"a new owner of a company", "false dilemma", "God and evil", "God works with a value system", "the existence of God and the existence of evil are not of equal status", "timing is everything", fixes, improvements, repairs, theodicy
It is not uncommon to read or hear that if God were able to eliminate evil, but can’t or doesn’t, God Himself would be guilty of evil of some kind (impotence, lack of will, or lack of omniscience). Also, it is not uncommon to hear or read that in light of the existence of evil, there simply is no ontological reality behind the label “God”, be it the God of the Jews, the Christians, or the Muslims. It is said that none of the three aforementioned religions would have a legitimate basis for their basic beliefs if God were evil, amoral, or non-existent.
Are these claims legitimate? No, they are illegitimate by having set up a false dilemma. The question of evil is not adequately expressed by saying that the “options” are either the existence of a theistic God or the existence of evil.
The existence of both the theistic God and evil entails God permitting evil, be it the evil done by either or both the power of evil (Satan) and humanity. Such permission by God that evil exists makes sense if we recognize that defeating evil is not the only (and perhaps not even the most) important goal and activity that God has. To say it differently, the existence of God and the existence of evil are not of equal status. To pretend that they are is to set up a false dilemma.
For the sake of the argument, let’s recognize that various arenas of existence are not in actuality as God wants them to be. For example, the physical universe is in a constant state of flux (one day it is idyllic and the next has killer tornados). There are human mass murderers, devastating illnesses that in some cases decimate the human populations by the millions, and hatreds that destroy constructive relationships. And, these are only a token sampling of the existence inhabited by humans. But, the sampling is enough to point out that both human life itself as well as its environment, are in need of repair and/or improvement.
Continuing “for the sake of the argument”, let’s consider that the various things that need to be repaired or improved do not all have the same importance, with importance being determined using moral values. For example, the pain of one person experiencing the death of a loved one is real, but is not as great, and thus as important, as the pain of millions of people who lose loved ones in an atomic war.
Furthermore, “fixing” the arenas of human existence may be such that some of them are fixable independently of fixing others. But, other arenas of existence can only be fixed in sequence. Thus I argue that some of God’s victory over evil (repairing what is not functioning well) in the universe can be accomplished without requiring total, or universal victory. Seeing evil as one of the arenas to be “fixed” rather than seeing it as the arena to be “fixed” is critical to achieving an adequate theodicy.
Picture the following analogy. A new person takes control of a company that has various areas needing to be repaired or improved. There may be animosities among the personnel, deficient planning procedures, shortage of raw materials, failing marketing techniques, plant deterioration, and decreasing demand for the current product/s. The new owner wants to “fix” all of these problems as well as others not mentioned. But, the owner doesn’t do them all at once, in one fell swoop, since some or many of the fixes require changes in the involved human agents, and these changes require time for the agents to take ownership of what is happening. So, the improvements or repairs happen in some areas while simultaneously the owner allows that other needs in other areas will be fixed later. It is true that the owner may be charged with neglect, impotence or immorality because not everything is done in an instant. But, such a charge is ill founded, running contrary to how reality “works.” Simply stated, not all fixes are of equal value, and fixing them in accord with a value scale is not a sign of impotence, neglect, or immorality, but a sign of intelligence, prudence, and respect.
When this kind of analysis is applied to the problem of evil and God’s existence, we should recognize that God allowing some needs to go unmet (to exist) while fixing some other things at the same time is simply stating that God works with a value system. There is a priority when it comes to God fixing things. (There is a reason for the expression, “timing is everything.”)
If God permits some sin/evil to continue to exist it is not because evil is greater than God. Rather, it is because defeating evil/sin is not the only goal God has for this reality in which humanity exists. It is, rather, one of God’s goals, all of them being achieved according to God’s assigned priority. Dealing with evil is part of the game plan; it isn’t all of the game plan.