Police, parents, and the problem of evil

The question “Why does a good god allow suffering?” is one of the oldest in religion, yet Christians seem to think they have the answer. The problem is, I’ve never heard a convincing answer.

A PhD Christian scholar recently wrote a piece in Christian today, saying that a god who allows evil in the world is no different from a parent who has a child, even though the parent knows that child may suffer someday.

He also says God does not stand by and watch pain; he comes down and experiences it with us.

The loving parent is not the one who never risks suffering in a child’s life; the loving parent – whether human or divine – is the one who is willing to suffer alongside his child, and willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure that one day that suffering can be overcome.

[Jesus] is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.

The website has no place for me to leave comments or send email to the author, so I shall reply here.

Dear Dr. Vince Vitale,
Your answer is meaningless to me. I was formerly a Christian but now an atheist, and this issue of evil is one of the many, many things that caused me to see the truth.

When you decide to have a child, you risk a lot of suffering — true. But you are not God. You do not have perfect foreknowledge of what will happen, nor do you have the omnipotent ability to alter the world in accordance with what you know is best.

Imagine you could choose before your child was born whether this child would be wise or foolish. I don’t mean that you abort a fetus that you discover will become foolish. I mean, before the egg and sperm even come together, you have the ability to choose an egg and a sperm that when combined will create a human being that is either wise or foolish, depending upon your choice. Would any parent pick the foolish child? If you could pick a child who would do good for the world vs. one who would do evil, would you not choose the good?

Or maybe you think that doesn’t allow for free will. But once the child is born, do you not give that child everything in your power so they will have the best possible chance? Or do you deliberately make your child suffer, so that he will have the “free will” to become hateful at this suffering?

The god you describe is a policeman who only cares about punishment afterwards, not stopping crime beforehand. Your hypothetical policeman comes across a woman being raped in a dark alley, and he says, “Tut, tut, Mr. Rapist, you shouldn’t be doing that. You will go to jail for a long time once you are finished.” A good policeman wouldn’t care if the rapist ever goes to jail or not; he would simply find some way to save the woman and make the rapist stop.

You seem to think God must allow all suffering in order for there to be free will. I say God could stop suffering but still allow free will.

Somethin’s happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear….(image from Reuters, police in Ferguson Missouri). Police can do their jobs without resorting to police brutality, and God could stop some suffering in the world if he wanted to without obliterating free will.

To use metaphor again, there is a huge difference between police brutality and no police at all. I for one am appalled at the police actions going on right now down in Ferguson, Missouri. I think the police need to show more restraint. That’s just an example, though–the point is that police sometimes do overstep their authority. But that does not mean I would advocate for the complete abolition of a police force. I know the police serve an important role.

In other words, I don’t want to live in a police state, or where the police have no rules. I don’t want the police force in my hometown to monitor my every move, or threaten me with tear gas and rubber bullets. But I do want them to be there for me if my things are stolen, or when I call for help. And I believe most police forces in America do strive to maintain this balance.

You seem to imply that a god who interfered with the world could not do so without becoming a fascist dictator who crushes all free will. I say that god could be a helpful policeman without going too far to become an abusive policeman.

The fact that he does not speaks volumes about your god.

I don’t want a god who suffers alongside me, any more than I want a mother who reacts to a crying baby with a messy diaper by sitting down, messing her own pants and crying along with the baby. I don’t want a police officer who responds to an armed robbery by giving a gun to another criminal and allowing himself to be robbed. Instead, I want a mother who actively solves the baby’s problem. I want a policeman who stops the robbery. And I want a god who, sometimes at least, answers prayer the way he promised he would.

Your bio says you wrote your PhD on the problem of suffering, and teach at Oxford University, so you are much smarter and better-read than I am. If someone as learned and intelligent as you can come up with nothing better than this excuse for God, I have little faith that a real argument for god’s existence could be found anywhere.


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