Would God Really Allow Us to Suffer Evil In Order to Develop Our Character?Monday, January 11, 2016
The “problem of evil” is often cited by skeptics to defend their disbelief: Why would an all-powerful, all-loving God allow His children to experience pain and suffering? In my latest book, God’s Crime Scene, I examine the problem of evil as one of eight pieces of evidence in the universe. Evil is typically considered a form of “exculpating” evidence, eliminating the reasonable inference of God’s existence. An ancient form of the problem is sometimes attributed to Epicurus:
“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?”
If the morally benevolent, all-powerful, Divine Creator of the universe I describe in God’s Crime Scene does indeed exist, how are we to explain the existence of evil? My experience as a homicide detective taught me a lot about how difficult it is to explain any act of evil. When trying to understand the manner in which a crime occurs (or when trying to make a case for the involvement of a particular suspect), we must always be prepared to explain and illustrate the cumulative, complex, interconnected causal factors involved. There are no easy answers. The truth is always more complicated than we would like.
In a similar way, whatever explanation there may be for the presence of evil and injustice in the world, it will certainly involve a cumulative, complex set of explanations and causal factors. There will be no easy answer. Instead, we should expect a tangled web of complexity. In God’s Crime Scene, I offer a seven-part template to illustrate the important considerations that must be taken into account when trying to explain any act of evil. One of these is simply our definition of “love”:
Illustrations from God’s Crime Scene
What precisely could a Divine Creator hope to accomplish by allowing evil to exist “inside the room” of the natural universe? One outcome, noted by many philosophers, is the development of character.
Many of my cases involve families who have suffered the violent loss of a loved one. In their prolonged grief (as they waited decades for the cases to be solved) many developed new virtues and characteristics they never anticipated. They grew in their patience and empathy toward others. They developed endurance and perseverance. Many have since begun to volunteer in victim’s rights groups and family support organizations. None of this would have happened had they not suffered the evil they experienced.
Similar character development often occurs after natural disasters. Relief organizations experience their largest influx of volunteers in the days following a major hurricane or earthquake. Consider the following noble attributes:
These character traits are venerated by all of us, regardless of religious belief or metaphysical worldview. Yet none of these attributes can be achieved unless the following conditions exist:
The virtues described in the first list are simply the appropriate responses to the pain and suffering described in the second list. If you want a world in which these noble characteristics are possible, you must allow for a world in which these unfortunate conditions are possible. It’s in the face of trials, disasters and other forms of evil, true courage, compassion, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and charity are developed.
Without hardship, good character is hard to come by. Wisdom is typically the product of failure, not success, and without loss, we seldom appreciate gain. When we experience evil, we learn to value goodness all the more. Even naturalist philosopher Theodore M. Drange admits: “One merit of this defense, I think, is that it shows that some suffering is needed in an ideal world. Without any suffering whatever, the world would be bland and people could not experience the sorts of joys that they presently possess.”
Hardships educate, train, hone and prepare us to be better people. Philosopher Richard Swinburne puts it this way: “Agents [need] to have the knowledge of how to bring about evil or prevent its occurrence, knowledge which they must have if they are to have a genuine choice between bringing about evil and bringing about good.”
This character-building purpose for some forms of evil would certainly be consistent with an all-powerful, all-loving Divine Creator, especially if such a Creator has eternity in view and is concerned more with our character than our comfort. As C. S. Lewis argued, “To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because he is what he is, his love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because he already loves us he must labor to make us lovable.”
To better understand the interconnected relationship between the seven considerations I’ve mentioned, please refer to God’s Crime Scene, Chapter Eight – The Evidence of Evil: Can God and Evil Coexist? Today’s article has been excepted from that chapter.