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Why do bad things happen to good people? How can God permit the destructive chaos in his world?

The is the conclusion of a two-part look at the Problem of Evil (part 1 here). We’re critiquing a Christian defense of God, and the argument this time is the soul-making defense, in which adversity in life is God’s way of making better people.

Those nutty evil angels and too many miracles

But first, a palate cleanser. Here are two final points made to support the free-will defense, which says that God allows free will so that we can freely love him, despite the bad that free will brings with it. (The Christian argument is in italics below.)

God’s creation needs to be regular so we can depend on it, good or bad. A hot stove will burn you, without exception. A boulder falling down a mountain will hurt you if you’re in its path, without exception. God capriciously nudging boulders out of the way (but only sometimes) creates a world we can’t depend on.

So your argument is that if we had lots of miracles, the world would be confusing and undependable, so God does pretty much no miracles. Yeah, I’m sure the rape victim would’ve hated to have been confused, so I guess that’s a net good.

But it still seems that a god who is omniscient could’ve created a pain-free world.

Fallen angels are supernatural beings with free will who could mess with things. Maybe they’re behind the covid pandemic.

Angels? Seriously? God’s Perfect Plan® sounds increasingly like Pandora’s box.

Argument 2: suffering is soul making

Or maybe the reason for God allowing suffering is soul making, such that adversity in life builds character. For example, we become more courageous due to dangers faced and more compassionate due to misfortune.

Then why is the world only this bad? God could make it far worse (and make the hardship more uniform across the world and through time) to create even more soul-making opportunities. But then this sounds like the plan of an all-bad god, and Yahweh has become Beelzebub. If your hypothesis sends your god in a Beelzebub direction, maybe you should rethink your hypothesis.

The Bible says that God is good, of course, but lying about being good is just what a bad god would do. Given the condition of society, how sure are you that a good guy is in charge?

And what kind of clue to God’s good character do we take from the existence of evil in our world? A theologian in a world with no evil would not conclude that there couldn’t be a god. In fact, a god would be a good candidate to explain the absence of evil.

Conversely, imagine that theologian in a world with evil. If no evil in the world points to a god, evil should point to no god. I marvel at Christians who see the vast evil around us and think that this world practically screams out the name of its creator.

It’s just speculation

To be clear, this is not guidance from the Bible or God himself but speculation from philosophers and theologians.

Right. This is speculation that starts with the conclusion (God exists, God is loving, and so on) and then selects evidence to support that conclusion. This isn’t honest research that follows the evidence. It’s not given as a good explanation but as the best explanation that they can put together given the evidence and arguments available. And maybe it is the best explanation, but it’s definitely not good.

Here’s an analogy: just because a chess grandmaster’s move makes no sense to me doesn’t mean that it was a bad move. And just because a theologian’s argument explaining the evil in the world isn’t watertight doesn’t mean God doesn’t have a good reason. The skeptic who’s not omniscient shouldn’t question the grandmaster or God.

If I’m a chess novice, I’ll accept that the grandmaster’s move probably makes sense in ways I’ll never understand. But note what we start with: we all agree chess and chess experts exist. Should I expect that a chess grandmaster made a smart move, given chess and grandmasters? Yes.

But consider the God question: we don’t start by assuming God’s existence, God’s benevolence, and the Bible as an infallible history book. Should I accept that God has a good justification for allowing suffering on earth and that this doesn’t conflict with the Bible’s claims that he is omnipotent and all-good? Of course not! That makes no sense even within Christians’ theology. I evaluate all that and find that “God” is a hopelessly contradictory collection of mythology and wishful thinking. The chess analogy fails.

God’s Perfect Plan® sounds increasingly like Pandora’s box.

But it’s all okay because Jesus!

“In the midst of adversity, God has given us himself in human form…. If God came down to our level and entered into the human drama, experiencing both its peaks and its valleys, then that does seem to cast things in a different light.”

What light would that be? Am I supposed to conclude that life on earth must not suck so much after all if Jesus stayed for a bit? Or perhaps I’m to marvel at how brave God is to visit us in this dangerous ghetto. Neither puts the Lord of all Creation in a good light.

This touches on the sacrifice Jesus made through crucifixion, which I’m not much impressed by. Christians point to the sacrifice of Jesus’s life through crucifixion plus the miracle of his resurrection. But if he was resurrected, then he wasn’t dead at all but only out of action for a day and a half, which isn’t much of a sacrifice. For him to have made a substantial sacrifice, he would’ve stayed dead, but in that case there’s no miracle. Sacrifice or miracle—pick one.

Where do we see benefit from Jesus’s sacrifice?

How lucky for us that Jesus stepped in and took one for the team to save us from Adam’s sin and the results of the Fall. So then every tear has been wiped away? The consequences of the Fall are in humanity’s distant past? Of course not. According to Christian theology, we still live in a fallen world, and millions suffer when they go to bed hungry or are drowned in a tsunami or are killed by covid.

The benefits from Jesus’s sacrifice are never more than promises.

I think it’s important to realise that
when two opposite points of view
are expressed with equal intensity,
the truth does not necessarily
lie exactly halfway between them.
It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.
— Richard Dawkins

CROSS EXAMINED In his first career, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware and was a contributor to 14 software patents. Since then, he has explored the debate between Christianity and atheism for...