Archives For Evil/Pain/Suffering

God of War

Anthony Weber —  July 13, 2012 — 5 Comments

The entire concept of a God of justice and mercy ordering the slaughter of thousands of people  on many occasions I find abhorrent.This is an issue I have always had profound trouble with and one I suspended judgment on when I began to believe.. The responses to this problem I have seen so far (God did them a favor, they were like cancer, or God’s justice is beyond ours) seem to me to be lame or inappropriate.”   – from a letter to Timothy Keller

Let’s be honest: The Old Testament God sometimes seems cranky and eager to smash something.  That is a daunting image of God, especially when compared to the mild and humble picture of Jesus. If the New Testament God is Mr. Rogers, the Old Testament God is Randy Couture. However, neither of these caricatures is accurate. This post is the first part of a series on an often uncomfortable topic:  God of War.


Growing up Mennonite, we never talked about God and war.  We read the story about David and Goliath with as much detachment and inner condemnation as we could.  We wondered how much we should cheer for David’s mighty men, who were the elite forces of their day. We cheered when Sampson brought the temple down, but with some guilt.  (Plus he had long hair, and that was a problem for us too.) So what do you think we did with all the God-ordained wars in the Old Testament?


We loved Jesus when he said “love your enemy” and “turn the other cheek,” but God?  God in the Old Testament was sometimes treated like the crazy uncle who shows up at family reunions.  Nobody really knows how to interact with him or explain him to others. Continue Reading…

Reasons for Hope

Anthony Weber —  April 21, 2012 — Leave a comment
“Christianity believes that pain and suffering are very real.  As a result, followers of Christ have sought to develop a theology that provides a coherent framework for understanding this dilemma. Christians face the difficult task of embracing the reality of evil and making it compatible with the existence of God as portrayed in Scripture: all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. 
     Christians have developed different responses to explain why the goodness of God is not compromised in the face of evil, even evil that is apparently unredemptive in any fashion.  Perhaps good things such as free will more than compensate for the pain experienced during life; perhaps, as in John Hick’s appeal to mystery, there are unknown goods that make up for the suffering we see; perhaps there will be a system of rewards and punishments in place after this life that will adequately provide a framework in which one will see the justice an love of God vindicated.  
     Defenders of the Christian faith have developed these explanations, or theodicies, to better understand the ways of God.  A theodicy, rather than being a mere defense of the compatibility of God and evil, seeks to proactively show God’s reasons for allowing evil to occur.”

(Read Part 1: “The Problem of Pain”  and Part 2: “Possible, Painful Worlds”)

In response to the question of evil and the existence of possible worlds, a number of possibilities have been proposed.

First, would it have been better for God not to have created this world?  If He knew that evil would be present, perhaps He should not have created anything; in fact, He may have been morally obligated not to create this world if He knew there would be pain and suffering.

In response, theists have noted the idea of making a moral comparison between No World and Any World at all is nonsensical.  Norman Geisler says this is a category mistake, because “nothing” and “something” have nothing in common. Comparing a morally bad world and no world at all is like comparing rotten apples with non-existent oranges.

C.S. Lewis believed comparing being and non-being was just a word game, an argument that carryied no weight or significance. To Lewis, the more important issue was the reconciliation of the world as it is with the character and nature of God.

 A second possibility is that God could have created a world where people freely choose to do good every time they have a choice.  Given all possible worlds, there must be at least one world where every person freely chooses to do right every time; hence, this world is not the best.  A crucial aspect of this debate is the theory of middle knowledge.  This is the idea that God knows every choice in every situation of every possible free creature. The Jesuits called this “middle knowledge” because it is somewhere between God’s knowledge of the possible and the actual.

The Jesuit priest Luis Molina separated God’s knowledge into three categories:  natural knowledge, free knowledge, and middle knowledge.   Building from Molina, proponents of the “middle knowledge” theory argue that  God knows what a free creature could do (natural knowledge) and will do (middle knowledge) in any given situation, not because He creates circumstances that causally determine what the free creature will do, but because he knows how the creature will freely choose.

God knows that Agent X, placed in circumstance Y, will freely perform action Z.  (References in the Bible that appear to support this theory include 1 Samuel 23:6-13 and Matthew 11:20-24, where God provides information about what would have happened had a given situation occurred.)

The atheodicist can use this argument as well.  Using this theory as a base, why not argue that God, through middle knowledge, could have brought  about people he knew would always choose good?  And since He didn’t, well, we are back to our original critique.

Alvin Plantinga addresses this issue by submitting his theory concerning transworld depravity.  If there is middle knowledge,  God may have known in advance is that significantly free people would always commit at least one wrong action, no matter their world or circumstance.

God could have created a world where no one chooses to do moral evil, but then that would not be a world with free people.  Perhaps God has even actualized a world populated by people who, in spite of the horrors that have been committed, make the fewest possible wrong choices in any possible world  which contains free will. Hitler committed some of the world’s most horrible atrocities; is it possible that in every other world Hitler would have committed at least the same amount of evil?  And even if Hitler had not, perhaps someone else would have brought about the same horrors, if not more horrific ones.

Robert Adams – who believes universal transworld depravity is implausible – agrees with Plantinga that perhaps God could not create free creatures who would always choose to do moral good.  He also does not believe that God exercises middle knowledge, which adds an element of guesswork into God’s’ creation. However, Adams still believes that the existence of free will, which requires possibilities from which to choose, suggest the implausibility of a possible world of human perfection.

In fact, the idea of God creating only people who always freely choose good may in essence take away the idea of freedom.

In a world with true freedom of choice, God cannot actualize a scenario in which free people always will choose good any more than He could actualize a square circle; it is logically impossible.  If free will is true and genuine, God cannot make a world that forces a freely chosen decision in a contradictory direction. So once again, while this world seems to be theoretically desirable, there is much doubt that it could be actualized. Continue Reading…

The Problem of Pain

Anthony Weber —  March 16, 2012 — 3 Comments

The problem of suffering and pain in a world that the theist claims has been created by an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God has long been a flashpoint in the debate surrounding God’s nature and existence. The argument about the mere presence of evil pushes the limits of human history (i.e. Job), but the escalated horrors of the 20th century, specifically the Holocaust, have brought the debate about the magnitude of the problem to the forefront now more than ever.

Interestingly, the problem of pain was not a serious threat to Christian thought until the last several centuries; suffering has only recently been seen as a ground for final skepticism rather than an incentive for inquiry. When Descartes and other theologians began to discuss the existence of God by stressing philosophy and reason rather than the person of Christ, they opened the door to a new room of argument.

The problem of evil – specifically, the claim that the existence of evil necessitates or at least argues strongly for the non-existence of God – has been formulated on two different levels.  The most foundational question is if the existence of God and the existence of evil are compatible.   A different approach grants that God and evil may exist, but questions what kind of God would allow the apparently gratuitous pain we see in the world.  

Though there is some variation in the formulation, the Logical Problem of Evil (LPE) can be stated as follows: 

God exists, and is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.  

This is logically inconsistent with the idea that evil exists, because a perfectly good being would want to eliminate evil, and an all powerful being would eliminate evil.  

Evil exists; therefore, God does not exist. Continue Reading…

God and Beauty

Anthony Weber —  January 16, 2012 — Leave a comment

Numerous Christian theologians (as well as philosophers such as Plato) have developed an argument for the existence of God that builds from the presence of beauty in the world.  While it is important for Christians to explain the co-existence of a Creator God with the seemingly gratuitous ugliness of some of the evil of the world, it is equally important to ask those who do not believe in God to explain the presence of superfluous beauty in a chaotic, impersonal universe. From “Hiking The Transcendent Trail”:

“For a couple hours, I was immersed in the stunningly unnecessary beauty of creation.  The idea that all of reality can be reduced to nothing but atoms in motion may pass some kind of muster in a philosophy classroom, but not in midst of the raw beauty of nature.  Yes, there is ugliness too.  I get that.  In fact, in a materialist universe of blind forces and chance, I understand gratuitous evil and decay.  But what do we do with gratuitous beauty?   What do we do when sticks, frozen water, dead chlorophyll sacks, dirt and a distant star take our breath away?  We enjoy it, and remember that our existence is greater than the sum of the details.”