I understand that you are perplexed about how a God might exist despite such obvious problems of evil and suffering in the world. I hope we can engage in an honest discussion and share our opinions with each other. If I may, I will offer some fundamental principles before responding to some of the common questions related to the problem of evil. Would you be willing to share your opinions with me? In doing so, you would really help me better understand my own opinions.
I begin with an early concession. To discuss any possibility whether a god is real, we have to speak in assumptive terms, as if he is actually real. If you were to formulate any hypothetical god in your mind, what would that god look like? Would this god be like one of your best buddies who is perhaps neither the smartest nor dumbest person you know with noticeable flaws, or might you project this god to be someone with intellectual capacity above and beyond your friends?
Most people wrestling with any idea of a god would project him as being a person whose intellectual capacity is at least beyond those of the smartest person they know and certainly beyond the least intelligent people they know. Most Christians subscribe to the idea of an omniscient God, a God who knows all, and that is the image of God to which I subscribe.
Suppose this is not the belief to which you subscribe. If God were not beyond normal human capacity, it may create a bit of a problem. If people were able to understand all there is to know about God, would that not cause one of two things? Would it not mean that either people were elevated to the level of God, or that God is reduced to the limited capacity and understandings of people? Either route a person chooses, most people who conceive of God agree that it will always be difficult to explain God in any manner that fully satisfies every question he may have. If a god did exist, people must concede some degree of unknown and uncertainty in their contemplation of that god. This concession may be helpful in a mutual discussion concerning the problem of evil in the world.
Allow me to respond to your inability to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the existence of God. Think of a girlfriend or family member you love and who loves you equally. Is that love forced, or does it seem natural? Even in instances of frustration with that person, your love for her remains. Your love for that person may even be unconditional. How would you describe your love for her if it were forced, or better yet, what if her love for you were forced? Quite simply, if love is forced, it is not love at all. It is an emotion by some other name. For love to be real love, it cannot be forced, and the truest type of love is unconditional.
Keep this thought in mind as we move forward in our discussion. I recognize your common objection to the existence of God and it is shared by others. If God is good, why could he simply make all people freely choose good when given the option of evil? This objection is one shared with others (Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 293). The response I offer is similar to the previous consideration of love. Although there are some exceptions, would you agree that love is more often associated with good than bad? Sure, love can motivate people to horrendous evils such as murder, etc, but on the whole love is most often used for good. Even in instances where one could say love motivates evil, it might also be said that other accompanying evils fused with passion (or love, used loosely) are the real emotions most responsible for the resulting evil action.
Asking why God cannot make people always freely choose good over evil is very much like asking why God would not make everyone love Him. If God forced everyone to love Him, it would be no more authentic love than if you forced your girlfriend to love you. It might look good from the outside, but you would know in the back of your mind you were only fooling yourself. God does not force people to choose good over evil anymore than He forces people to love Him. People always have the option to choose one or the other, to chose love or choose evil.
The last statement is an appropriate bridge to the next topic-the idea of freedom. People have the freedom to do as they please. Sure, laws exist to protect the people of any country (for the most part), but people still have the freedom to violate and oppose those laws by their actions. Knowing both the consequences of murder and the set of Judeo-Christian morals to which I subscribe, I freely choose each day not to murder my wife or sister, even if that decision is a subconscious one. Moreover, my love for them prevents any desire to do so. Anyone who knows me well would be appalled if I were ever connected to such a horrific evil. They would likely predict that I would never orchestrate such evil. However, freedom must not be confused with unpredictability (Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 306). Simply because others would not predict me to orchestrate evil in no way prevents me from choosing that path.
In those moments when people freely choose the path of evil, why does God not intervene? This, too, is a question that has been asked (Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 294). The response reverts back to the previous comments; it would violate the rules of freedom established. To limit God’s intervention only to those moments in which people are dangerously close to choosing evil would require an awful lot of God’s intervention. Surely, one thing that theists, agnostics, and atheists can agree upon is that there exists an unfortunate amount of evil present in the world. Thus, to speak of God limiting his intervention to only those pivotal moments would really not be a limitation of God’s intervention at all. To the degree that God intervenes with human action illustrates the degree which human freedom is lost. Drawing on well thought out words of others, God could not give people the freedom to perform evil while simultaneously preventing them from doing so (Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 306).
Implicit in the above comments is the idea that God cannot simply create any world he pleases (Peterson, Philosophy of Religion, 308). While I believe he did create this good world, God created it with freedom in mind, and freedom involves inherent risk (Peterson, Reason and Religious Belief, 154). The risk lies in the fact that any world in which freedom is a condition of that world, the potential for either good or evil remains. Free choices rooted in evil motivations normally create consequences of the same extent.
My argument may be summarized with a few key points. Whether God exists or not, a couple facts are clear. First, people can freely make decisions, even within the limits of authority and legal laws. Secondly, evil exists in this world, and a lot of it. However, the presence of evil does not exclude the existence of a god. The God I believe in is the original Creator, but he does not control every decision that the people in His creation make. Have I not offered valid points to consider? Might it be possible that God did create the world and forces no one, but invites everyone to love Him? Maybe, just maybe, you are one person created to wrestle with this question. I commend you for taking the time to wrestle deeply with these questions. Happy pondering.
Peterson, Michael, ed. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 4th ed. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2006.
Peterson, Michael, ed. Reason and Religious Belief, 4th ed. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2008.