A problem is created for the idea of God when humans endure a high degree of suffering, as is occasioned by one of America’s mass school shootings.
It is problematic to say God possesses the attributes of goodness, power, and omniscience because ‘all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing’ do not align with a high degree of suffering.
If God were all-good, God would not cause or permit mass school shootings. If God were all-powerful God would intervene to prevent or stop mass school shootings. And if God were all-knowing, God would have known far in advance that a plot was stirring to assassinate school children and God would intervene to prevent or stop the dirty deed.
This is a version of the famous ‘problem of evil.’
One way of getting out of the ‘problem’ in the problem of evil is simply to deny one or all three of God’s attributes. If God is not all-good, there is no ‘problem’ of evil. If God is not all-powerful, there’s no ‘problem’ of evil. If God is not all-knowing, there is no ‘problem’ of evil.
I have written before in this space that, in the face of mass shootings of our school kids, God could plead that He is not all-powerful. He is not the kind of muscular father who would intervene to save his child from a school shooter.
In another essay in this space I said that God could plead that He is not all-knowing. God was ignorant of many details of school shootings and He could not therefore intervene to save the lives of the murdered victims.
Were God to admit these defects, evil would exist but no ‘problem’ of evil would exist. Drop power and knowledge from God and God is off the hook.
What about the all-good God?
Is anyone prepared to hear God say he is not all-good? Probably not. But that remains a plea option for God. Why did God do nothing to prevent or stop the massacre of our innocents? Well, truth is, God isn’t an entirely decent sort of chap.
You or I, if we possessed goodness and a healthy dose of strength and courage, and if we were knowledgeable about a plot to kill our school kids, we would prevent or stop mass school shootings.
Indeed if we had boasted that we possessed these three attributes and we did nothing to prevent or stop mass school shootings, anyone would be justified to wonder if we were truly ‘good, powerful, and knowledgeable.’
So let us imagine the unimaginable. Let us let God make a case that He is not all-good. That’s God’s plea for sitting idly by as kids were killed.
God could say that He is good to a degree. That is, God could say He is not ‘all’ good. God could say He has lapses in His goodness, and at certain moments He just doesn’t care very much for humanity.
There is some record of this disposition in God, as for instance in His drowning all but a small sampling of human beings, or in His dislike for of a vast number of Egyptian first-borns, aged one minute to ninety-nine, whom God killed to vent His irritation with an Egyptian king.There are many arguments that could be compiled, arguments that God Himself could enumerate to make His case that He is not altogether good:
God: ‘Would I send you bone-aching diseases for thousands of years if I were all-good?’
God: ‘Would an all-good God leave mental illness untouched to rave on and on?’
God: ‘Would I allow birth defects and low IQs if I were all-good?’
God: ‘Would an all-good God create the talon, the fang, and the claw?’
God: ‘Would an all-good God leave you to confront natural disasters?’
God: ‘Would an all-good God sit by as humans unseamed each other from groin to chin with swords and knives and guns and bombs in all their wars?’
God: ‘Would an all-good father permit his children to burn to cinders tens of thousands of His other children over theological disagreements and trumped up charges of witchcraft?’
God: ‘Would a thoroughly decent God give daggers to small children knowing in advance that they would cut themselves and others—as I, your God, have done in giving you free will?’
God: ‘Did goodness lead Me, your God, to fetishize human free will as the ultimate value in human behavior? Haven’t you noticed that for Me the free will of the murderer is always more valuable than the life of the murdered victim?’
God: ‘Did I disrupt the free will of killers in wars? Did I ever pounce upon a murdering rapist in the act? Did I stop child molestation, even in churches? Did I disturb the free will of Nazis at the height of their ascendancy?’
God: ‘Any decent human parent would interpose to arrest the free will of their child at the moment of harm to the child or harm to others, because good parents do not fetishized the free will of their children: free will is not the top value at stake because life itself is the uppermost value. Isn’t My devotion to your free will to kill each other ample evidence that I’m not all-good?’
We can see that God could make a pretty good case that He’s not wholly decent, at least not as decent as the best humans.
If the matter came before a human jury, theists on the jury might give up God’s omnipotence and agree with God that He must not be all-powerful (see previous posts). And theists might give up God’s omniscience, agreeing with God that He is not all-knowing (see previous posts).
But it would be most difficult for theists to give up God’s goodness.
‘God is all-good,’ they’d insist. ‘God is so good that He earnestly does want to stop mass school shootings. But God lacks the complete power it takes to stop mass school shootings. And God lacks all the requisite knowledge it takes to stop mass school shootings. Even so, God lacks no goodness.’
Theists might minimize God’s power and God’s knowledge but they would never agree to minimize God’s goodness.
And yet, it’s uncomfortable to admit, a God with only a degree of goodness is a viable plea for God. Much evidence inclines in that direction.
Featured image ‘God’s gonna cut you down’ by Raul Lieberwirth via Flickr