THE BLOG
02/25/2016 06:32 pm ET Updated Feb 25, 2017

Is God Decent and Strong?

Richard Nelson via Getty Images

From An Opinionated Dictionary of Religion at uponreligion.com

The Problem of Evil. noun. Pain, and how it complicates the notion of a good, powerful God.

Consider it this way:

A decent and strong Man sits idly nearby as a six-year-old child beats a four-year-old child to death with a small ball peen hammer.

Since the Man is widely known to be decent and strong, we must account for his sitting idly nearby as he watches a murder he could easily stop.

How to account for the Man's inactivity?

Let's start by blaming another character, slightly out of frame but present to the action. This person tries at every step to arrest the decency and strength of the Man. It is this person, Diabolos by name, and not the Man, who is at fault.

But wait. There may be a problem here.

Is Diabolos stronger than the Man? No? If not, is Diabolos at least AS strong as the Man? No? Then why doesn't the decent and strong Man push Diabolos aside and stop the petite murderer?

Well, we'll move on.

Let's say that the Man has good reasons to permit the murder. Let's say one of these reasons is aesthetic: the Man thinks goodness can only be appreciated by demonstrations of its opposite. And let's add that the Man sees educative potential in permitting the murder: people will learn from this murder: the child murderer will learn, the murdered child will learn, the parents of both will learn, and the larger community will learn.

But wait. There may be a problem here.

Is there really no other way to appreciate the beauty of goodness than seeing evil performed? And is there really no other way to learn life lessons than this? And, whereas this is just one tiny murder, is it necessary to aesthetics and education to multiply murdered humans into the millions (and extend the casualties further into the animal realm)? Does the degree and extent of these episodes render suspect the decency and strength of the Man who witnesses all of these?

Well, move on.

Let's say the Man permits the murder because it's a just punishment for the murdered victim, since the victim was born with a moral taint inherited from an aboriginal calamity performed by the child's remotest parents.

But wait. There may be a problem here.

Is this punishment too harsh and not fitted to the crime? Is this punishment unjust since no system of jurisprudence penalizes children for the offenses of parents or great grand parents?

Hmm. Move on.

Let's say the Man values free will, free choice, above all, and the Man let's the chips fall where they may, as long as free will gets its way.

But wait. There may be a problem here.

The Man esteems the free will of the murderer above the life of the victim? Why is free will the most important value at stake here? Why is free will more valuable than life itself? Wouldn't any parent interrupt the free will of a child at the moment of danger to the child or to others?

Well, well, well. Move on.

Let's say that the Man knows there is a future post-mortem state for the murdered child, a future so disproportionately euphoric that all the suffering of this life will pale in comparison.

But wait. There may be a problem here.

What if the murdered child does not belong to the religious sect that supervises entry into this blissful upcoming abode? What if the murdered child is scheduled for another less happy post mortem destination, by the light of the Man's own theology?

Let's move on.

Shall we simply admit that the Man is either not decent or not strong?

In this vein, one of the Man's prescient friends has offered a vision of an end-time event, which the Man's prescient friend punningly calls, "God is Deposed." Here's that future scenario:

God sits calmly in a chair, arms crossed at the wrists, legs crossed at the knees as God settles in to give God's deposition in the judicial matter of the Sentient Universe vs. God.

Every creature ever made sits silently all around, awaiting God's testimony, eager to judge.

Some chant "Arise, oh Lord, and plead Thine own case" because they are hopeful that God will give persuasive evidence and therefore justify the ways of God to a universe of living, suffering beings.

Every creature asks one question and one question only of God: "How and why did you do it?"

God replies slowly, methodically, and, as is God's custom, in verse:

"I pained the lateral lobe
And pearled it to a jellyroll,
Swirled the message ooze into a fitting sum.

Then I jousting with triptych time
And with indulgent ease,
Unhinged the local peace without a warring drum.

Then I heedful of spare word
And remorse about the epoch made,
Slipped into a specimen facere sacramentum.

Then I the Maker-Maid made all you sorely sick
But demanded you be well.
I wonder wonder-makers say non datur tertium."

When the immeasurable multitude hears this they speak their verdict quickly, in unison, and without dissent: 'Guilty'

Then God bows, chin to the chest and struck with awe. For God knows, and God deeply sees, that God is indeed to blame.

This, then, is the story of the problem of evil--and its solution.