The fact that evil exists is not something that would be disputed by many. Evil exists, but the question is: what exactly is evil? And if there is a God, why would He allow evil to take place if He was all-good? With a simple search in a dictionary the definition of evil is “profoundly immoral and malevolent”. However, the definition of evil varies for all people. Almost all people agree that taking the life of another person is immoral, but yet some say it is justice depending on who was killed. Some of the same people who say murder is wrong say that the systematic slaughter of animals is normal and not immoral. For the sake of uniformity in this essay, the definition of evil used will be “any action done with ill-intent or depravity.” This essay will address three arguments between theists and skeptics, focusing on God’s possible higher morality, the appealing of faith as an “excuse” for God’s goodness and the big question of the meaning behind true free-will. Using articles by B. C. Johnson and John Hick and with my own personal evaluation the notion that God and evil can coexist will be explored and confirmed as a possibility.
Johnson states that theists believe in God’s existence despite evil because they appeal to their faith that God is all good. (Johnson 127). Johnson says that trusting in God’s goodness is the equivalent of trusting in a friend’s goodness despite the lack of evidence to support this. Obviously extreme evils happen in the world, so Johnson says this is an insufficient evidence of God’s goodness and therefore such faith is completely blind and naïve. To this Hick might respond with what about God sending his only son to the earth? If God is all-powerful then He can work outside of how we see the normal world, outside of our understanding of our own dimensions. This would of course require an immense amount of faith, for this would be something we couldn’t begin to hope to understand. A quote from The Shack by William P. Young helps to encapsulate this idea:
Your world is severely broken. You demanded your independence, and now you are angry with the one who loved you enough to give it to you. Nothing is as it should be, as [God] desires it to be, and as it will be one day. Right now your world is lost in darkness and chaos, and horrible things happen to those that he is especially fond of… [God] has never needed evil to accomplish his good purposes. It is you humans who have embraced evil and [God] has responded with goodness. (Young)
Hick carries the idea that evil is parasitic off of good (Hick 127), which makes a lot of sense. It is similar to saying that love cannot exist without hatred, as they are two very different but very passionate sides of the same coin. This balance in the world is important and is what leads to good being so especially moving, and why evil seems so especially atrocious. If all things in the world were good, then we would not know what is truly good. If all things in the world are evil, then we would not know what is truly evil. Johnson is not wrong when he says that evil does create moral urgency. Although I do not believe that God creates substandard situations for the sake of creating this urgency, I do believe that from these situations stems a human connectedness and contemplation on their own actions. Contemplation leads to people being more conscious about their actions and how they relate to their own personal morals. It is with faith that this idea sets in. One has to believe that God is good and wants them to be good as well, causing them to contemplate on their actions.
Johnson makes the argument that theists say God has a “higher morality” than humans. His beliefs are that we cannot judge evil because God’s perception of evil may be opposite of ours. Following this logic, we would be ignorant to what is truly good. This means that we cannot judge what is truly good therefore we cannot call anything good because we would be destroying different moral categories already set in place. (Johnson 124). Hick might respond to this by saying that evil is merely a distortion of good. “…According to Augustine…everything which has being is good in its own way and degree, except insofar as it may have been spoiled or corrupted.” (Hick 127). Branching off of this then is the fact that most humans believe that morality has already been established. The majority of world already has a fairly set understanding of morals. But that is just the majority, for a lot of the world still has differences in morals. For example, the Middle East still has blood feuds. Why does the Western civilizations seem to have higher moral standards than those countries? Does God wish the rest of the world would model their morals after these societies? Is western civilization the judge of the world because of our moral laws? Or do our laws have it wrong and God’s morals are so far beyond human capacity that he does not expect perfection from us at all? When there are so many different definitions of evil, there are also so many different definitions of “good”. I believe that God does have a higher set of morals except that they are largely unattainable by humans which is something He expects and understands.
Perhaps the most popular theist “excuse” that Johnson points out is that humans have free will and are consequently responsible for evil. This is to say that even if evil is due to the fault of humans we will still think that anyone who could prevent evil should. (Johnson 122). This expectation we hold of our fellow species should be something we also hold God to since He would be able to prevent evil best out of anyone. However, since God does not intervene in such situations he must not be all good. Hick’s response to such a thought process is a very in-depth endeavor. “The origin of evil lies forever concealed within the mystery of human freedom.” (Hick 128). Hick lays claim that God has to give us free will because it would be contradictory to say that “God has made us so that we shall of necessity act in a certain way, and that we are genuinely independent persons in relation to him.” (Hick 128). If everything we ever do were to be determined by some divine power then we cannot be free in the eyes of God. We would be bending at His every whim. A person is at the finite center of their own freedom, and freedom implies the ability to choose between right and wrong. Though, due to this finite center it is highly unlikely for a person to choose rightly in all aspects of what they do. Therefore, God cannot make persons guaranteed to choose rightly every time. If they do not have a choice then are they really “persons” at all, but merely puppets? Although it is logically possible to create a person that can choose rightly every time to God, who is all-powerful, there would still be no true free-will in this person’s finite life. If they are pre-destined to always choose correctly, even if they think it is their own original choice, a divine hand is still controlling all that is taking place. I believe that God allows free-will so that we can truly choose our own character. If we choose to do wrong or evil and we are aware of ourselves doing it then it separates those people from the people who truly want to do good. A true and loving God would give us free choice and never force upon us the choice to only do good. He gave Man control of the earth with our free will. “All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say.” Basically, God will be concerned with the evil that took place on the earth (man’s domain) when their spirit reaches Him.
I find Hick’s argument to be the stronger one in terms of evil and God’s existence. Not just because I agree with him, but because his arguments bring in the over-arching concept of faith. When God is being discussed faith needs to also be brought into the conversation because people only believe in God because of faith. One cannot believe in God without faith, so it is important to discuss it. This makes it a stronger argument. I believe that God exists and I believe that He is full of love. I do believe that within love evil can still exist. As mentioned in Johnson’s article, maybe God has a completely different understanding of evil than human perception does. Since everyone’s personal opinion on what evil really is already differs so much this does not seem too difficult to believe. Is God waiting for the world to reach its full potential? Why is everyone’s definition of evil so different? In Christianity God said to help thy neighbor. This would be assumed to be true in especially horrible situations, which would be perpetuated by evil. Perhaps God expects us to set our own moral boundaries. Maybe God finds all the good that comes from evil, or maybe evil doesn’t exist and there really higher or lower goods. Maybe hell is on Earth. A definitive answer is that no one truly knows, but at least my personal belief is that God and what humans believe to be evil can coexist.
In conclusion, I believe an all-good God can exist with evil. Johnson’s argument is that people appeal to faith to make excuses that God is all-good, whereas I say that this faith is what perpetuates good within people due to the contemplation is causes. The argument that God has a higher-morality is questionable due to the differences in morality in the first place, and finally that free-will must be present in order for God to be all-good because otherwise there would be no choice. The existence of evil and good in the world is undeniable. Regardless whether a person is a theist or not it is important to focus on a life of good and spreading good.
Young, William P. The Shack . United States: Windblown Media, FaithWords, Hodder & Stoughton, 2007.
Philosophy: The Quest for Truth, ed. Louis P. Pojman and Lewis Vaughn, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012