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This essay will consider the question: ‘Does Evil and Suffering prove that God does not exist?’ The inconsistent triad, first laid down by Epicurus, is often used as a logical refutation of God’s existence. In response, many theodicies have been created, in order to reconcile the traditional divine characteristics with the occurrence of evil in the world. The issue hinges on to what extent free will is an adequate response.
The so-called ‘Rock of Atheism’ is the problem of evil. The world is festering with both moral and natural evil. Indeed, since 1914 there has been war somewhere in the world. As JL Mackie phrased the ‘inconsistent triad’, the three essential qualities of God – omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient – appear to be incompatible with this evil. Either God cannot prevent evil, or he will not. Although there is also much good in the world, even a tiny amount of evil contradicts the infinite nature of God’s power and goodness.
At first this question appears to have an obvious answer. Evil is obviously the Devil’s fault. This ancient idea is at least two and a half thousand years old. However, this solution leads to two problems. Firstly, according to the Bible, in the beginning there was nothing. Therefore, God must have created the Devil, and thus should surely take some of the blame for all the evil the Devil causes. To get around the problem, it might be claimed that God did not create the Devil, but instead the Devil has always existed. One of the most renowned exponents of this theory was Zoroaster, who was a religious teacher living in Persia five hundred years before Jesus. He taught that there was a good force called Ahura Mazdah, and a force of evil named Ahriman. These two forces are in constant struggle. Sometimes evil will gain the upper hand, and so be free to cause famine and war, but good will always be fighting to regain control. The problem is this essentially dualism, which does not mesh with the Abrahamic idea of One Supreme God.
Consequently, the free will argument is often used to explain why there is evil in the world. The aim of a Christian life is to do good deeds, and through these deeds become a good person. If God forced us to act perfectly, it would only be fake goodness. Genuine goodness requires a genuine choice. Inevitably, some humans will misuse their free will and cause suffering. This could also be used as an explanation for the existence of the Devil, because angels also have free will. The Devil was created when the chief of the angels, Satan, rebelled against God. However, the free will argument has not been left to stand unopposed. Firstly, determinism calls free will itself into question: we are made up of trillion of particles, each of which acts in a predetermined way, so how is it logically possible for us to have a choice? Moreover, the very nature of God seems to refute the notion of free will. If God is omniscient, then he must see the future. But if this true, then the future is already decided! On the other hand, the notion of determinism is itself challenged. It could be argued that the particle idea is not relevant, because Christians believe that humans are more than lumps of flesh. There is something more than the transient formations of matter than compose our bodies: a soul, which possesses free will. Finally, even if free will is accepted, this does not explain natural evil.
Natural evil is evil not caused by humans, such as earthquakes or droughts. This is an even stronger suggestion that God is not omnibenevolent, because it must come directly from him. An argument that goes someway to including this form of evil is ‘Suffering as a test’. It is easy to have faith in God if life is comfortable and fair. To test the strength of our faith, we have to endure suffering. There are many examples of this in the Bible, such as when Abraham has to undergo the agony of sacrificing his only son. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily make God omnibenevolent. After all, is this ‘testing’ not cruel, in the same way that pulling the wing off flies is frowned upon? A monotheist might use the nature of the afterlife to respond. The amount of time spent on this plane is infinitely small compared to the time spent in heaven, to the point of the pain being essentially nothing. Despite this, there is still the fact that God is omniscient, so it seems completely unnecessary to enact a trial when He already knows the result. A commonly used justification is the ‘Soul Making argument’. Irenaeus, a Christian thinker from almost eighteen hundred years ago, suggested that suffering is necessary to allow us to morally develop, or to become good people. Dealing with problems helps build character and strength. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son matures through his hard experience of the world. A question that could be asked is: ‘Why does God not make us in this morally mature state initially?’
Lastly, the infinite qualities that are used to refute God through the inconsistent triad can also be used to defend monotheism. We have nothing like the viewpoint of God, so we cannot comprehend his actions. An example of this is found in the Bible when Job questions God after he loses everything and everyone he cares about. God replies, ‘Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?’ If it were possible to see the bigger picture, then we could see the true harmony and pattern of the universe. Closely linked to this is the aesthetic argument. We can only see a fraction of the whole canvas, and so we conclude from an earthquake or a famine that evil in the world makes no sense. If we could only see what God sees we would realise the contrast between dark and light and the overall beauty this creates. Good is emphasised by evil, and even defined by it. However, it has to be wondered why God would create a picture that only he can appreciate: perhaps when we reach moral perfection we will understand it too.
In conclusion, the intangible nature of God means that it is impossible for either side to conclusively win, although arguments rage on both sides. It is hard to use logic to destroy something that is, at least to the human mind, illogical. Moreover, suffering and evil are not concrete things. Suffering is within the parameters of the person; perhaps if we eradicate the flaws in our perception of the world then we could eradicate our suffering. In one sense, someone warmed by love for God never feels the God. Paradoxically, even if there is large support for atheism, this supports monotheism. By definition faith must be in something less than proven. On the other hand, the dichotomy between the paradoxical and abstract nature of God and the hard and immediate impact of suffering means that the solid statements of atheism are steadily gaining in popularity. A state of trauma and suffering is not very conducive to arguments about the mysterious nature of God. Even Jesus lost faith in Gethsemane.
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