We have already taken a first look at the question “Why would a good God allow bad things to happen?” There, we argued rather simply that the question itself is based on a false assumption, namely, that humans are good and therefore don’t deserve to suffer (for if we did deserve to suffer, then no one could or would complain that God allows it!). In and of itself, that answer is sufficient, but I want to take some time and look at another aspect of that same answer.
The fundamental problem with the Problem of Evil is that it assumes equality with God. We have already seen how it assumes moral equality. There is, however, another way in which equality is assumed that is equally absurd, namely, that we are omniscient. It goes without saying that bad things happen on a regular basis and that often times this evil goes unexplained. So often, our general question is recast in the specific: “Why would God let this happen to me?”
Notice that the question looks to find a particular reason, a justification, for any given evil. Here, we have to distinguish between reasons why things happen and reasons why God lets things happen. The answers to the former are often much clear than answers to the latter. A man may know the reason he lost his job was because his company is losing money. A woman may know the reason her identity was stolen was that she accidentally used an ATM that identity-thieves were monitoring. But why would God allow a company to lose money or thieves to monitor an ATM in the first place? Why would He allow such evil to happen? We will offer a general answer in another post. For now, we will note that rarely we are able to discover the reason (see Joseph’s explanation of why God allowed him to be sold into slavery by his brothers in Gen. 50:20). But before we do that, it is more important to put the question in its proper context.
Even if no answer is given, it does not follow that no answer exists. A person cannot conclude that there is no answer just because he cannot find one.
And yet, people are willing to condemn God on a regular basis for evil, even when it is possible that He has a perfectly good reason of which they are unaware. The only way they can judge God in this fashion is to assume omniscience. Their argument must go:
- I know of no reasons for this evil to have happened;
- I know every possible reason this evil could have happened;
- Therefore, there is no reason this evil could have happened.
The second statement, however, is obviously a claim to omniscience. Who among us can possible claim that they know everything about anything? Humans are barely capable of processing all the ramifications of what we intend to do. When we add all the contingent possibilities of what might happen if other people were to do other things in light of what might or might not happen in any given case, the potential reasons may as well be infinite. In essence, then, to say categorically that God was wrong in allowing something to happen is to assume complete knowledge of all reality, both actual and potential. It is, in other words, to claim to be God Himself.
This same problem presents itself when people accuse God of not preventing the most disastrous events in human history, be they man-caused or natural. Perhaps we could agree that God is within His rights to allow minor suffering, but He certainly could and should have prevented the worst of evils. But, again, this makes an unfounded claim to knowledge. How do we know that God has not stopped more catastrophic events? If He did, we would likely never know of them. There is always a “worst.” Perhaps the Holocaust or the Cambodian Killing Fields rank a full ten on the “evil scale,” but what if that is only because God has prevented far worse events? In other words, what if God had prevented those specific things. Then the things that would rate, say, an eight or nine on our hypothetical evil scale would be perceived by us as a ten, since then they would be the worst things experienced by humans.
In short, we don’t know the extent of what God has or has not done on our behalf. We don’t know why He might or might not have allowed things to happen. To pass judgment, then, on God for allowing evil is tantamount to a jury passing a guilty plea before hearing the first witness. We simply do not, and never will, have enough information to be justified in declaring God guilty of anything!
Finally, we should note that this is God’s own defense. In Job 38:2-3, He asks the defiant Job, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” He then proceeds to barrage Job with questions he is completely unable to answer. The point is clear. If Job’s knowledge is so limited, what right does He have to challenge the reasons of an omniscience God?
People would do well to remember God’s challenge. Evil and pain hurt. They are, however, no basis on which to judge God. To do so is to stand in His very place and claim the right to sit on His throne, and that is a position that no one except He is qualified for.