Friday, 8 June 2012

Catholicism & Islam on Why God Allows Sin & Suffering

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The most perplexing problem in apologetics is the existence of evil.  Why would an All-Good, All-Powerful God Allow evil to exist?  Why does sin and suffering exist in the world?  Christianity can only give partial answers.  From a Catholic point of view, they recognise that there is more than one kind of evil.  When they refer to evil, it is often meant moral evil or sin, but historically it was frequently used for other things, such as suffering.  These two forms of evil are linked: It is a sin to cause needless suffering.

Could God Stop these evils?  Yes.  God is Omnipotent.  He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  Without His Action, the universe would never have come into existence, and without His continued Action, it would cease to exist or revert to nothingness.  In Latin, this is referred to as ad nihilum.  It is from this we get “annihilate.”  God could Prevent all sin and suffering by not creating the universe.  And He could end all sin and suffering simply by allowing the universe to cease to exist.  This would be the Annihilation Solution.

At first glance, it would seem that an All-Good God who has the Power to end all sin and suffering would do so.  Since He does not has led skeptics to argue that God either does not exist or that he is either not All-Good, not Omniscient or not Omnipotent or is inadequate in more than one attribute.  But in Christian theology, such inadequacies cannot be attributed to the Divine.  Some have suggested that God might not be Omniscient.  Some have hypothetised that, while God is Good enough and Powerful enough to prevent evil, He is not Omniscient and thus lacks the knowledge needed to bring His Power to bear on the problem.  But if that were so, then God ceases to be Omnipotent.

There are other possibilities to show that an All-Good, Omnipotent God might still allow sin and suffering to exist.  Ending the universe is not a possibility for the fact that the universe exists.  Annihilating the universe would have costs as well as benefits.  On the positive side, it would mean getting rid of sin and suffering.  On the other hand side, it would mean getting rid of every good thing in the universe as well.  Some would consider that if that is the only alternative, it is reasonable for an All-Good, Omnipotent God to allow the universe to continue to exist, despite the evil it contains.  If He were to allow it to cease because of the presence of evil, then such a God would be inadequate since there is a problem He cannot Address. 

If God is Omnipotent, would He be Able to Arrange it such that the universe was perfect and never had sin or suffering in it?  The devil would still be a happy angel.  Mankind would still be living in the Garden.  So why did God not just do that?  Christian theologians have suggested that the answer has to do with free will.  While the concept of free will can be understood in different ways, one common understanding of it involves the capacity to make a free decision between good and evil.  Since people do choose between good and evil, and seem to do so freely, one can argue that God apparently Values this kind of freedom.  It is commonly thought that the reason He does so is that, if he did not let people freely choose between good and evil then they would just be puppets.  It has been suggested that for us to love God or each other under such a situation would seem hollow.  For love to be worthwhile, it has to be freely chosen.

On this proposal, God Values free will -and the quality of the choices that flow from it, real love.  Thus He tolerates the bad choices that can also result from it and the sin and the suffering it causes.  God could not wipe out the latter without wiping out the former as well.  He thus tolerates evil for the sake of allowing good to be freely chosen.  It from this basis that Christianity has evolved the doctrine of the Vicarious Sacrifice.  And that involved ascribing a level of Divinity to Jesus (a.s.), making him co-equal in a triune godhead.

Islam has taken this further since the answer is incomplete.  Firstly, Allah (s.w.t.) does not “tolerate” anything.  Tolerance would imply that a situation is not the ideal but allowed to be because there is some inadequacy in fixing it.  Since Allah (s.w.t.) is Omnipotent and Omniscient, He cannot be inadequate such that anything is not what He Desires it to be.  Everything is exactly as He Wills it.


Verily, when He Intends a thing, His Command is “Be” and it is! (Surah YaSin:82)

Since Allah (s.w.t.) Exists beyond spacetime, He is not bound by any limitations.  Thus, to Him, there is no past, present and future.  By His Divine Design, He is Aware of Everything and very much in Command.  So how do we explain sin?  One of the reasons of sin is our inadequacy to accept and understand the Divine Plan.


Whatever good, (O man!) happens to thee is from Allah; but whatever evil happens to thee is from thyself ... (Surah an-Nisa’:79)

Since everything is from Allah (s.w.t.) and nothing is from us, nothing is actually bad.  We, who are bound by spacetime in this world, can only see what is apparent.  And since Allah’s (s.w.t.) Divine Justice extend from this world to the next, He Says:


We shall Set Up scales of justice for the day of Judgement, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least.  And if there be (no more than) the weight of a mustard seed, We will Bring it (to account): and enough are We to take Account. (Surah al-Anbiya’:47)

Sin, suffering and what we see as evil therefore exist not because Allah (s.w.t.) tolerates it but because He Allows it to be so as part of His Divine Plan.  Since we are creatures of the relative universe, we only know tall by knowing short, darkness by light and goodness by evil.  And like the fish in the ocean nit being able to see the water, we have to leave the Divine Presence to understand what a Great Gift it is and we must feel the distance to know His Love and Mercy.


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