I would like to first start off by recognizing that the questions you have brought up on the existence of God are more academic in nature than personal. I have found that when approaching this type of question, value and prudence are found in addressing each individual appropriately. If you had, let’s say, approached this discussion asking about some specific pain or disappointment you had experienced in your life, our discussion may have gone in a different direction. In your questions on the existence of God, in light of human pain and suffering, you have taken an academic approach, and therefore I shall answer you (somewhat) academically.
Before we get into our discussion in more depth, let us lay some groundwork. As we work through this problem of evil, let us first address the concept of paradox. Sometimes, there are expressions of an idea that seem intuitively to be contradictory. A paradox often encompasses concepts, that seem prima fascie self-refuting. Let me provide a few illustrations.
Have you ever heard the saying “spreading yourself thin”? The idea is that if you are a jack of all trades, then you are a master of none. In this case, it is easy to understand the epitome of “less is more”. Less knowledge in the broader sense can provide the ability to have more knowledge in the particular sense. The statement – “less is more”, while seeming at first glance to be self-refuting and contradictory, can also be understood in the right relationship and in the right way.
There are also scenarios in life where you may need to be cruel to someone to be kind to them. This once again, seems at first glance to be self-contradictory, and yet, perhaps if someone says to you, “do I look fat in this outfit”, you could say “no” and subject them to the ridicule of their peers, or you could say “yes, it is not very flattering”. In the second case, you may be cruel, but you were cruel only to be kind.
In both of these above cases, we have seen scenarios where language provides a paradox, and yet, given the right relationship and understanding, we can, in some ways, provide satisfactory resolution to what is seemingly a self-refuting incoherent paradox of ideas.
Now it is by no means a hard stretch to reason, that if humans can take hold of paradoxical positions, then a God who is greater, can also maintain positions of paradox as well. This concept is also necessary when we seek understanding of God in light of the question of evil.
And so, it seems most appropriate to discuss your views on the non-existence of God with the most fundamental of all objections to God – the paradox of evil. Our God is understood to be omniscient (all knowing), omni-benevolent (all loving) and omnipotent (all powerful). And here, we find that an all loving, all powerful and all knowing God still allows evil (and by inference pain and suffering and sin) to persist. So, at first glance, one might immediately jump to the conclusion that this God, as described, does not exist. However, such a conclusion is not necessary.
I shall begin with an illustration.
Once there was a young princess, who while ugly, seemed to have a heart of gold, her name was Orual. Orual was sister kin to a princess that seemed simple, and yet, was the most beautiful and unselfish woman the world had ever laid eyes on, she was called Psyche.
Through a series of unfortunate events Psyche was offered (offered herself) up as a sacrifice to appease the gods and to divert a pestilence and famine that had fallen upon their home kingdom of Glome. After the sacrifice commenced, Orual, assured that Psyche had not really been killed, searched for her, and found her sitting in a castle that could not be seen by human eyes, eating food that could not be tasted by mortal tongue and married to a god who refused to show his face.
Insisting that the beautiful girl had cracked under the strain of her ordeal, Orual entreated her to expose her god-husband, by disobeying him and looking upon his face directly, for she was sure that this would open the eyes of Psyche so she could see that her husband was not a god, but a mere rouge that had enticed her into believing in a false and make believe world, and was holding her against her will in an impoverished, retched state.
Partly because of her love for Orual, and more because of Orual’s vain insistence, Psyche obeyed, exposed her husband’s face, and was banished from the kingdom and her immortal husband, to roam and walk the earth.
In great distress Orual began writing a book; her charge against the gods. She wrote accusing them of injustice, vileness, indifference, she accused them of hiding themselves, and then punishing her for her unbelief, she claimed them to be unloving and unkind, and in her distress she blamed the gods for her very unbelief.
The book ends with Orual being brought before the gods to give her account of how they were unjust, unloving, uncaring and unworthy of love and adoration. In the end Orual finds her answer to her charges, and she understands that we cannot meet with the gods face to face, till we have faces.
This illustration is a very short rendition of a magnificent book called Till We Have Faces written by C.S. Lewis. I would highly recommend reading this book, as it draws out for recognition a fundamental question of the differences between what we, as humans claim to know, and what we, as humans really do know.
This story is similar to the story we find in the Jewish book of Job. In this book, we find God allowing pain and suffering and evil to happen to this blameless and upright man by the name of Job. As readers, we have a somewhat omniscient view of what is going on, because we get to read Job chapter one and two – but Job doesn’t – he has no idea of why all these trials and pains beset him. What is interesting, in the very end, when Job confronts God, the only answer God gives Job is, Himself. And Job, a man who lost all his earthly possessions, sons and daughters and servants, accepts this answer, for he realizes that he is faceless before the power of The Almighty God.
Now, so far, I have used parables to discuss how God is far beyond reproach and questioning, and yet, you may, at this point, believe that this line of reasoning is invalid. For, you may say, I still haven’t answered your question as to why He allows pain and suffering and evil, but have only side stepped it by saying “God is God”. This approach might be compared to a kind of talking head like the Wizard of Oz in saying “Do not question the great and powerful Oz”. For those that believe in the Wizard, the argument is convincing, but for those who do not believe, much more is required.
Very well then, I think, to answer your question from an academic perspective, I might first need to discuss the nature of evil. What is evil? How does one define evil? Close your eyes and think up a definition of evil.
Many philosophers define evil as the lack of good. They say evil has no positive nature, but evil is a measurement of the absence of good (referred to in philosophical terms as the privation of good). Things that are considered to be not evil are measured on an approximation of goodness and perfection.
This is exactly what Thomas Aquinas does in his 4th cosmological argument. His argument is that the idea of “more perfect” and “less perfect” is defined as an approximate to the standard, and that standard must be that which is all perfection, and that which is all perfections is by definition God (see Anselm’s Ontological Argument). Evil is therefore the absolute lack of perfection, it is defined as that which lacks all perfections. The reason we can even attribute something as evil, or less than perfect, is because we have the perfect being to approximate our standard too. Therefore, the knowledge of evil proves the existence of God.
C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity goes even further to define what he refers to as the moral law that governs what is right or wrong. Lewis states that when two people disagree on what is right and wrong (and the existence of this type of disagreement is an undeniable truth), then they are both implicitly appealing to a standard that is outside of themselves, a concept of what is morally right and morally wrong. Again, this measurement is known by what is considered to be “more right” and “less right” as it approximates the ultimate standard of rightness (or perfection). God is defined as that which has all perfections. Therefore, the fact that people argue over right and wrong, proves the existence of God.
At this point, I have given you reasons to show why the existence of evil is yet another proof for the existence of God, so let me get down to business and answer your question without skirting it any longer.
The existence of evil is a paradox when it comes to the existence of an all powerful, all loving God. It is one that I cannot truly answer you, beyond a shadow of a doubt. But what I can say, I will. When we look at our own lives, there are many things when approximating to a standard of what is good, would be defined as bad. There are things that we see happen that we consider evil: a child dying in childhood, a mother or father dying and leaving their children to grow up without a parent or parents, disfigurements, unfairness and injustice happening everywhere in the world around us, and the list goes on and on. Do I have an answer for all of these things? No. Do I have an answer for even some of these things? Probably not.
And yet, when I look at my own life, and I see the evils, the hardships, the suffering, there are many things that I can now stand up and say “I see the good that has come from this”. It may not be that I will always see the good; it may not be that there will always be a good to be seen by our own eyes, and yet, just as with a paradox (even if it is one that we cannot understand in the right relationship, in the right way), the evils we see in and around us cannot, through logic, or probability describe away the existence of an Omnipotent, Omni-Benevolent, Omniscient God. His existence in light of the existence of evil is not a contradiction, but rather a paradox that we do not have the right faculties to understand.
I wish I could continue, as I have just scratched the surface, and there is so much more that I would love to discuss, on each and every one of your points; but, to take the words for John, I suppose if the whole world were a scroll and the oceans ink, I still could not capture the complexity and importance of this discussion.
Perhaps, some day, when we have faces, we will be able to understand.