The Problem of Evil on the Margin

The Problem of Evil was never a problem for me.

I could easily believe that a world with a mixture of good and bad was better than no world at all. I could even believe that God had to allow evil in order to make his glorious plan of redemption meaningful. Perhaps wars must be fought so heroism can have a forum.

Wars, corruption, man’s general inhumanity to man … all this evil on a large scale … I can accept all that.

Rather, it is the small things — what I’ll call evil on the margin.

The Bible says that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” In colloquial terms, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” God may work in mysterious ways, but he is at work in every circumstance.

If God is perfect, his plan is perfect. It cannot be improved one iota. Any change would diminish its perfection.

So here we have a boy who is being raped by his priest. Far from turning to God in his suffering, the boy ends up embittered against the Church. No vindication of God’s plan there. The priest’s heart becomes more corrupt with each rape he commits and his hypocrisy takes deeper root. No good there, either. The abuse is never uncovered, so no social good comes from reforms or repentance.

In short, the evil is entirely gratuitous and without a redeeming consequence.

Those who believe God is sovereign and “works all things according to the counsel of his will” must believe that God’s plan would somehow be diminished if this boy had not been raped.

And let’s have none of the argument that evil is the inevitable consequence of God granting the wonderful gift of free will. Free will can have limits and still be free. My kids have free will even if I will intervene before one of them inflicts serious harm on another. (I have free will, too! Doesn’t God?)

In my four decades as a theist, I could understand why God’s plan might allow evil in general and on the scale that turns history. It was the individual, senseless, gratuitous acts against innocent people and animals that presented a greater problem.

I will not argue that a world without war would be better. That argument would be too complicated. Let’s keep it simple: will any theist argue that God’s most perfect plan had to include the rape of that one boy?

4 responses to “The Problem of Evil on the Margin

  1. This is always an interesting question, how can a fallen and imperfect world with a chance to be redeemed somehow be better than one that never fell in the first place? Everybody loves the appeal of a redemption story and of hope, but we forget that it logically makes little sense. How is seeing a problem and eventually fixing it better than never having a problem at all?

    This is one of the classical metaphysical problems that have confounded monotheists for centuries, and I believe they are all based on an inadequate conception of God. The problem of evil and the other classic problems all assume God to be a combination of the ancient anthropomorphic “omnipotent old man in the sky” or Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover who is merely the highest being in a large chain of beings.

    I would argue for a more mystical, agnostic conception of God which avoids these classical speculative theological problems of theism and also is possibly more honest than the traditional answers of Western theologians. It is not about logically explaining away contradictions, but more about using an intuitive sense of God to make sacred all aspects of life, and yet acknowledging that God is also beyond this world.

    With regards to the problem of evil, this mystical approach might say that we cannot know for certain as to why evil is in the world, and it might even say that good and evil are possibly a false dichotomy, or two sides of the same coin. It might also say that if God is Creator of the universe or Being itself then evil must somehow mysteriously be rooted in a part of God, which obviously would be blasphemy to doctrine-oriented monotheists who posit that God must be perfectly good, but perhaps it is the only psychologically satisfying answer without making God either powerless in the face of our daily struggles with evil or a monster for not helping children who are raped by priests.

  2. The problem is that Christians hold to two apposing viewpoints when it comes to God.

    On the one side they hold to the view of the shepherd in the gospels who left his 99 sheep to save the 1 sheep. And then say that God wants to save everyone.

    But at the same time to solve the problem of evil and the problem of free will they hold to the God who follows the axiom the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one or the few. If one child getting raped by a priest in the end 10, 20, 30, 40+ years later causes more people to be saved and go to heaven then the rape was considered to have a reason.

    So then which is it? Will he leave the 99 to save the 1, or leave the 1 to save the 99? You can’t have both at the same time. In many christians minds it’s save the 1 when it’s them, and save the 99 when it’s people they don’t care about.

  3. The problem that I have with evil is that the religious world doesn’t understand it and their worldview on the subject has largely influnced the modern-day worldview. The Christian perspective portrays evil as a noun or something that exists. From that misconception stems all sorts of silly arguments, scenarios and logic problems. On the contrary, evil is not something that exists, it is an action. Actions are performed, something that must be done by a noun. Evil was not created, it was not part of God’s creation. God created a tree whose fruit contained the seed(s) of the knowledge of good and evil, yes, but that did not make the tree, its fruit or anything that composes that tree evil. Evil, in Hebrew, ra (רע) literally means to ‘take something that has been made for purpose and destroy it so it is no longer functional.’ Good, tov (טוב) means to ‘be complete’ or function according to the purpose in which that person or thing (noun) has been made for.

    So, from my perspective, there is no logical problem of evil at all. It is based on something that isn’t true to begin with. However, the question of why God allows evil (actions) to take place is still valid. This question is more broad than I would like to go into right now and would require addressing several related questions and misplaced theological quandaries.

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