Why God Allows Evil to Exist (in 300 Words)

One of the primary arguments atheists use in their case against the existence of God is that a compassionate, all-powerful God wouldn’t allow evil to exist in the world.

The answer to that problem is simple: it’s people who do evil, not God.

What people most often mean by the question, “Why does God allow evil to exist?” is “Why doesn’t God stop people from doing evil?”

The reason God doesn’t stop any person from ever doing anything they want to do is because doing so would necessarily mean violating that person’s free will. And that’s something that God will not do. And it’s definitely not something we’d like God to do. Our free will is the irreducible quality that makes us human. It’s God’s ultimate gift to us; it’s what finally defines us as free and independent beings.

The fact of our free will stands as the ultimate evidence of just how deeply God loves us. It means he loves us so much he’s endowed us with the ability to completely ignore or deny him if we want to.

That is love.

God would have to withdraw that love from us—he’d have to actually hate us—in order to violate our free will.

The only way for God to stop people from doing evil would be to stop people from ever thinking about doing evil. That would mean stopping people from ever having negative thoughts. That would amount to full mind control.

Asking “Why doesn’t God stop evil?” really and truly amounts to, “Why doesn’t God turn all humans into a mindless zombies?”

To summarize: God doesn’t do evil; people do. And God doesn’t stop people from doing evil, because doing so would mean violating their free will, which God won’t do out of his deep and abiding love for us.

God’s love for us means we’re free to do whatever we want, evil included.

That evil exists doesn’t prove that God is not benevolent. It proves just how benevolent he is.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Freda

    BRILLIANT!

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

    Yeah, what Freda said.

  • Mindakms

    …true, all true. And what makes God even more amazing is that while allowing us our free will He still finds a way to protect us from ourselves in the grand scheme of things, a grand scheme we often can’t see when things look rough.

    And, having just finished reading the entire Old Testement in two months straight through, I can definitively tell you that God CAN eliminate all evil and He did it ALOT on the O.T. Thankfully He chose to go a new direction and allow us time to destroy evil SLOWLY through turning to Him when we are ready. Talk about patience….

    • Darlene

      You make it so sensible. Wow keep up the great words…. Thanks

  • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

    For one, the question isn’t so much why does God allow evil to exist, but why does he allow suffering to exist. Especially needless suffering of innocents.

    As for evil, one could still ask the question, why doesn’t he met out pain and disaster in a fair measure? We would retain free will if He just made it more beneficial to be good and somewhat less prosperous to be evil. On the whole, it seems to be the other way around.

    It still remains a weak argument: If you saw someone about to commit murder, or rape, or torture, or child abuse, you would jump in and stop the perp, free will be damned. God could allow peeps of equal strength to harm each other but he could make it so that the weaker would be protected. He doesn’t.

    Finally, the bible shows again and again that the Abrahamic God directly influences the way peeps think – hardening Pharaoh’s heart, for example. He doesn’t give much of a damn about free will there. And he then proceeds to slaughted all the first borns – not to free his people, mind you, since He won’t allow Pharaoh to see reason, but simply to prove to the world how powerful He is. (Where is that free will argument from, anyway? The story of the fall istn’t about free will, after all. Adam and Eve aren’t banned for excercising free will in a bad way, they are banned cuz God fears them becoming like him after they ate from the tree of knowledge.)

    Sorry, Mr. Shore, but the free will argument is just a smoke screen. It doesn’t hold up.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Not for a moment did I imagine that for you it would.

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        Why not? Am I too dumb or too smart for it? (Or just exercising my free will in heretical evil?) ^_^

        • Shannon

          Freefox: it just seems like you have a very fixed viewpoint.

          If you could, consider this for a moment- suffering exists because of evil, and evil exists because free will is the game plan.

          • Don Whitt

            And our notion of what’s “fair measure” is very, very human.

            I once intervened in a mugging. The perp pepper-sprayed an old woman, snatched her purse and, as she screamed a bloody scream, I walked out of my front door and saw the mugger run past. I took chase (bare-footed) down the street screaming at him, at the top of my lungs, detailing exactly what I would do to him once I caught up with him. As I gained on him, he looked back in terror and dropped the purse. I stopped, picked-up the purse and returned it to the owner. In the meantime, my wife had called 911.

            The victim was pissed that I asked (and expected) her to wait for the cops. The cops showed up 20 minutes later and were pissed I’d bothered them with a crime for which they could only generate paperwork. In essence, I had ruined all of their respective evenings.

            I learned something new about “justice” that evening and what people think is “fair”.

            However, I’d never do anything differently should something like that happen again. That’s MY sense of what’s fair. You mess with the innocent, I’m coming for you. I risk my life chasing down your mugger, you wait with me for the cops.

            And I’m positive God got a good laugh out of the whole thing.

          • Ace

            If it makes you feel any better, a lot of that old lady’s reaction was probably just because she was scared witless and wanted to be at home in familiar surroundings.

            Good deeds are rarely rewarded (and often punished) but sometimes you just have to do what’s right anyway.

          • Don Whitt

            She was late for a dinner date with friends at a nearby Chinese restaurant. The friends had to wait with her, too. But I’m certain she was shook-up and just wanted to be done with it all. I can’t blame her, but I also was going to play the thing out regardless. I’m an insistent bastard, for sure.

          • Ace

            If only there were more insistent bastards in this world…

          • Don Whitt

            Ultimately, justice for the victim and the cops was getting to dinner on time – that’s what they thought. That’s the funny thing about humans. Our immediate “needs” frequently outweigh our desire for what’s actually just. We say we want justice, but, as BethL points out somewhere in this thread, we probably, mostly don’t. If God visited justice upon me for all of my evil deeds…well…I shudder to think.

    • cd

      I think FreeFox’s logic is good on this one. There is some kind of difference between humans causing hurt and cancer/volcanos/bears but the end result is suffering. I don’t think the “problem of pain” is solved in the few words of John’s post. But, even if it were, what has always puzzled me more was not the evil that I see people doing but the horrible deeds that seems to come from Yahweh. These disturbing accounts were the beginning of my mistrust of the bible which has only grown since. I would love to comment, and hear other’s opinions, on a topic related to that subject.

      • Tim

        Yes. Yours and Freefox’s points are good ones. But John’s post was about the problem of evil and who does it.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          I think I did address the question of evil and responsibility for its results, Tim, both above and in further posts below. :)

    • Ray C.

      Freefox, I think you’re absolutely right.

      The whole free will argument is weak. If God is so free with the latitude that He gives humans to make their own choices concerning good and evil, then why did He punish Adam for exercising his “free will”? Why did He destroy the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah for exercising their free will? Why did He not only destroy all human free agents sans Noah’s family, during the Flood, but those supposedly without free will, like animals?

      And for all those out there that believe God stopped destroying those with whom He disagreed in the OT, then consider the Book of Revelation, where He destroys the wicked *once and for all.* Some love of free will, there!

      No, basically God has a solution to all those who exercise their free will in a way He deems wrong, it’s ultimately a final solution, too.

      • Don Rappe

        Yes, he smites them, doesn’t he?

  • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

    I am helping raise a small child. We, to, are always faced with the question, how much freedom can we give the wee devil without too much danger. And believe me, from a purely engineering standpoint there is a vast field between turning him into a zombie and letting him set the house on fire or fling himself from the window to his death. Look at the world. You cannot seriously tell me that an omniscient being couldn’ come up with a better system to protect and love his creatures while still giving them a lot of freedom. (After all, our freedom isn’t unlimited as it is – or can you do magic? No, there are many natural laws limiting what we can or cannot do. Just none of them enforce any ethics.)

    • Don Whitt

      @Freefox: Good for you!!! I’ve found that the best thing is to always give a little more than I’m actually comfortable giving. Just a bit. They need to exercise their free-will in bite-sized pieces at first. The worst results are stitches and tears, usually.

      • Mindy

        I echo the good-for-you from Don, FF – you sound like a great parent.

        As to the suffering piece, I don’t believe any kind of simple answer exists, or at least anything as simple as can be explained in a blog post. John explains well his firm belief in free will, and personally, I think he’s right, even as I don’t believe in the same version of God.

        I am a big hater of suffering, yes. I also know that without it, the beauty of empathy might well not exist. One could argue, I suppose, that without suffering, the NEED for empathy would also cease to exist, but I have seen far too many human connections – deep, abiding, lifelong connections – made over suffering, when one flawed human reaches out to another.

        Right now, the son of a one my daughter’s teachers, a man we adore, is resting in a hospital bed after his second round of chemo. In the course of two days, this vibrant family’s life was turned abruptly on its ear. They are all organic-eating athletes, dad an elementary school librarian, mom the founder of a charity that brings kids from poverty around the world here for much-needed surgery, and the kids all lovely friends, well-liked in their respective classes. The oldest son had surgery on a torn something in his knee two weeks ago, then the middle son complained of pain in his shoulder and neck. The parents, thinking it was probably another soccer-related pain, took him to the doctor. The next day they got the dreaded, “Please come in right away. We have a diagnosis to discuss.” Within hours, their family became a cancer family. Lymphoma. Word spread quickly through our community, and after the initial shock and tears we all shared, we rallied. Kids visited their friend, pooling money for gifts, making cards, baking cookies. Her foundation employees pulled everything together and committed to not missing a beat, carrying on her mission in her stead, letting her focus completely on her son. The schools the kids attend notified classmates and parents and made sure everyone knew that pulling together with positive thoughts, prayers and actions was the order of the day and fully supported by both schools.

        It is a beautiful thing to witness. His Lymphoma is Stage 2, very curable. He is a strong kid. Would I wish this on him or anyone else? Of course not, never. I know parents who have lost their precious children to cancer, and I cannot even fathom the agony. But – the enormous reminder of all the good that exists in us flawed humans that is coming out of this, the renewed perspective of what is important in this world and the heightened appreciation of the love we have for each other is incredibly powerful. To see so many do THIS with their free will makes a lot of us want to fight that much harder to teach all humans about the power of positive choices.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          I lost my sister to cancer. She was 14. There does come some good of pain. There comes also a lot of anger and ugliness, a lot of loneliness and inability to reach, to touch, because, seriously, when every nerve is on fire, who would want to be touched? Pain can drive people to do horrible things. But yes, there is some kindness, some closeness, some wisdom to be had in this.I would take my sister back in return for all of that in a heartbeat.All the best to your daughter’s teacher, his son, and his family!

    • Tim

      Hi Freefox—

      I believe that the omniscient being DID come up with the BEST system. A perfect system, in fact. But as is the general modus operandi of mankind, we take what was meant for good and messed it up. That is precisely what I believe the Edenic account reveals. Free will isn’t magic. It is the pure agency of choice germane to the physical and natural laws that are in place. According to Genesis, Eden was a place of perfection. Inasmuch as man was immortal and all his needs were provided for with very little toil, it WAS magic. God entrusted man with free will. Thereby man was sovereign within the limits of all physical and natural laws that God set in place. Man was not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent.

      In my opinion, mankind hasn’t really changed, with the exception that we’ve been banished from Eden and we’ve lost immortality. From the moment the first Adam failed, he began to die. The lineage to the second Adam (Christ) was set into play.

      For me, I think it all boils down to trust. Ultimately, just about everything we believe involves trust.

      May seem a little nebulous, but I’d be happy to clarify anything I put out there.

  • Martin L.

    Another word for evil is sin. You MAY have read the words “Deliver us from evil.” That could translate to “help us avoid sin.” That’s important since sin is what seperates us from God.

    By the way. There’s a rumor going around the net that claims you’re lying about your full name, your birthday and the initials of your friend, “DR.” How come you never mention Kids for Peace? And if you’re lying about this, what else are you lying about?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Wow. It’s crazy time on the blog, for sure.

      • http://kenreads.wordpress.com wken

        While we’re at it, how come you never mention UNICEF, Samaritan’s Purse, Meals on Wheels, the Dallas Police Department, Jamaican bobsled team, Baker Street Irregulars, or Asia Dawn?

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          Rofl. Yeah. Tell us, Mr. Shore! :D

        • jes

          Hey! Don’t forget to plug for breast cancer research, mosquito nets for malaria-heavy areas, your local animal shelter and food bank while you’re at it, John, You’re really slacking on the charity front here!

          • Don Whitt

            And, John, you have two pics you use on Facebook – one wearing glasses and one not. If that’s not eerily inconsistent and suspicious, then I’m not Harvey the Invisible Wabbit.

      • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

        You’re lying about your age?! That’s so disappointing! I thought you were old enough to know better. omg. lmao

    • jes

      By the way. There’s a rumor going around the net that claims you’re lying about your full name, your birthday and the initials of your friend, “DR.” How come you never mention Kids for Peace? And if you’re lying about this, what else are you lying about?

      Does anybody actually use their full real name on the internet? Scary. Maybe DR doesn’t want her full name used and John’s respecting that? I know I’d be rather wroth with him if he started forcing me to use my full name in comments here. For that matter, how come YOU didn’t use your full name and give your birth date? And more to the point, how is this relevant in any manner to the discussion at hand?

      Also, when berating someone for not mentioning an organization, you may want to consider providing that information yourself so that we know whether you you mean Kids for Peace or Kids for Peace or Kids for Peace>or maybe Kids Peace, or did you perhaps have a dyslexic moment and mean Peace for Kids?

      Narrow it down for us, would you? Thanks.

      • DR

        Well, my secret is out.

        “DR” stands for “Diana Ross”.

        Wow, that feels so great to get that out in the open. Thank you Martin L!

        • Don Whitt

          Damn. I was certain it stood for “Deliciously Reverent”.

          I use my real name because no one took me seriously when I dubbed myself “surfdewd”. Not sure why…

          • DR

            You got me. That’s my confirmation name.

    • DR

      LOL. What?

      And the internets are indeed, chock full o’crazy. Which is why I remain “DR” (though I’m sure those here who are on my Facebook know how harmless I am. And girly. :)

    • Don Rappe

      It could also translate to save us from the evil one.

      • Don Rappe

        I can’t use my initials because the girly girl has dibs on them.

        • Don Rappe

          Yeah, I suppose there may be some crazies on this blog.

          • DR

            It’s yours! And I will be “Donatella Rappe” in order to keep the conspiracy theory live (for some current fundamentalist christians like martin l, conspiracy theories are the life blood force so it’s the least we can do).

          • Don Rappe

            Unfortunately, I might not be smart enough to keep track of who I am with this system.

          • Anonymous

            It seems to me this comments management system is working extremely well. Is it not, though?

          • Don Rappe

            It’s an improvement. I’m going to have to change some habits though. I’ll need to pay more attention to the initial sorting choice.

  • Kelly

    You’ve got some very insightful thoughts, here, Mr. Shore, thanks for sharing!

    It’s always made sense to me that God is on a level of fairness that human beings cannot fully comprehend. God has no favorites whatsoever. No one is weaker or stronger than anyone else in God’s eyes. Suffering is not a means of punishment for the guilty; start treading down that road, and one could end up with the Phelps clan – AIDS, war, starvation, etc. would be seen as punishment for our sins. That’s simply not the case. God tried that path in the Old Testament – he did have favorites then. He did try salvation through intervention and through works (legalism). The point of the exercise was to show us that salvation through divine intervention, and through our own behavior, will never work. We humans will always find a way to screw it up. One final intervention was necessary – God Himself, through Christ. Christ provides the path of faith and unconditional Love that no man or woman could ever find as a result of his or her own will.

    Suffering may appear to impact the innocent more than the guilty; but is that true, or is it a result of our own perception? I honestly don’t know. I know that it humbles me to see how good I really have things, and how often I take things for granted. What right to I have to be angry that I’m caught in traffic, when at the same time, there’s a child somewhere scrounging through garbage dumps just to keep himself from starving to death? Yet if no innocent child ever suffered, how would any of us be moved to truly serve one another in love? If bad things only happened to bad people, we’d have no need for anything but selfish will. I can’t say I really get it. But one day (Revelation 21) we’ll see the reasons, as it’s all perfected in the New Creation. :)

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      I envy your faith in the inscrutable fairness of an all-powerful being… that, if I understand you correctly, made a big mistake by curtailing free will and picking favourites in the past. Well, we all learn by our mistakes. Trial and error, it’s only human. Thanks to you encouraging explanation I now feel as safe as in Abrahams lap (as long as I’m not Ishmael, that is.)

    • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

      Kelly writes Yet if no innocent child ever suffered, how would any of us be moved to truly serve one another in love?

      This argument is reprehensible. It’s morally revolting. It is ethically despicable.

      And these are my ‘nice’ words using my ‘polite’ tone.

      But just in case, after some sober reflection, you require an explanation, I’ll tell you what I really think!

      • Mindy

        Agreed, tildeb. Lest my post above become misconstrued, I did not mean what Kelly put more, um, succinctly. I in NO WAY believe that suffering is the only way we are moved to “truly serve one another in love.” I believe human beings serve one another in love every day in a million different ways, big and small, simply because we care about each other.

        I also believe that suffering intensifies our ability to empathize. OUR OWN suffering, not the suffering of another. Sometimes, seeing another suffer mobilizes us to act lovingly in a larger capacity, to respond, en masse, to care for another who suffers. Those who have felt a similar pain before may feel it more intensely because of the memories it stirs, but they are certainly not the only ones moved to help.

        Our life experiences accumulate to continually shape and reshape who we are. Very few of us reach middle age without having suffered losses or personal failings, and hopefully, that pain we’ve endured has helped us learn to be more understanding and loving of others who suffer – or who make mistakes out of their own pain. Unfortunately, of course, it doesn’t always work that way. Some become bitter and angry and close off from the world or constantly look for someone to blame – and that includes those who have seen children suffer.

        Kelly’s simplistic view would cut like a knife through the hearts of my friends who lost their 7-yr.-old daughter to cancer. In the intervening years, they’ve done immeasurable charity work for St. Jude’s hospital where she spent her final months, and they’ve adopted a second precious daughter. But their hearts were kind and generous and loving before Olivia died, and to say otherwise is, as tildeb said, reprehensible.

    • Tim

      “The point of the exercise was to show us that salvation through divine intervention, and through our own behavior, will never work.”

      Maybe I’m reading your post sideways, Kelli, but wasn’t Christ’s propitiation offered for sin considered salvation through divine intervention? Isn’t that salvation realized when we hear the gospel? Hearing is an action. Mark 8:18 talks about those with ears that don’t hear, and eyes that don’t see. A person who hears the gospel, and that gospel engenders an action of belief, I still consider that a behavior…regardless of whether that behavior is subsequent to personal decision, or a divinely quickened faith.

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    Well, John, this issue is not quite so cut and dried, I’m afraid – although it may seem so without much examination. As always, the devil is in the details.

    The first problem is figuring out what human actions fall inside the box labeled ‘Evil’ and what falls outside and on what grounds we can distinguish between them.

    Then there’s the issue of figuring out what free will means and if we can actually exercise it. If we can’t – and there’s certainly a large school of philosophy about determinism and compatiblism – does that automatically mean we are mindless ‘zombies’? Is that a fair or accurate caricature?

    And we mustn’t forget the logical problem we must face if a god with certain properties really is compatible with both free will and evil.

    As I wrote, the issue is not so simple after all. And now Martin L muddies the waters even more by suggesting we may not know anything for Shore!

    • Don Rappe

      Oh God. Zombies with bicameral brains.

      • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

        Very funny Don!

      • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Luwandi7

        Very funny, Don.

  • Ace

    Hmmm… reminds me of an episode of Red Dwarf where they come to a derelict prison where perfect “Justice” is meted out to prisoners – any time you try to break the law while within the prison’s “justice field”, whatever you were doing gets done to you instead of your intended victim. Try to steal, something of your own disappears, try to punch someone in the face, it’s your own nose that’s bloodied, try to set your neighbor’s bunk on fire, it’s your own pants that go up in smoke, etc.

    • jes

      As I recall, the Justice Field worked based on the prisoner’s owner perception of guilt and wrong though, so if we applied something like that to the world, there’d be a lot of Jewish grandmothers and Catholics guilt-tripping themselves straight into punishment eternal!

      • Argy-bargy

        And sociopaths would end up in charge of everything! *shudder*

        • Don Whitt

          I thought they already were…

          • Argy-bargy

            Yeah, sorry, my irony font doesn’t seem to work on this blog…. ;-)

          • Don Whitt

            Oh, snap!!

      • Ace

        Which is why it only worked on poor old neurotic, self-hating Arnold Rimmer (who in the end was judged simply far too incompetent and useless to be guilty of the crime he had thought himself responsible for, no wonder he’s so insecure, LOL).

        Of course it didn’t work on the Cat at all, because as we all know, cats are incapable of feeling guilty for anything. ;P

  • Shannon

    Here are some words which I think readers of this blog should embrace: love, grace, forgiveness, and irony :-)

    • DR

      This blog is certainly a mirror into how much I lack the first three. And how I possess too much of the fourth. ha!

      • Diana A.

        There’s no such thing as too much irony.

    • Don Rappe

      We should all have a little GILF.

  • http://kenreads.wordpress.com wken

    I actually prayed something like this, once. I used the term “robot” rather than “zombie,” though.

    I was also 11 years old.

  • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

    Seriously, though, Kelly and all you other “faithfull”. If we humans can’t grasp His divine fairness, why do we feel so compelled to call it fairness?

    Why can’t we admit that both by scriptural and by empirical evidence, GOD. Is. Not. Fair. He is allowing both pain and evil to run rampant, even though He proven many times in the past that when it strikes His fancy, He CAN and DOES intervene. He simply choses not to, and it isn’t our bloody place to question it.

    We CAN question it of course. We can question hurricanes and tsunamies and asteroids also. Like God however they just tell us to mind our own bloody business and let them get on with the destruction… and creation… that is beyond us.

    Why do we have to invent defences for God – who himself has very loudly and publically declared that He needs neither apologize nor explain Himself? Don’t you feel doing so is an insult to God?

    I am sorry, if I am too fixed, Shannon, but to quote one of my favourite authors, the jewish-raised irrevent agnostic deist Neil Gaiman: “I’ve had a shit of a life, all things considered. It was fair. Everyone I’ve ever loved is dead, and my leg hurts all the bloody time…” (The Sandman: Season of Mists). The question of pain and evil is very much on my mind, and there were times I despaired about this. Not almost. I did. I finally met God, and I’m sorry to piss on anyone’s parade, but when He talked to me, He wasn’t particularely gentle or kind. But I’ll grant, maybe that was cuz He was talking to me. He didn’t seem to give much of a damn. But he did give me a choice (in the words of the much less optimistic and humanitarian, if probably in the end much more “Christian” Stephen King): “Get busy living or get busy dying.” And He did allow me to crawl back to life – though, like Jacob, He did give me a lasting remainder of our encounter – and I haven’t regreted a single day since, no matter how bad things got.

    But not because He showed me compassion. Not because He showed me fairness. The God I met didn’t seem to even recognize the concepts. All He gave me, was life. However brief, however uncertain and unfair. But, damn, if that isn’t enough?

    I really do not think it is love I lack, Shannon. As for grace, I may not possess any, but I am aware that I live in His. I don’t know how forgiveness enters into this, nor irony, but I am happy if you would enlighten me. I like irony.

    I think, to round this off, William Goldman said it best in The Princess Bride – unfortunately in too many words to quote them here, but you can read them here.

    • jes

      I love that book! Movie’s not bad, but the book is brilliant. :D

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        @ Jes

        Did you really read the 900 pages of the fashion part?

        The movie was better, I think. Falk was terrific.

        @FF

        Life’s not fair is self-evident. But as for questioning our condition, we should do a lot more of it. And assuming that natural occurrences and their creation and destruction are “beyond us” I think is dangerously misguided. I see no reason why our frontiers of knowledge should be limited by superstition and fear.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          Good grief. I certainly did not mean to imply that we shouldn’t use science and reason to further our understanding about teh world. Early warning systems can help us survive tsunamies, and we should by all means try to understand how our own behaviour is influencing the waether and the creation of hurricanes so that we can take better care of our planet and maybe survive as a species a little longer.

          I just meant that neither God nor natural disasters will tell us their reasons for doing what they do. They are part of a vast destructive and creative force that shapes and builds the world we live in, a world full of wonders and horrors, full of joy and pain, a world that very obviously does not conform to human expectations or wishes, not to prayer or sermons. A world that just is. And that we have to take as it is.

        • jes

          I read the “good parts version”, which had a parenthetical comment about there having been a whole chapter of fashion discussion in the unabridged version.

    • http://kenreads.wordpress.com wken

      Who said God is fair?

      • Don Whitt

        Who said God’s Fair is the same as our Fair?

      • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

        And who said we would want “fair” after all? From God or anyone else.

        • Argy-bargy

          Anybody want to go the Fair?

          • Ace

            Only if there’s funnel cakes.

          • Tim

            …and deep fried Twinkies©, Pepsi©, Three Musketeers©, Spaghetti & Meatballs on a stick, and (my favorite) Bacon. MMMMmmmmmMMMM!!!!

          • Beth Luwandi

            We get deep fried Snickers here. Love your little trademarks, Tim

  • Kelly

    “Kelly writes Yet if no innocent child ever suffered, how would any of us be moved to truly serve one another in love?

    This argument is reprehensible. It’s morally revolting. It is ethically despicable. ”

    It wasn’t meant to be a “good” or “bad” argument. I apologize if it was morally revolting. Life is morally revolting and ethically despicable on many levels, and I don’t claim to be any more moral or ethical than anyone else. I think I was just thinking along the lines of – the Mother Theresas of the world would not exist if not for the horrors in which they spend their lives. I’d rather saints and missionaries were unnecessary in this life; but they are, and I am humbled by them.

    • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

      No, Kelly, I don’t want you to apologize for the notion if you think it is true or valid; I want you to revisit it and really think about what it means.

      What you are actually suggesting is that suffering is permissible if it helps teach others. If you were a teacher (and aren’t we all?) would you cause suffering in your students to help them learn about… say… love? Or compassion? Can you not think of a better way?

      Take a moment and think.

      If YOU can think of a better way to teach love and compassion (and I have no doubt you can) and so on without resorting to imposed suffering on innocent children, then it seems pretty obvious to me that a god should be able to as well.

      Assuming that god is a pretty deep thinker about the human condition, I think your defense of suffering actually belittles the very god you worship. And I know that criticism will sting, as it would sting anyone who honestly believes in the same benevolent god you do.

      But to me, an atheist, your argument excuses suffering of innocents, which to me is an abdication of empathetic responsibility to one’s fellow creatures and particularly to the young of our species, on the alter of religious belief. And if an atheist can feel so repelled by what this argument looks like in action, then you know you must be on pretty slippery ground. After all, we atheists are the ones who supposedly have no access to ‘higher’ or ‘absolute’ morality.

      The idea of suffering and how that lines up with religious beliefs about a god that is supposedly benevolent, all-powerful, all-knowing, always present and capable of interventionist actions is extraordinarily difficult to square. And that’s why suffering is usually translated into evil by theologians, which is then transmitted into sin, which then can be parsed using theological arguments into something that appears reasonable. But it’s a different and very powerful argument when it goes back to the puzzling question of how god can allow so much suffering by innocents… not just of children but of the entire animal kingdom that depends on the predator/prey system. The brutality is awe-inspiring and the suffering immense.

      • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

        Okay. I’ll jump in, just for fun. Hey tildeb! I knew you’d be here. ;) Nice to see you.

        I AM a teacher and I’ll tell you, I know some of what I ask students to do WILL be painful for them, a stretch, a reach, and, for some of them, agonizing….If they choose to continue to TRUST me. They will lose sleep. They will miss other more enjoyable activities. They will second guess themselves and doubt their own abilities. They will be frustrated. They will question everything they held as secure. They may even hate me for a while. I don’t like that part, but I tolerate it because I know that if they do trust me, and they do what I am telling them is the best course of action—ever mindful that some of them will ignore me, do the opposite, or do a half-ass attempt (also something I am quite comfortable leaving in their choice box)–on the other side of that “suffering” they will LEARN. And guess what? I LOVE them. I do this because I love them. I love even the little sassy-mouthed hard-ass resisters. Sometimes they’re secretly the most fun to love. :)

        But the ones who trust me, hose are the students who come back the next year and thank me for kicking their ass in class. In fact, even the half-ass, ignoring, rebellious ones do that, when they get to the rest of their college-level work and find out what is expected of them.

        Could I find a gentler way? Maybe but it I would be a lot less effective. I guarantee it.

        What on earth is more loving than giving them direction, challenge, an adventure if you will and allowing them to make the choice how they will continue? Mind you, I don’t leave them alone in their suffering. I’m there for them as much as they will pursue my help. I will work at least as hard as they do if they stay with me.

        It never fails; the students who learn the most, who emerge with thinking and writing skills of their own (our goal in this case) are those who trusted me through every step– even the so-totally-pissed-at-you,-Nelson stage. (And that IS my real name, although so is Beth Luwandi.)

        Am I saying I’m like God? Heck no. But you asked that question. Yes. A teacher would, knowing a lot more than the student, ask that student to enter a level of hell in order to get to a desired outcome. And yes, good Lord, my children don’t get everything they want either. They think they’re suffering…

        I always think it’s a weak link when non-believers focus on the fact people suffer to either discredit or disavow God’s existence. Since when do we get to decide the game plan? That’s the whole point. There is a God. I am not it. Bottom line, and I know this will piss people off- it’s not that people can’t find evidence of a Benevolent Creator, it’s that they want to BE GOD and we aren’t so it’s just so infuriating!

        If we were God, we wouldn’t know how to fix things anyway. But you go ahead and keep trying

        • Kelly

          Beth, you said it much better than I was able to myself. I’ve been a teacher too. There are probably nights that you cry or lose sleep over troubled students, whom you love. At the same time, you really, truly teach them when you’re demanding and impose some trials on them. Some suffering is deliberately imposed, but some is not. When you’re the teacher of a student who is being bullied, abused, or neglected – either in school or at home – you can intervene as much as possible. But even then, it’s often a losing battle. Teachers, sadly, aren’t able to forcibly remove the suffering ones from their horrible environments and find them homes and classrooms filled with nothing but joy. But they can reach out and provide someone to trust. That one teacher may be enough to save a life. Thank you for providing someone to trust for your students! :)

          • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

            Thanks Kelly. I do not do as well as I would like. And yes, there are students who clearly suffer (for a myriad of reasons) who make my heart literally weep. I figure my job is to love them….

        • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

          Beth, I am afraid you are trivializing what is meant by the word ‘suffering’ to equate with a very low level of being uncomfortable. Compare that trivial notion of suffering you use to justify why it is ‘good’ with starving children wandering dumps for scraps of food that Kelly mentioned, critters born into a system of being eaten alive with fully functioning nervous systems to maximize pain, the natural life cycles of viruses and germs that cause long and lingering and agonizing death to the host, and so on, and what you say about the benefit of suffering simply doesn’t fit as anything that yields a greater good, which you assume will happen through suffering.

          Your assumption in these non-trivial examples doesn’t make sense. Suffering in the non-trivial sense cannot be so easily dismissed as part of a benevolent plan when it so patently fails to meet the supposed goal of divine love in action for that individual and those who love that person, nor does it make any sense to appreciate how nature operates every minute of every day on such a never-ending brutal system supposedly designed by a benevolent creator. It IS a problem of aligning the veracity of the belief with reality. Something is not lining up here.

          You write I always think it’s a weak link when non-believers focus on the fact people suffer to either discredit or disavow God’s existence. The real question here is how does such banal brutality advance or support the assumption of god’s benevolence? You say we have to just accept god’s game plan. No. We don’t and neither do you. That’s why you – along with the rest of us – accept medical intervention… because god’s game plan CAN be interfered with by a better solution than needless suffering. You would interfere with god’s plan in a nanosecond if one of your children was suffering (in the non-trivial sense) and you had the means at your disposal to alleviate it. Not doing so is considered (quite rightly in my view) child abuse.

          I think we need much more human interference with a goal of reducing non-trivial suffering which, unfortunately, tends to cause friction with those who use (and I think abuse and belittle) god to justify suffering with the lie that it somehow enhances our collective compassion and so balances out in the long run. That claim requires more evidence to back it up than simply asserting that it is so and I don’t think it has anything to back it up except uncritical belief. I think that belief underlies what amounts to a moral failure, an ethical capitulation and a rationalized excuse to avoid our collective responsibility to each other to enhance our well-being and reduce our unnecessary suffering.

          • Tim

            Suffering is as relative a word as belief or love. Your suffering is not my suffering . My reasons for belief are not yours, Your definition of love is not mine.

            Laudy-laud, if we could only convert semantics into usable energy. This one blog could light up Manhattan. LOL!!!

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Only people leading very sheltered lives can believe that there is much relativity in suffering. Mr. Shore won’t let me link to such pictures, but picture-google the words “starving child”, and come back here and say again that suffering is relative and funny semantics, mate.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            And that is not some small, distant, unimportant side-issue: In 2008 3 million children died of malnutrition. Every day almost 16,000 children die of hunger related causes. That is one child every bloody 5 seconds!!! Dead… dead… dead… dead…

            (Source for these numbers: http://www.bread.org/hunger/global/)

          • DR

            Tim I think you’re inadvertently trivializing the horrendous suffering that others are pointing out, here. It’s not just semantics. Being uncomfortable vs suffering are apples to oranges.

          • jes

            Well said.

          • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Luwandi7

            @ tildeb:
            I’m not trivializing suffering at all but answering your question regarding whether a teacher would intentionally, “cause suffering in your students to help them learn about… say… love? Or compassion?”
            My answer is, conceivably, yes.
            Am I saying wide-spread systemic suffering will make people compassionate? I didn’t make that leap here or elsewhere.
            Medical intervention IS part of God’s game plan as far as I’m concerned–as is science, intelligence, human compassion, actually DOING something to help anyone placed in our path or awareness who needs our love and compassion.
            You’re making a bunch of illogical assumptions about my argument.
            I absolutely agree we need to do more to care for those who suffer– worldwide. Who the heck is using religion to trivialize suffering? Not me. Mine or anyone’s. In anything I wrote.
            One of the differences between us tildeb, among many, is that I have my own experience of meeting God powerfully IN my suffering. I don’t need to whine that someone’s suffering is proof of God’s benevolence or maliciousness. For me, it’s a weak argument-because of my own encounter with God inside my own complete agony.
            Have you suffered?
            And having experienced God greatly inside my own suffering I am moved with compassion to do all I can to help alleviate others’ suffering. And that, my friend IS part of God’s game plan.
            Am I doing enough? Hell no. I bet you aren’t either. And I agree with you that none of us are really doing enough. And that has nothing to do with religion.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            I think it is very convenient to assert that when man interferes with god’s plan, you say it’s all part of god’s plan. You may be satisfied that god’s plan looks exactly like what people do or don’t do (covers all the bases, doesn’t it?), but I suspect you haven’t really thought this idea through.

            If random tragedies and unnecessary suffering is part of god’s plan, and that everything man does is part of god’s plan, then you are also asserting by association that all suffering is part of god’s plan. I dare you to tell a parent grieving over the recent senseless and tragic death of an innocent but unfortunate child that it’s all part of god’s plan. It may make theological sense to you to maintain this belief and even to enunciate it, but in my mind it makes god not only responsible but answerable for whatever the outcome may be – senseless death and suffering on the one hand as well as man’s involvement in averting them on the other. As for the former, we have nouns for human agents who kill innocents and cause such unnecessary suffering or avoid doing anything that could prevent this result. None of them are flattering.

            We show clear bias for the latter – those who do what they can to reduce unnecessary deaths and suffering and who take actions to prevent tragedies. All of the nouns we use to describe such people are flattering. So why, if god is responsible for both outcomes, is he credited for only the positive press and avoids all culpability for the negative? Again, how convenient is this?

            As for the grieving parent, such words about god’s benevolence and ultimate benevolent plan are tripe and insufferably boorish in the face of such anguish. It is my experience that although many people who believe that “everything happens for a reason” are wise enough to keep such thoughts to themselves when faced by the raw grief of another, people seem bound and determined through inquests and law suits to alter whatever dangerous situations or failure of due diligence may lead to unnecessary death and suffering. And behaviours that can lead to such ‘reasonable happenings’ are rather severely punished by our legal system. This human response to needless death and suffering leads me to the conclusion that most people understand that god’s reasons for tragedy and suffering should be changed by us if we have the power to do so… and are, in fact and law, morally obligated. If we feel this way, why not him? Why does this benevolent agency draw the Get Out Of Jail Free card? A stacked deck, perhaps?

            What does this thinking mean? It means that we do NOT think whatever happens is part of god’s plan but falls squarely on our shoulders if we can do something about it. We don’t shrug when a child is starved to death intentionally and mumble platitudes of god’s mysterious ways. We hold someone responsible. And this means that when people draw on the inanities commonly used to address the grief of others, we fail to realize just how hypocritical we are being to believe in a god unburdened by the same moral obligation we impose on ourselves. If we feel this powerful about our responsibilities when we have so little power to affect change, then why don’t we hold a benevolent god who has the power to do a much more thorough job to at least the same high standard we hold towards other humans?

          • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

            As for the gross logical fallacies, there are at least three. Rhetorical devices include loaded language, logical leaps, assumption, and emotional appeal.
            Try to squarely use your fantastic brain (which you’d love to take complete credit for) and actually address the assertions I am making instead of running away like a crazy train.
            You think human beings are completely responsible for everything in the world? Then they are responsible for all the evil too. Hmm I think that is part of what John originally said. People DO evil, they choose it, they may even help it happen by omission.
            Who’s shrugging? Who’s not taking action? Who are you talking about? And how dare you infer I said anything that remotely suggests I’d offer “comfort” to grieving parents by saying “it’s all part of God’s plan.” But from my own very painful loss, I will tell you I’ve experienced the truth of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Actually. Myself. In Reality.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Do I think people are responsible for all the evil in the world? That entirely depends on what the word means. But this has not a substitute for what I have written about suffering. And people are responsible for some of the suffering, they certainly are not responsible for all the suffering.

            My comment had to do with Kelly’s assertion that perhaps suffering serves a teaching purpose and is thus permitted free reign by a benevolent god. I think that’s a really bad argument for the reasons I explained.

            But here you are switching to the word ‘evil’ (which, after all, is the topic of the post). I see three major impediments to John’s assertion that is god is free and clear of responsibility for people who do evil.

            1) The first problem is figuring out what human actions fall inside the box labeled ‘Evil’ and what falls outside and on what grounds we can distinguish between them.

            2) Then there’s the issue of figuring out what free will means and if we can actually exercise it. (If we can’t – and there’s certainly a large school of philosophy about determinism and compatiblism – does that automatically mean we are mindless ‘zombies’? Is that a fair or accurate caricature? I don’t think so.)

            3) And we mustn’t forget the logical problem we must face if a god with certain properties really is compatible with both free will and evil.

            I feel that John has not addressed any of these major criticisms with his thesis and so his conclusion – that god cannot intervene when people do evil without turning us all into mindless zombies – is fatally flawed.

            No, I don’t “think human beings are completely responsible for everything in the world.” But that doesn’t help with figuring out what is meant that your extension that therefore people “are responsible for all the evil, too.”

            The problem that suffering brings to the idea of a benevolent god is profoundly important and one that has not (yet as far as I know) been answered well by any theology. The fact of suffering seems, instead, to bolster the claim that god isn’t real, or he hasn’t the power to intervene, or he wishes not to intervene. Regardless, the assumption of benevolence is severely tested by suffering and we do a disservice to those who realize that this central question about god is not a trivial one easily answered.

          • Anonymous

            Tildeb: to your:

            1. I addressed this in the post. (“The only way for God to stop people from doing evil would be to stop people from ever thinking about doing evil. That would mean stopping people from ever having negative thoughts.”)

            2. Even if, in the largest possible context, we DON’T have free will, the fact remains that we absolutely experience that we do. For all practical intents and purposes, we all have free will. Trying to pretend that we don’t–or that we can possible imagine a world or existence in which we don’t—is arguing for sake of arguing. It’s the kind of thing theologians and philosophers like to tangle themselves up with as a way of avoiding anything conclusive. You decided what you were going to eat for breakfast this morning. There: free will.

            3. I don’t know what you’re saying here.

            I’ve provided here a simple, clean, rationally supportable, comprehensive answer for why God doesn’t stop man from hurting man. (In another post I’ll address the problem of “natural” evil.) You’re apparently rather dedicated to trying to turn this into a complicate matter. But it’s not, and won’t be.

  • Ally

    Great debate. I, for one, appreciate the conversation and debate on this blog by all. The comments sections are often even more thought-provoking than the posts — no offense to John Shore, I hope! It always makes me consider and broaden my understanding, even if I still can’t pinpoint where I stand…yet.

  • http://williamely.name/ William Ely

    There is a problem with this line of thinking. This lets God off the hook too easily.

    God made women victims by creating men much stronger and more aggressive than they are. That could have been easily avoided by an intelligent designer.

    God created terrible diseases that ruin good people’s lives.

    God made capable of so much suffering to begin with. Maybe physical and emotional pain is some sort of cosmic joke? Haha, well you got us God, I hope you had a good laugh.

    The free will argument does not hold much weight when you see how messed up so many people are born and how much many people have to suffer just to live. It is just a bad argument, from both a moral and logical standpoint. The list of holes in this argument goes on and on, I could go for hours about it.

    So, if you are going to worship God, be sure to at least give him credit for being such a malicious monster. At least be accurate in the portrayal of your deity.

    • Don Whitt

      God made men physically stronger but more prone to disease. A look at the genders in terms of intelligence puts far more women filling the bell curve and more men at either extreme end. And those of us who’ve had girl and boy children know how much better the girls are verbally and socially at a VERY early age. This balance of things is fascinating. And there are always so many, many exceptions to all those “rules”.

    • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

      God did not make women victims by making them weaker. They are made victims when men choose to hurt them, inflict evil, sin against them. Even then, we choose our response.

      And why do you credit God with taking evil delight in people’s suffering? I think God also suffers, agonizes, weeps over us. Why do I think that? Jesus, for one, whom I believe to be God incarnate, did all those things. We have the capacity for pain because we’re made in God’s image. I frankly wouldn’t want to live without it.

      “Don’t believe the Devil; don’t believe his book/ But the truth is not the same without the lies he made up.”

      Are you angry at God for not doing something to prevent particular suffering in your own life or someone close to you? The out-there-God-should-prevent-their-suffering seems to me a cop-out.

      For me, very personally, the abysmal pit of my absolute deepest excruciating suffering is where I encountered God most powerfully. He was in it with me, every hellish, horrific, torturous moment. And that is a lesson that has absolutely, beyond any shadow of doubt, changed my life and my experience with God FOREVER.

      AND He met me there when I was completely convinced He hated me. I don’t want to go there again, but I’ll tell you, I would do it again if it were necessary for me to get hold of that truth. The suffering was WORTH the revelation.

      • mercyme

        Beautiful, Beth!

    • Tim

      If he is on a hook, he is not God. All other arguments are sort of moot if that is the basis of your thinking.

  • Kelly

    Here’s another point of view I have heard once or twice. Can’t say I agree with it, but it was a new perspective for me:

    The Adam and Eve story can be taken a number of ways when discussing the origins of evil. In one allegorical interpretation, the apple tree isn’t really a tree at all – it’s a metaphor for sex. When Eve eats the apple as the serpent tempts her to do so, she’s physically intimate with the demon. When she convinces Adam to take of the apple too, she sleeps with Adam. End result: Cain, the biological son of the serpent (Evil), and Abel, the biological son of Adam (Good). Cain kills Abel, thus ending the “good” genetic line. Throughout Genesis, there are other mentions of demons (fallen angels) sleeping with women. Thus, evil is genetically present in us now. We cannot help but to instinctively follow it.

    God’s solution to the human choice of evil (it was a choice, after all, for Eve to act as she did), was only possible through virgin birth – to create His Son free of the genetic flaw of evil. As such, the only way for perfect Christ to die was for humans to murder Him. God then raised him from the dead, to conquer evil once and for all, on a spiritual level first. Once that work is done, the evils of this world will cease. But that work isn’t done yet.

    I figure as long as it’s crazy time, we might as well go all-out crazy on this one. :)

    • Don Rappe

      That is crazy. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all are raised to newness of life. Absolutely crazy!

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        See, that is why I have such a problem talking to Christians: When they say such weird things like “in Adam all die” I never know if they’re being ironic or serious, or what the hell that is even supposed to mean… *_*?

        • Mindy

          I think them are pritty words for “humans have a finite life span.”

          If I remember correctly, since man was supposedly made in God’s image, humans possessed immortality until the dang snake and apple episode. Not sure why they don’t say “in Eve all die,” since she was supposedly the naughty one, but I guess in a patriarchal book, Adam still gets all the credit.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Not really. The way the Good Book tells the story, Adam and Eve were made in God’s image, but apparently not completely. Because there were TWO trees, the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. Those who ate from the tree of knowledge gain knowledge of good and evil. Those who ate of the tree of life gained eternal life. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from either tree. The serpent convinced Even and Eve convinced Adam to try the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Afterwards they realized that they were naked, became ashamed and covered themselves up. By that God knew what they had done. He then says: “If they eat from the tree of life also, THEY WILL BECOME LIKE ME.” And He doesn’t want that to happen, so he kicks them out.

          • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

            The way I heard the story and it’s symbolism is that if we ate from the tree that would give us eternal life, we would have that eternal life *in sin* – i.e. with that seperation from God that constitutes Hell. (Then, this is from people who taught that Hell wasn’t necessarily fire and brimstone, but a “seperation from God and thus a seperation from good.”) Therefore, humans *in sin* with eternal life would suffer a kind of eternal lonliness. It would be basically this cruddy world – forever, with no escape.

            Which reminds me of Tolkien’s Middle Earth in a way… I’ve read LoTR and *part* of the Silmarillion (couldn’t get through it all – I’m a bad fantasy fan!!!) I remember that in that, death was “the gift of men” – because when a human died, his soul could go to Eru – Illuvitar (forget if I’m spelling that right). Elves, on the other hand, even if they were killed (hard to kill an elf, if I recall), would wander in their forest or in these sad halls for all eternity – and that’s the ones that didn’t get to go to the island – they don’t get to straight up die and go to Heaven (supposedly) like men do, and it’s presented as tragic.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            “And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Genesis 3:22)

            Sorry, but if eating from the tree of knowledge means living in sin, then God clearly admits here, that He, too, lives in sin. Since I suppose we can agree that God by definition cannot sin, this interpretation would directly contradict scripture.

          • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

            Just remembering some of what I was taught when I went to Baptist church.

            It’s not the “knowing good and evil” that is the sin, it’s the “disobeying God” thing that was the sin. God doesn’t disobey himself, but knows good and evil. Or, perhaps even has what one site calls “Blue and Orange Morality”

            http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlueAndOrangeMorality

            According to what I remember of how the symbolism was taken in that interpretation, it was the act of Adam and Eve disobeying God when God said “No” that opened up their eyes to sin – because they’d sinned in that moment.

            I guess it’s kind of like the difference between knowing the definition of the word “murder” as knowledge and knowing it by doing it.

            *Shrug.*

  • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

    Even though I have always suffered more from human evil than “natural evil” and my Hell is other people, I can see people shooting holes in this like whoa. You’re going to run into the “natual evil” argument, especially if you wind up taking this to Huffington Post.

    Then again, people whining at me “HOW can you believe in the existance of a higher power when there’s so much evil and suffering in the world?” while, at the very same time, informing me that the future has no place for me, that I’m holding back humanity and that they’re waiting for my “kind” to die out makes me go…. “Meh.” Again, Hell is other people.

    My somewhat agnostic-Christian reply is…. “I’m a fiction writer.” I haven’t been successful yet (attempts at publication have been met with a big box full of rejection letters so far…), but I know that as a writer – as a creator… well, my characters must suffer for the sake of the plot. It all *means somethng* in the end, and that is the important thing.

    I think God is more complex than an entity made of rainbows and puppies. Or one made of fire and brimstone for that matter. I also think that, as humans, our attempts at trying to figure out the universe and existance in general is kind of like a bunch of earthworms in a garden trying to figure out their patch of dirt and what’s beyond it. People who say they’ve got it all figured out on both sides of the fence (Fundamentalist religious people AND certain ardent athiests) annoy me. I, for one, say “I believe” but will not say “I know for sure” to anyone.

    All I know is that, for me, the idea that all of this has some kind of deep, underlying *meaning* is what keeps me out of the morgue.

    • Don Whitt

      I agree heartily!!

  • Don Rappe

    “All I know is that, for me, the idea that all of this has some kind of deep, underlying *meaning* is what keeps me out of the morgue.” This idea helps me a lot too. And if there are serious limits to this post, it’s not bad for 300 words, is it? The book of Job is much longer and it is just this that keeps this slow reader from rereading it. I think I remember something along the line of “Where were you when I hurled the stars into the sky and all those sons of god sang together?” I suppose this is sort of a challenge to us when we think we could have done a better job of it. I find these words pretty humility inspiring. As an attentive student of physics, I find his work pretty awe inspiring. And I remember that had someone who could do better tweaked it a little, you and I and the others here would not exist as we do, but, if we existed at all would be unrecognizably “other”.

    Anyway, Shadsie, I thank God as I understand him for calling us out of darkness into his marvelous light. I am aware that using the symbols God, angels, good, evil, etc. to construct meaning for myself is related to my culture and education as a child. There are quite a number of other religions which are also systems of such symbols, and as a rule I have no problem with them and think they are good and useful for those they enlighten. Still, not a good thing to offer our children as sacrifices on the altar of Moloch, and if we look carefully at our society we can see we are still not so far from this.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

    Read through (most of) the comments and I was reminded on a quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

    If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being: and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

    • cd

      Not to mention the fact that Yahweh tried this once already with the flood and it did not work.

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        Yeah. He did, didn’t He? Kill every living being on the planet except for one family of humans and a pair of everything else… and then discover that it didn’t do any good. Like, oops, well, ’twas worth the try, huh. Afterwards we’re all wiser… But, now that He added one more death – that of His son, or Himself, or something – we can all trust in his judgment and infallibility and loving kindness.

        • DR

          There is a line, Firefox, when you at least attempt to drop the sarcasm around other’s beliefs and offer them the same kind of respect that they – we – are working hard at offering you.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Hmm. Yeah, well. I still find it difficult to accept that peeps argue for God’s goodness on a “He’s God, he must be loving and infallible” basis on the one hand but then brush of either empirical or scriptural contradictions in this way, but I suppose you’re right…

            I sincerely apologize if I offended anyone’s religious feeling by the caustic way I presented the argument.

          • DR

            No worries, I think we’ve all seen how sarcastic and belligerent I get with the more Fundamentalist part of Christianity. But there have been others I respect who give me the right kind of check when I go too far, so I thought I’d return the favor. This is all very difficult, we just do the best we can.

        • Don Rappe

          This does critique a very stupid way of reading ancient sacred writings. I hope you don’t do it that way. Yet this way is undeniably common.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            I know that one can read sacred writings as histories or as metaphors. And mostly I’m with the metaphorical readings, but I cannot stand peeps reading it one way or the other depending on what personal POV they want to prove. Since so many here like to take every biblical word as gospel, well, I thought I’d oblige and play along.
            I’d be interested in YOUR reading of the story of the flood, though. ^_^

        • Don Rappe

          This does critique a very stupid way of reading ancient sacred writings. I hope you don’t do it that way. Yet this way is undeniably common.

  • Mindy

    John – what happened to the new commenty-goodness thing??

  • Chellee

    If I never loved you and your brilliant mind before…..(which I most certainly did)…..I DO NOW!!!! That was THE MOST WONDERFUL explanation I’ve EVER heard….(the ONLY one, come to think of it) on this subject and it is quite simply……P.E.R.F.E.C.T. There’s no other way to describe it. THANK YOU Mister! You ROCK! That was BOMB-DIGGITY!!

    I had somewhat tried to express something like that…..because I had somewhat come to this conclusion myself….though I had not followed it through to the mindless zombies bit…..because several people have asked me this over the past many years. But never, ever had I given such a bang-up answer that is just so…..well…..PERFECT. :)

    I LOVE YOU JOHN SHORE (in a happily married and quite proper and friend-ish sort of way.) ;)

    WELL DONE!!!!!!!!

    With GREAT respect and admiration……

    Chellee

  • Don Whitt

    @Ric Booth – that’s an absolutely fantastic quote. To paraphrase Solzhenitsyn, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    I have a very clinical, dualistic, view of this topic of “evil”. One of my favorite classes in college was Phenomenology. The thing that stuck with me throughout all the readings and discussions – and the central point of Phenomenology – was what a product of our physical nature we humans are. We live in a world of phenomena, not so much defined by God, but by our material beings. Our minds are left to sort through the input with help from the spiritual parts. But it’s a composite picture at best, not whole. So, trying to make sense of the big picture such as God’s will is a real stab in the dark. That’s where faith comes in. It serves to help us navigate the unknowable by filtering that data through our spiritual world view. This is all an approximation. The fact that it works as well as it does is all a testament to the design, not a condemnation.

    • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

      I dunno. Never went to college, don’t even know what exactly phenomenology means, but this approach to faith, to simply cover up the difference between what our senses and our reason tell us about the world and how we wish it were, seems somehow wrong.

      I don’t contest that we cannot understand God’s reasons. But if we recognize that He is NOT human in scope or values, why do we have to antropomorphize Him again to claim that his reasons have to be those of caring and justice? Where in THIS world do you see Him act in this regard?

      If faith covers only those parts that apparently contradict our senses or reason, how can you ever hope to discern between spiritual truth and wishful thinking?

      • Don Whitt

        @Freefox,

        Never been a big fan of anthropomorphizing God either, but I think it’s necessary in order to talk about God. We don’t have any “God phenomena” to which we can refer in order to describe God. We turn to the language of our material world. And so, it’s all an exercise of using concrete terms to describe the unknowable. It’s outside the realm of normal reason – it’s spiritual. And, so, I agree completely with you about “certainty” and such things when applied to religion, God, Jesus and the whole fruit basket of faith. I can only feel. I can only touch these things on an emotional level and decide what resonates – once again, a material metaphor, but more visceral. I feel in my gut that God is here and that God wants me to do certain things.

        I also believe that it doesn’t matter if God exists or not, since it’s not knowable in the conventional, rational sense. What I believe matters is what I believe and what I do in regards to those beliefs.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          But if your personal feeling is the ONLY source of “knowledge” (i.e. faith) about God – I cannot share that point of view, but just assuming it were true – what would be the point of talking about Him at all? What would be the point of Mr. Shore’s blog post? Of any of our comments? If it is JUST each prson’s own feelings, well, then we each are simply alone with the question and talking about Him is like telling each other our nightly dreams. It may be interesting to see what another person experienced, but it wouldn’t have any meaning or relevance for ourselves, would it?

          • Don Whitt

            We need to, and can, share our experiences and feel community – we’re social animals. I believe that sharing is an intimacy we all require. And we learn so much by sharing our thoughts with one another and, in so doing, we do not feel so isolated, so alienated in this world. We are all humans, after all – our personal experiences are common. I don’t want to come off as some brand of solipsist, which I think the phenomenal worldview comes awfully close to being – all “deconstructed” and cold and analytical.

            And when we find overlap and congruity in our shared feelings and experiences, we begin to feel like we’re part of something bigger, which is what I think “God” is about. We feel that there is meaning to all of this and, eventually, that we have a purpose within a community of other people. John Shore’s blog is exactly that – a small community where people share experiences and acknowledge each others’ feelings and, perhaps, discover greater things about themselves and how they view their role in life.

          • Don Rappe

            Well said, Don.

          • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

            I think there are some things in life you can’t really share – this is what drives me crazy about a lot of the atheist types I’ve run into – they don’t seem to understand when you say “Well, I know I cannot explain it, it’s personal, but I’m *happy* with it (and don’t need or want to be “de-converted.)” Some people are very analytical and demand an explaination for absolutely everything (even when they are obnoxiously cold-reading your psychology on the Internet). I tend to see explaining some of my beliefs as being like.. trying to explain just why I got inspired to paint a certain thing. Sometimes, it’s unexplainable.

            And sometimes, it’s just a way of seeing the world. When people screech at me for it, demanding that I think in the purely dry anyalitical terms that they do, it’s like they’re screaming “YOUR BRAIN IS WRONG!” (sometimes with a “People like you shouldn’t exist!” vibe thrown in).

            I had something happen to me last winter – I can see it explained in rational terms, yes. “Just sheer luck.” I didn’t see any angels or hear any voices (probably would have gone to my shrink if I had), but the fact that I survived screams “this was a miracle” at me. Drifting in this “Maybe Magic, Mabye Mundane” thing sits perfectly well for me.

            But it does seem to piss a lot of other people off when I share.

  • JohnB

    I find it to be a weak argument as well. Arguing this way implies that we could know his motives, which we cannot.

    I live my life by reason, and don’t try to disprove something that has never been proven in the first place. I far better argument is “what evidence is there to support the existence of ANY god?”

    If anyone is able to provide some physical evidence of a god, we can begin to have a discussion about which god that could be.

    Until that happens, there is no reason to bother discussing a disproof…

    • Anonymous

      Hi JohnB— you say that you live your life by reason. Subsequently, you have no reason to bother discussing a disproof of something that has never been proven in the first place, correct? So it should logically follow that a belief in the existence of God is indicative of a diminished capacity for reason or critical thought? Yes? If that is so, I’d like to hear your reasons why a 2005 Rice University survey of 1646 natural and social scientists showed that 48% believe in God? While it’s not a majority, it does suggest that such belief in the disprovable is still compatible with nearly 50% of scientists who engage critical thought as a profession.

      I’m not a scientist, but I also live by reason. And by reason, I believe in the existence of God.

    • William

      Adding to that from siriuslee – it is a very logical thing to belief that a higher ‘creator god’ does in fact exist. By following modern theories of the creation of the universe, it follows that all FINITE existence we experience was created by something that is outside of creation, and therefore INFINITE. Also, because all things new can only be discovered from things built upon previously learned knowledge, it also follows that there must be an ‘original knowledge’ which thrust forth all that is and ultimately will be all that we know.

      Would you agree?

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        I don’t know about John B., but I know I wouldn’t. ^_^

    • Don Rappe

      I agree that the word exist should be confined to physical reality and clearly, God is not part of physical reality. But the words “evil” and “freedom of choice” also do not seem to describe any physical reality. I am not sure if the word “I” describes a physical reality, since it is so closely intertwined with ideas of good and evil and freedom of choice. Even the word “real” which sets itself against “illusion” may not fit well into the physical world. I find a context for these words in what I think of as a spiritual “world”. I am using a whole different sense of the word “existence” when I say that good, evil, free choice, I and perhaps God exist. I am talking about symbols that help me navigate in the spiritual world as I understand it.

    • Rkerstetter1

      Any chance you live close to St louis or New Jersey or Delaware? If you do for free I would give you some very loving proof. I am a long-time Christian who does not believe the entire bible (yes – it does have errors) yet it has still saved my but often, I love gays – having gay family members did a lot to kick my butt again into the gear – but here’s the craziest part of all – I am a charismatic. Basically, to me that means I moved from holding hands with God to having sex – no really, really.

      I have experienced so many miracles first hand by now that I have simply stopped counting. The logical argument of ‘you just think that was God speaking or acting or answering a miracle because you were looking for it’ logically died a long time ago b/c logic just does not support that many ‘odd coincidences (no matter how many people are looking for them) – that’s not even counting the whole tongues thing which some people may force or fake to themselves – but to a skeptic like myself who tested this think and looked at it upside down and over and over again – it has just been a mind-blowing God thing (i.e. after two years of Spanish I could still not roll my R’s-probably due to having to see a speech therepist to even be able to say my R’s when I was younger, but after 1 second of getting tongues I’m rolling my R’s right and left (since then I can do it whether I am speaking in prayer tounges or not – but never could before) and honest to God – that is a small miracle – not even the cool fun stuff God and I play together with every day.

      I am coming ‘out’ as a loving miracle believing Christian now that I have thrown just enough of the Bible out to be loving and kept the part of God my life has taught me to be real.

      Anyways – if you live close to any of those places – I’d bet you $100 to let me pray for you and God will tell me something about you that you have told no one, that will also not embarrass or shame you that I know – and he’ll speak it – and if we are lucky, you’ll feel his presence so close you’ll literally think you are floating off the bed – so much so that you will grab the covers twice to hold yourself down – the way I did as a 12 year old – the first time I prayed for God to forgive me and give me the love to love my brother.

      Keep seeking the cool God.

      • Rkerstetter1

        PS – sorry all for the errors and typos – I am of mom of three small kids and rushed to much on the comments above. Have a good day all.

      • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

        Don’t have the $100 (and anyway, isn’t gambling for money forbidden by scripture?), but I would love to see you do it anyway. You in for a non-profit cold reading? If so, hit me with it. ^_^

  • Tim

    A thought that has always simmered on the back burner of my noodle, is that God doesn’t directly arrest our free will, but He can (if He wills) direct circumstances in such a way that limits the array of choices we have at any given time.

  • Anonymous

    I do hope the previous comments will get restored. I was enjoying them so much.

    • Anonymous

      They will. Just be a couple of minutes.

      • Anonymous

        Danka! I figured you had it covered. Just like the J-man.

  • Kevin Lester

    John, I enjoy your writing very much. I am reminded of the essay attached. How can we be sure what God has “in mind”? Please read the article linked:

    http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=11370

    Nice that a Catholic publication posted it!

    Thanks,

    Kevin Lester

    • Anonymous

      Why would I always want to know what God has in mind? How excruciatingly boring would that be?

      • Kevin Lester

        you seem to say that you do in this essay. Believers and non-believers should NEVER have to defend their belief; using Atheists as an example to prove your opines correct rings off key. Did you read the article by D.F Polish?

        • Kevin Lester

          at least give it a peak…i DO think that you will like it.

  • Ray C.

    “How do I know why evil exists? I can’t even get the can opener to work” —Woody Allen (sort of)

  • Anonymous

    John

  • Kelly

    The more I think about this, the more I remind myself what’s more important: not to understand why evil exists, but to understand what I can, and should, be doing to fight it. Do I need to rationalize why needless suffering occurs to know that I need to, in some way, try to alleviate it for at least one person?

    Every moment I spend questioning God’s motives is a moment of service wasted.

  • Josh Reiner

    God has given us the gift of freewill so that we can be human, and make mistakes, and possibly deny Him. That’s love?

    Additionally, God sends a strong delusion to non-believers so that they may believe their “lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11). In this way, God actively works against those with doubt, or at least a subset of his choosing, by creating a force that prevents them from ultimately accepting His “truth”. That’s love?

    If God truly loved us wouldn’t He send us a signal that He was real as opposed to testing our faith for… God only knows what reason? Does anyone here claim to know the mind of God? It seems like many people here think they do.

    God also damns people that deny him, even though he has caused this “delusion” of doubt. That’s love?

    God sets the punishment for exercising the wrong type of freewill. He also works to insure that those that have used it to doubt Him will only doubt Him more strongly. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh freewill in a capricious way.

    God is not love. Because logic.

    Though, I guess, in Christian circles, working to insure that one of your children burns in hell for eternity for disobeying or simply questioning you is considered Love of the highest order.


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