible intention would be punishment. That's more or less admitted in Ge 6, where God promises no longer to curse the earth because of humans because they are all evil from birth. I might ask how an omniscient God can repent, but we won't go there.

As for "what do they want God to do", it's simply to prevent the harm of the innocent. As Jesus explained that the true evil occurs in the heart, a murderer doesn't have to succeed in his murder to merit God's condemnation - he has already been condemned for his choice. Free will is a non-issue as man can sin without actually harming the innocent.

The argument of "how far" is also a non-issue. When you discount "God's law" (the need to punish infractions that only God takes issue with or society does not take seriously - including gossip, "fool", drugs, etc.) and reduce the equation to the unjust infliction of harm on the innocent, it's quite simple. An all-powerful being should not have difficulty whisking the innocent out of harm's way and the evildoer into the authorities' hands (Remember that governments are established by God). And if they were whisked to a church - great time for publicizing the reality of God in our lives! That's one simple but effective solution out of dozens I could have come up with as a feeble minded human.

As for how far does God go, I believe most skeptics would agree with what I just stated. Preventing harm being done to the innocent. Please don't derail this into a "God said no one is innocent", because that's a silly distraction born from immaterial theology.

Frankly, as a far from perfect being - I could do a much better job than our non-manifesting God. In Victoria's case, as soon as a hand was raised to harm her, Victoria would have been teleported to a children's crisis center and the adults to a holding cell with their intentions pinned to their shirts. Even better, at the level of God's omniscience, I would have prevented the causal factors that primed her caregivers to their mindset(s) and intentions.

You didn't go into natural disasters, but that's a huge reason nonbelievers have doubts in the goodness of God. Apparently we have been dropped in a world primed to murder us with nothing but our wits to preserve us. Why are we not afforded protection from disasters like the 2004 tsunami? It would have been a small task for the being who parted the Red Sea to put up a retaining wall around Thailand. Or prevent the tectonic plate shift that initiated it. Or maybe reminded animals with seemingly no intention beyond causing harm to humans.

Whole article is a straw man.
JBsptfn said…
Here's the thing, though: If you are an atheist, how can you believe in evil? There is no right or wrong in your world view, so you really don't have the right to post a whiny diatribe like you did above.
BK said…

There is so much confused with your comment that I hardly know where to start, and I certainly have no intention to have a point by point refutation. But let me just respond by pointing out that I have not created a straw man argument as you allege at the end. I am responding to those who say that God should "do something" and I pointed out how even the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy adopts that vague language.

Your second paragraph merely proves a point I raised in my argument. I asked whether God would have to wait for evil to happen to do something, but I pointed out that skeptics would argue that if he waited then evil would have happened and therefore God is powerless to stop it. This second paragraph begins by arguing that God did not prevent evil through the flood. So, you have merely established my argument.

There is so much more, but I doubt you are really interested in conversation. You seem quite convinced of your own insight by the tone of your response (as JBsptfn correctly observed). So, I will simply point out that you have not done anything in your comment to really refute what I wrote. You just set up a hodge-podge of counter arguments that don't even clearly address the issue.

Maybe we can converse some other time about something where we can find some common ground for discussion.
Jason Pratt said…
Agreed; BK's target is a straw man only because he's aiming at people who make themselves a straw man target by vaguely arguing that God would surely "do something".

People who argue that God would surely do this-or-that very specific thing (or something like it), are a different matter. Why God doesn't do something now like our Anon's suggestion is a fair enough question. Another fair question is whether Anon or anyone else would want to live in a world where God is constantly adjusting reality around them to stop them (and everyone else) from actually inflicting any kind of injustice to anyone.

And it would have to be adjustments to stop the infliction of every injustice, Anon, however small you might think the injustice is: because in principle, if God allowed a created person to inflict even the smallest actual injustice on another person, the same complaint could be raised. Why does God stop with only preventing X? Doesn't that mean God doesn't care or doesn't have the ability to do so or doesn't exist at all (the other apparent adjustments being proposed for explanation in some other way instead)?

So the "how far" issue isn't a non-issue; and that goes the same for stopping any natural inconvenience to creatures at all, not merely stopping any inflictions of injustice. In principle the objection could still be raised: if God can and does stop a tidal wave from inconveniencing any consciously existent creatures, why doesn't God stop my sneeze this morning? That bothered me! Why is there some kind of limit, any kind of limit at all, to how far God chooses at any time to go? Surely a good God would be able to do that if He can stop a tidal wave. Why does He only care about major disasters but not about all inconveniences? He must not really care since He could clearly do it but doesn't -- so either His intentions for stopping this or that aren't actually moral, or we've mistaken those massively obvious events as being from God when they're really being done by something else (maybe an alien or a wizard or a super-scientist pretending to be God).

I don't have to make guesses about whether anti-theists would make those arguments either. Philip Pullman and some other anti-theistic story writers can and do create stories where super-powerful beings, who do in fact intervene to help people on large scale matters, are revealed eventually to be something less than God Most High and actually lying to people about being God in order to advance their own agendas.

Be that as it may: the question still fairly stands why, if God exists, God doesn't always do the absolute most God could theoretically do given God's proposed characteristics.

Whatever that answer or answers may be in specific detail for any situation, orthodox Christianity does have one advantage over other supernaturalistic theisms which also propose an omnibenevolent omnipotent omnipresent and omniscient God, at and as the ground of all reality: if our theology (broadly considered) is true, God doesn't only inflict a situation on us from on high, where we have to deal with some amount of inconvenience in a neutral field of reality where we can interact with each other as persons, and where there is always a consequent risk that one of us can manipulate reality to inflict an injustice (not merely a natural accident of inconvenience) on some other person.

God voluntarily shares that consequent suffering with us, suffering with all the innocent, and even suffering with all the guilty. And unlike us, God cannot ever put that suffering behind Him in the past, but must always be sharing it omnipresently and omnisciently with us.

That's a major point to the cross.

Anonymous said…
Typical Christian approach. Ignore the statement, distract with another argument. If we keep leading the question in new directions, eventually people will get tired of talking about it and we can make a new nonsensical argument without the distractions.
Jason Pratt said…
Well, some people do think that replying to a statement in detail, while respecting the statement as a valid concern, equals "ignoring the statement". But those people are either completely incapable of discussion or only trolling. So, no reason to take them seriously any farther either way.


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