The reason there is evil in the world is because God loves you

July 16, 2014 § 34 Comments

There is a discussion at Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany about the “problem of evil” that some folks might find interesting.  Bruce ‘solves’ the problem of evil by denying God’s omnipotence.  I linked to my own take on the POE from 2006 here (which I also explained at VFR in 2003), and we had the following combox exchange:.

Bruce Charlton wrote:

I think that if you apply that line of reasoning it will take you somewhere you do not want to go. It is close to the fatalism of the other major monotheism.

The discussion is closed off, and nothing can be questioned – our job is to submit.

I replied:

You are seeing Fate where I see Love.

It isn’t fatalism to accept reality as it actually is and logically must be: to accept non-contradiction. It isn’t possible for me, my actual self, to personally be here at all without my logical/metaphysical preconditions.

God loves me personally so much that this world was made literally just for me. All of the evil in it is “my fault” in an existential sense: I could not be here without it. Nonetheless God accepts all that and redeems me, and the world, because He loves me (us) that much – personally. Evil is a terrible affront to God, and indeed to all good creatures. But God tolerates it and redeems the world from it for my (our) sake – personally and actually, not as some abstraction of other creatures similar in some ways to us that he might have made (and perhaps even did make).

§ 34 Responses to The reason there is evil in the world is because God loves you

  • Peter Blood says:

    I don’t see how Charlton is going to stay Christian, if he still is–he’s more Mormon now. His theology is an incomprehensible mess, he just wings it and waves his hands a lot. His heart really doesn’t seem into Christianity; it’s an intellectual position at the moment, and he is arguing his way out of it.

  • Zippy says:

    Peter Blood:

    …it’s an intellectual position at the moment, and he is arguing his way out of it.

    It is important to keep in mind that although Christianity is intellectually defensible – of all ways of understanding the world, it is probably the most intellectually defensible – it is by the same token not really ‘about’ intellect.

  • Peter Blood says:

    To clarify, to me it looks like his Christianity was purely intellectual; he reasoned his way into Christianity, and he is reasoning his way out. His heart never got fully engaged and attached.

  • jf12 says:

    The Problem of Evil is one that every thinking person should have handily dispatched by late teens / early adulthood at the latest. As you mention in your 2006 post one ought to *feel* that there is something very wrong with this world since there is evil in it. Hence it ought to make perfect sense, emotionally as well as logically, that if there really is a God then He ought to provide for us some other world and some way for us to get there.

    Any other conclusion, such as whining “God isn’t good enough for me!” deserves a smack upside the head.

  • If God is not omnipotent, then how does Charlton deal with the concept of God drawing out a greater good by permitting evil? If he doesn’t allow for God’s omnipotence, it’s hard to see how he could allow for *that*. If he doesn’t allow for that, he’s dangerously close to saying Christ suffered and died in vain. This would take him out of the realm of Christian belief.

    Sounds like Charlton believes in a God who is not free to do as He pleases, but only that which exonerates Him in Charlton’s eyes. Not firm ground on which to stand if one wishes to retain one’s *Faith*.

    A casual review of the first line of the Creed ought to indicate the troubling nature of his speculation.

  • King Richard says:

    I have a few ‘filter questions’. Here is an example; when someone starts sharing their opinions on firearms with me I ask.
    “Which is a better assault rifle for well-trained, standing forces soldiers, the M-16 and its variants or the Kalashnikov and its variants?”
    If they reply ‘Kalashnikov’ I know that I may freely disregard their opinions on the military use of firearms and that any discussion on firearms other than to ask for their personal preferences is a waste of time.
    When someone brings up the ‘problem of evil’ with me and states that it is some sort of barrier to faith or the existence of God I ask them,
    “Can you translate the term ‘theodicy’?”
    If they cannot off the top of their head I simply let them know they lack the basic education to even discuss the topic at hand and I do not care to waste my time educating them about basic theology.

    Mr. Charlton’s post has convinced me he lacks the basic knowledge to discuss the topic at hand and that I should not waste my time on his writings.

  • Charlton is a very bright man, but confusing culture with religion seems like the sort of easy mistake he would have avoided re: Mormonism.

  • Reblogged this on Philosophies of a Disenchanted Scholar and commented:
    hm, preconditions are, by definition, key to present configuration
    much like the Earth life problem in physics/bio

  • buckyinky says:

    There is something about Charlton’s difficulties that I’ve wanted to chalk up simply to my own failure to understand his complex mind, but for which my knee-jerk reaction is to say that the answer is much simpler than Charlton is making it.

    The example that comes to mind most readily is his tendency to downplay (relatively) minor heresies condemned in Church history. Why squabble about petty monothelitism when no one in our day really appreciates the implications of the theological differences, and only a few more really understand what the differences are in the first place?

    But this neglects the importance of placing oneself under legitimate authority, in this case ecclesial, and throws out a very important means of practicing virtuous obedience. I don’t reject monthelitism because I have examined it myself and found it contrary to the truth about the nature of Christ. For all I know I hold presently some erroneous monothelitic thoughts unwittingly. I reject it, and any other heresy contrary to the truth as taught by the Church, because the Church rejected it through the voice of the faithful Church Fathers. While I’m pretty certain it isn’t my calling to defend the Catholic faith against these lesser heresies, still it is a matter of simple obedience to divinely-ordained authority still, at the very least, to recognize these falsehoods, no matter how relatively minor, as heresies, and those who hold them as heretics.

    Here (with God’s omnipotence) is yet another matter where it seems that Charlton could make matters much simpler for himself by simply submitting to legitimate Church authority (yes, I know he would ask which authorities are legitimate). Is there any doubt that the Church has held always that God is omnipotent? What’s the trouble with accepting this in spite of personal difficulties reconciling matters? If one can’t seriously reconcile it, and it keeps one from accepting Christian doctrine, well then, don’t accept it, but don’t argue your new doctrine a Christian one when it stands contrary to accepted Christian teaching from the beginning.

    I’ve begun to rant, and I don’t intend this to be a railing against Charlton. I would really like to understand better where he is coming from, but he seems a bundle of contradictions, and not the healthy kind. He propounds virtuous character like few other, but when it comes to humble and quiet obedience, it appears as though his intellect gets in the way, informing his will not to submit when simple submission is the only answer.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    Mr. Charlton’s post has convinced me he lacks the basic knowledge to discuss the topic at hand and that I should not waste my time on his writings.

    Bingo.

    Here (with God’s omnipotence) is yet another matter where it seems that Charlton could make matters much simpler for himself by simply submitting to legitimate Church authority (yes, I know he would ask which authorities are legitimate). Is there any doubt that the Church has held always that God is omnipotent? What’s the trouble with accepting this in spite of personal difficulties reconciling matters? If one can’t seriously reconcile it, and it keeps one from accepting Christian doctrine, well then, don’t accept it, but don’t argue your new doctrine a Christian one when it stands contrary to accepted Christian teaching from the beginning.

    He rejects the overwhelming tradition of Christendom, while purporting to be a traditionalist. He rejects most historical authorities in favor of the LDS a sect founded by a very questionable and dubious figure. I think I’ll be charitable for a change and just say that Charlton is terribly muddled thinker.

  • Zippy says:

    Moderator’s note: This post is not about Bruce Charlton. It is about the problem of evil.

  • Peter Blood says:

    Ita SE: I notice your blog is gone. Is that intentional, and for good?

  • Andrew E. says:

    If I, God forbid, had a friend whose young child died from a prolonged, extremely painful and rare disease and could clearly see that this friend longed for, needed, a meaningful answer as to how and why all this had happened and I told this person: “The cosmological anthropic principle demonstrates that only this world is compatible with our existence.” Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if my bemused friend stayed away from me for a long time.

  • Ok, to further the topic without referring to Charlton…

    It’s as if God comes to us saying, “Do you really believe I am sovereign? I know this other person is sinning against you and causing you to suffer. But if you say you believe I work all things together for good for those who love–and trust–Me, do you really believe it, or is it just something you say? Because if you truly believe it, the other person’s actions become irrelevant, because this is essentially between you and Me as I attempt to bless you. So, can I do it? I’ve allowed this to happen so that I could put this very question to you.”

    This the question implicit in every single cross we are given.

    That’s the problem of evil in a nutshell.

    To take it back to Charlton slightly, you can see that what I’ve said above is nothing like:

    “The discussion is closed off, and nothing can be questioned – our job is to submit.”

    This *is* a discussion. God Himself has initiated it.

    And none of it implies God is not omnipotent. Quite the opposite.

  • Peter Blood says:

    Well, Zippy, you brought up Charlton, as though you were begging us to give him a good thrashing: “Bruce ‘solves’ the problem of evil by denying God’s omnipotence.” Are you surprised that we started thrashing on him?

  • Zippy says:

    Andrew E:
    I agree, and allude as much in that old post. That may even be what makes Hell necessary. I have an unsupported intuition that all evil is personified: that (e.g.) polio is the name of an actual demon.

    But as a matter of reason I’ve not seen a good argument that makes the POE rational without asserting that God ought not have created the person asserting it, and everyone and everything the person asserting it loves. The POE in fact asserts self annihilation.

  • Zippy says:

    Peter Blood:
    Yes, I realize and accept that it is my fault. Nevertheless the thread will not be about him from here forward.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    Peter Blood,

    I just got tired of blogging. Plus I am not very good at it.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    Zippy,

    Sorry if I was out of line. If you want to block me I understand.

  • Zippy says:

    ISE:
    It is nobody’s fault but my own; but as far as the thread goes I am interested in the actual subject, not in a broad pile-on on BC.

  • William Luse says:

    1. Bruce ‘solves’ the problem of evil by denying God’s omnipotence.

    If the putative ‘problem of evil’ does not fall within the providential (however inscrutable) embrace of an omnipotent God, then the problem will never go away. As an obstacle to faith for the sort of people he’d like to persuade (people who aren’t already Christians), it will remain insurmountable.

    2. Some of his commenters make good arguments, but he doesn’t seem to think them worth the trouble of an extended response.

    3. One of those responses (to you and another fellow) reveals a very anthropomorphic conception of God. It reminds me of Heather MacDonald’s taunting of Larry Auster in the tsunami’s wake, when she wonders “why one would worship such a God who capriciously decides to intervene in sometimes trivial cases, and not in others of such horrific devastating power. Or how such behavior should earn one the title of the God of Love.” To which I responded in an old post: “Ah yes, a Love that never disciplines, overlooks all wrongs, heals all wounds, and counters all catastrophe. By analogy, most of you are very bad parents.”

    4. My personal suspicion is that the problem of evil exists only as a result of our failure to fully acknowledge, and deal with, the Fall of Man. Some people simply cannot accept that such pathetic creatures as ourselves would be granted by an omnipotent God the freedom (of will) and its consequent power to throw the universe out of balance.

  • Peter Blood says:

    Solzhenitsyn:

    “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.”

    I’m puzzled by the struggle with The Problem of Evil. I can’t even figure myself out. When I would do good, evil is present with me.

  • I found CS Lewis to cover the terrain sufficiently, but then the problem of evil I never took as a really loaded challenge from atheists and liberal Christians.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Charlton does not heed Sirach 3:22-26.
    A warning to all intellectuals
    22 Seek not to know what is far above thee; search not beyond thy range; let thy mind ever dwell on the duty God has given thee to do, content to be ignorant of all his dealings besides. 23 Need is none thy eyes should see what things lie hidden. 24 Leave off, then, thy much questioning about such things as little concern thee, and be content with thy ignorance; 25 more is granted to thy view than lies within human ken. 26 By such fancies, many have been led astray, and their thoughts chained to folly

  • C.S. Lewis is my intellectual hero. I suspect that if I ever make it up to the Valley of the Shadow of Life (I believe that was the term Lewis used for it), Lewis is going to be my guide.

    “The Problem of Pain” was smart, but it was so academic I found it a rather boring read, rare for a Lewis book. I found “A Grief Observed” to be a much better book, and a better book to show people struggling with the problem of evil. The raw, naked honesty of “A Grief Observed” is absolutely painful to read, but impossible to put down. Inside of that book are, I think, some of Lewis’s clearest insights about God and the point of religion in general.

  • King Richard says:

    The problem of evil is hard for people to properly *state*. Epicurus’ original formulation is… poor,
    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?”
    This is a very fuzzy statement and poorly worded (even in the original Greek). For example, it may be possible to allow a small evil to continue to prevent a greater evil. This is not malevolent.
    The more modern, formal presentation also has serious issues,
    “1-God exists.
    2-God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
    3-An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
    4-An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented.
    5-An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
    6-A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
    7-If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God, then no evil exists.
    8-Evil exists (logical contradiction)”
    The first real problem is #3 and for the same reason – if preventing a particular evil would result in a greater evil than an omnibenevolent being would permit *or even encourage* the lesser evil.

    Once you engage in any non-formal discussion of this topic the problems rapidly multiply. One of the most common statements of the problem of evil I encounter as a theologian is a variation of,
    “If God is good there wouldn’t be any suffering”
    Indeed, the focus on suffering or pain in the modern world is so great that a number of people are now calling it ‘the problem of evil and suffering’ or simply ‘the problem of suffering/pain’

    Conflating evil and suffering or pain is, simply, a category error. A few years ago a young man became very incensed when I stated that and claimed,
    “OF COURSE suffering is evil! Are you a fool?!”
    “You played football in high school and college, correct?”
    “Yes”
    “Were you often tired, sore, even in pain?”
    “Yes”
    “So you were inflicting suffering on yourself. Why were you evil?”

    Evil is the result of moral choices. Suffering may or may not be the result of moral choices. And even when it is the result of moral choices suffering may be neutral or good. A neighbor learns she has cancer – the cancer will kill her swiftly and with little pain. Chemotherapy and surgery will take much longer and she will suffer pain,nausea, weakness, etc. for that time. Is the surgeon evil for cutting out her cancer? She will, after all, suffer from the incision.

    A hill does not decide to collapse in a amudslide – the hill is therefore not evil. Now, if a developer had lied about installing safety systems to save lives if a mudslide occurred and instead pocketed the money and as a result innocent people died the *developer* has done evil; but the hill is still not evil, nor was the mudslide.
    Once you remember that “evil” really means “moral choices” the ‘Problem of Evil’ simply vanishes.Let me demonstrate,
    “1-God exists.
    2-God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
    3-An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all moral choices.
    4-An omniscient being knows every way in which moral choices can come into existence, and knows every way in which those moral choices could be prevented.
    5-An omnipotent being has the power to prevent moral choices from coming into existence.
    6-A being who knows every way in which moral choices can come into existence, who is able to prevent moral choices from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of moral choices.
    7-If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God, then no moral choice exists.
    8-Moral choice exists (logical contradiction)”
    Or, more simply, change the title of the “problem” to ‘The Problem of Moral Choice’

  • jf12 says:

    @King Richard re: logic.

    Actually, what is driving *every* prolonged anguishing over Teh Problem Of Eevill is the unshakable feewing that”I’d be a better God than He is.”

  • King Richard says:

    Often, yes. Or sometimes ‘you’re not the boss of me!’

  • jf12 says:

    re: “You’re not the boss of me!” Don’t forget “and you’re not so big!”

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    Basically, “I know morality and good and evil better than God knows morality and good and evil” is hiding under every invocation of the so-called “problem of evil”.

  • […] and things that I love to exist than for them to not exist. The fact that my personal existence is logically contingent upon all sorts of evil and suffering doesn’t change the basic fact that existence is better than […]

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  • […] But I trust that He has His reasons. […]

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