How Some Explain God’s Permission of Evil
GOD—guilty or innocent of authoring human suffering? This question looms large over calamities, whether personal or large-scale such as at San Ramón. Says the British journal The Evangelical Quarterly: “One of the greatest hindrances to belief in an all-powerful, all-loving God is the existence of apparently undeserved suffering in the world.”
Some would therefore fault God for tolerating—if not actually causing—suffering. Wrote theologian John K. Roth: “History itself is God’s indictment. . . . Do not take lightly what God’s responsibility entails.”
Many religious thinkers since Augustine, though, have argued eloquently for God’s innocence. Seventeenth-century philosopher Leibniz coined a term for this endeavor: theodicy, or “justification of God.”—See page 6.
Modern Theology Takes the Witness Stand
Efforts to clear God of blameworthiness have continued into modern times. Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science Church, tried to resolve the problem by denying that evil exists in the first place! In Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, she wrote: “God . . . never made man capable of sin . . . Hence, evil is but an illusion, and it has no real basis.”—Italics ours.
Others have excused God on the basis of there being supposed virtue in suffering. A rabbi once said: “Suffering comes to ennoble man, to purge his thoughts of pride and superficiality.” Along similar lines, some theologians have theorized that suffering on earth is “necessary to prepare us as moral personalities for the life of the future heavenly Kingdom.”
But is it reasonable to believe that God brings or allows disasters so as to purge and punish people? Certainly those buried alive at San Ramón had little chance to improve their moral development. Did God sacrifice them so as to teach a lesson to the survivors? If so, what was the lesson?
Understandably, then, Kushner’s book When Bad Things Happen to Good People has popular appeal. Because its author personally knew the pain of suffering, he attempted to comfort his readers, reassuring them that God is good. However, when it came to explaining just why God permits the innocent to suffer, Kushner’s reasoning took a strange turn. “God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives,” explained Kushner, “but sometimes even He can’t bring that about.”
Kushner thus proposed a God who is not wicked but weak, a God somewhat less than almighty. Curiously, though, Kushner still encouraged his readers to pray for divine help. But as to just how this supposedly limited God could be of any real assistance, Kushner is vague.
An Ancient Debate
The world’s religious thinkers have thus failed to mount a convincing defense for God and to render real comfort to victims of evil. Perhaps what should be on trial is not God but theology! For these conflicting theories merely echo the hollow reasonings uttered nearly four millenniums ago. At that time a debate took place centering around the sufferings of a God-fearing man named Job, a wealthy and prominent Oriental who became the victim of a series of calamities. In rapid succession Job suffered the loss of his wealth, the death of his children, and, finally, he was afflicted with a loathsome disease.—Job 1:3, 13-19; 2:7.
Three so-called friends came to Job’s aid. But rather than rendering comfort, they assailed him with theology. The gist of their argument was: ‘God has done this to you, Job! Obviously you are being punished for having done something wrong! Besides, God has no faith at all in his servants.’ (Job 4:7-9, 18) Job could not understand why God seemingly had ‘set him up as a target for himself.’ (Job 16:11, 12) To his credit, Job maintained his integrity and never directly ascribed evil to God.
Nevertheless, Job’s comforters had, in effect, ‘pronounced God wicked,’ by implying that every sufferer of calamity was being punished for evildoing. (Job 32:3) But God soon corrected their erroneous views.
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Cover: FAO photo