This is an age-old philosophical question that is usually used as an argument against God’s existence. If a sovereign and benevolent God really loves us, then why does he allow us to experience such tremendous amounts of pain? Why not make us happy all of the time?
This is admittedly a difficult question to answer, and one that haunts the faith of many. As Empicurus asks, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then why does evil exist? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” This is one of the most common arguments used against God’s existence.
I think it is reasonable to believe that if God exists, that He has a morally permissible reason for allowing evil and suffering to exist in our lives.
Let’s say you get robbed and mugged in an alley, and you come out with a broken nose and have lost 500 dollars. Obviously, the thought of being mugged produces a horrible emotional experience, but what we need to consider is whether or not it is logically incompatible for both this experience and God to exist simultaneously.
We need to treat this as an intellectual problem, and put aside our emotional reactions for a moment to not have our reason tainted by our feelings.
If one is to use the presence of such kinds of evil as an argument against God’s existence, the burden of proof is on this person to demonstrate that it is either logically impossible or highly improbable that God and such evil could co-exist. ”God doesn’t exist, because if He did, He would not let His creation suffer”. But of course, to reject the claim that “God would have a morally permissible reason to allow suffering” would just be pure speculation. How could we be certain from our little spec of dust planet with our tiny mushy brains and narrow imaginations that God would not be justified in allowing this suffering to occur? How could one carry such a large burden of proof while having such limited cognitive and epistemic abilities? There is no explicit or implicit logical inconsistency with the presence of such evil and with the existence of an omnipotent, loving, all-powerful God because there is no reason to believe that God could not possibly have a morally adequate reason for permitting suffering. Let us explore why.
A first step we need to take is to abandon the idea that we are God’s little pets and it is His job to make us the most comfortable and happy as possible. We seem to think that God is a sky-daddy who created humans to take a cakewalk through life. In dealing with the problem of evil and suffering, we need to remember that we are eternal physical souls having a temporary human experience. We have existed eternally in some form or another, and will continue to exist eternally in some form or another after we leave our physical bodies that we are inhabiting for mere moment in infinity. So let us take the example of being mugged. If God does exist and loves you beyond imagination, what possible reason could God have for allowing something like this to happen to you?
Perhaps God’s reason for allowing this is to show you what it is like to be at the receiving end of pain and hardship. Maybe you were a bully growing up, and have lived a life physically abusing others without realizing the effects it has on other people. Maybe God allows this to happen to show you empathy and compassion towards others who are in the same position as you. It is much easier to show kindness and love to someone who has been physically abused when you yourself have been a victim of it.
Or perhaps God allowed this to happen to push you to a personal breaking point, where you will then begin to see through your egoic sense of self, and live a more morally responsible, spiritually grounded and fulfilled life. We have such a limited and narrow scope living in body in a space-time existence, and even with our finite imaginations it is still easy to come up with possible reasons for an infinitely loving God allowing us to suffer. These being to catalyze growth, personal progress, spiritual and emotional evolution, moral agency and responsibility, to dissolve personal barriers, and perhaps even to bring us closer to Him by seeking Him through hardship using our own free will. Maybe our being mugged is to serve as a warning to us, or to somehow point us in a better direction to prevent even greater evil from taking place in our lives.
And we haven’t even touched the possibility of alleviating past-life karma or incarnating to learn specific life lessons, which is an entirely new paradigm we could explore. I personally entertain the idea of reincarnation, and believe that we are here to learn what we need to in order to evolve our souls according to their deficiencies. God, in this case, would allow suffering to exist in order for our souls to gain the knowledge and wisdom they need in their current incarnation. It seems to me that the existence of God and personal suffering are not incompatible, for it is possible that God would be morally justified in permitting suffering for the personal evolution, growth, and self-realization that is necessary to reach perfection as a soul. If God made everyone to already be endowed with perfection, there would be no learning, and therefore no real experience. Existence as a sentient being would be meaningless without the possibility of progress.
“Ok, so I could see why God would allow me to suffer heartbreak or abuse to learn lessons and evolve in this life before I return back home, but what about extraordinary accounts of evil such as the Holocaust? Why let millions of people be tortured to death for no reason?”. I honestly grieve for the people who had to experience this. They are safe and painless now, but one could only imagine what kind of fear, sadness, and trauma had to be endured by the victims of the worlds be horrendous crime. But let us look at this problem emotions aside, and consider the implications that would arise from God intervening during the holocaust.
If God were to prevent the actions of the Nazis, He would be impinging upon their freedom of will of action. So often we wonder why God created such an evil place, not realizing that it is really just us misusing our free will in ways that create disharmony. All crime and immorality you see in the world today is created by our own free actions. What would a world look like where God could intervene every time a person was about to violate the rights of another?
There would be no freedom of will. A world without perfect free will would also mean a world without personal growth, since without mistakes there would be no learning and no progress. No mistakes are possible if we don’t have the freedom to make our own choices. Imagine every time you were about to say something mean to somebody, a mental block occurred that made you forget what you were about to say. Imagine you being literally incapable of ever emotionally or physically harming anyone ever. If God intervened every single time we misused our freedom, where would He draw the line on stopping us from causing harm to each other? Every time we were going to lie? Every time we were going to steal? Every time we had a mean or hateful thought about somebody? Would living a life even be possible if God stopped permitting perfect freedom?
We would be predetermined robots living out a pre-existing timeline since we would not even be able to choose our own thoughts and actions. It is hard to imagine how one could evolve or develop as a soul if they were unable to choose their own actions as the wished. There would be no genuine experience because there would be no way for us to explore anything outside of the prescribed boundaries.
There would also be no moral agency and no moral responsibility, for to say we ought behave a different way is to say we can behave a different way, but we would not be able to do anything other than what we have been programmed to do. So now we must ask ourselves a question. What is more evil? A world with no freedom of will, moral agency, progress, growth, evolution, learning, and experience? Or a world with progress, moral agency, growth, evolution, learning, and experience, but with perfect freedom of will that we happen to misuse sometimes?
It turns out that in asking God to intervene during one kind of evil, He would be introducing an even greater evil, for the world would be far more evil and imperfect if God were to intervene every time an evil action was being carried out. It is important to note that God, being the greatest conceivable being, could only create the most perfect world. In asking God to remove evil every time it occurs, we are asking God to take away the previously mentioned properties of life that make existence meaningful. If God obeyed us and took evil away, he would be making the world less than perfect, which is logically impossible since it contradicts His very nature. Can God do that which is against His essential nature?
Let us look at the evil of disease. Perhaps a bacteria infects your body. What is really happening when a bacteria makes you sick? It is a living creature that is going on its journey through life and decides to make a home for itself in your body and try to raise a family and reproduce. Is that not what we are doing on this planet? To say that God should intervene whenever a human body becomes infested by another organism is to say that not all life forms have as equal right to compete for their own survival. This would be blatant speciesism, an unjustified bias towards ones own species.
What about natural disasters? Are we asking God to stop wind from circulating, stop the tectonic plates from shifting and rubbing together, stop the earth from relieving stress by erupting a volcano, and to stop the tides from rising? There is vast number of chronologically prior events that lead up to the occurrence of any natural disaster, most of which result from the free play of chemical and physical processes. Should the free play of chemical reactions and physical processes be interrupted by God if they are to produce an event that is non-benificial to a certain species? This would be a request for determinism.
Upon reflection, it turns out that these very processes we are complaining about are in fact what created the planets and drove stellar, chemical, and biological evolution. Without these processes, nothing would have evolved, the earth would not have developed the appropriate conditions for life, and we would not be able to live here. In asking God to stop natural disasters every time they produce a disharmonious result for us, we are asking God to take the wheels off of nature’s multibillion year old processes that created everything we in the universe (including our bodies) for the sake of our temporary comfort.
When we really consider what it would mean for God to intervene during certain kinds of evil, He would be initiating a far more evil consequence. We would not be able to engage and enact our own free will, life forms would not have equal rights to compete for their own existence, and the natural processes that created the earth and its lifeforms would be shut down to accommodate the safety of one certain species. Of course, these answers do not exhaust all possibilities of evil and suffering, but they do make us consider what the implications of divine intervention would be every time something unfavourable happened to us. With no free will, learning or growth, would living a human life even be purposeful?
Some of you reading this may be going through difficulty in life, and may have lost a loved one in a way you see as unfair. Just know that everything happens for a reason, even if the reason is unseen to us and even if it is an emotionally unappealing reason right now. You are loved by God, and you will spend an eternity in His presence someday after we leave this schoolhouse we call life. We are all hear to evolve as souls and learn the lessons we need to during this brief flicker of time. While it is sad that we do not always understand the reasons for God permitting suffering in the world, it would be even more sad if we missed out on the comfort, happiness, and bliss that comes from a personal relationship with God because we dismissed His existence due to the evil we see in the world.
Why doesn’t God reveal the reasons for permitting evil and suffering?: