Quora Answer: If God is Really All-Powerful, All-Knowing, & Truly Loving, Why Does Evil Exist ?
The following is my answer to a Quora question: “If God is really All Powerful, All Knowing, and Truly Loving, then why does evil exist?”
The first question is, does evil exist? I am looking at this question for the Abrahamic and related traditions since they explicitly hold the concept of an Omniscient, Omnipotent God as central to their theological doctrine. Mainstream Judaism and traditional Islam both agree that evil is perception since if God is All Good, then everything in the Divine Sight and cosmic scale is ultimately good. It is our inadequacy and perception that causes things to be “evil”. There is a Day of Judgement where all misconceptions are Addressed.
The doctrine of tzimtzumin, in Kabbalah, holds that God has Withdrawn Himself so that Creation can exist, but this withdrawal means Creation is Veiled from the Reality of Divine Attributes. This is similar to the concept of tawhid adz-dzat in Islam. “Tzimtzum” is a Hebrew word which means “contraction”. The belief is that God Began Creation by “Contracting” his Ein Sof, which in Islam, is known as His Nur, Divine Light. This was in order to Allow for a conceptual space where the finite and temporal could exist. This creates a problem regarding Divine Omnipresence, but it really is not within the scope if what I am trying to say to address that here. In essence, here, free will exists where it is not overwhelmed by Divine Will. Where that free will is at great variance to Divine Will and Intent, that is evil. “Satan”, here, is an attribute, not an entity. This is where Christian theology began.
In the Bible, the word “evil” occurs approximately 613 times in the Western Christian canon, 481 times in the Old Testament, and 132 times in the New Testament. Based on Scripture, Christianity actually defines evil as all that is opposed to God and His Intent, sin; or that which the human perspective views as “harmful and non-productive”, suffering. The fact of evil creates a problem for belief in an Omnibenevolent and Omnipotent God. Christian theologians have argued that though evil is present, it is not strong enough evidence to suggest that God is not Omnipotent and Loving. The simplest contentions is that God has Reasons to permit evil, meaning there is a hidden Divine Wisdom. This is a type of greater good response. Greater good responses justify evil in the world by claiming that they are necessary for God’s Plan, which is ultimately good. Another answer is the free will response. Some Christian theologians argue that if God prohibited one evil, then He would have to prohibit them all, curtailing free will. This is not acceptable in Islam since it supposes an inadequacy in His Creation or His Sovereignty.
Christian Gnosticism is a heresy who collectively see evil as due to the world being created by an imperfect god, the demiurge, which is contrasted with a Superior Entity. But this does not answer the problem of evil if the “Superior Entity” is Omnipotent and Omnibenevolent. Different gnostic beliefs give varying answers. Manichaeism adopts dualism, in opposition to the doctrine of omnipotence.
Irenaean theodicy was posited by Bishop Irenaeus of Smyrna and reformulated by Dr, John Harwood Hick. It holds that one cannot achieve moral goodness or love for God if there is no evil and suffering in the world. Evil tempers the soul, leading to Divine closeness. It states God created an epistemic distance. since God is not immediately knowable, so that we may strive to know Him and become truly good. Evil is a means to good through three things. It is knowledge. For example, hunger leads to pain, and causes a desire to feed. Knowledge of pain prompts humans to seek to help others in pain. It is through character building since evil offers the opportunity to grow morally. And it is through a predictable environment. Natural evil only occurs when these natural laws conflict with our own perceived needs. There is no immorality.
Theologians such as Pelagius and Bishop Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis debated the doctrine of Original Sin and its consequences. Pelagius argued on behalf of original innocence, while Bishop Augustine indicted Eve and Adam (a.s.) for Original Sin. This is the current doctrine of the Church. Pelagianism is the belief that Original Sin did not taint all of humanity and that mortal free will is capable of choosing good or evil without Divine Aid. Bishop Augustine’s position was that Adam (a.s.) and Eve had the power to topple God’s Perfect Order, thus changing nature by bringing sin into the world, but that the advent of sin then limited mankind’s power to evade the consequences without Divine Aid. Eastern Orthodox theology is a variation of this since it holds that one inherits the nature of sinfulness but not Adam (a.s.) and Eve’s guilt for their sin which resulted in the Fall.
The Augustinian theodicy, as presented in Dr. John Hick’s “Evil and the God of Love”, focuses on the Genesis story. It states that a Good God Created the world and thus it was Good; evil is a consequence of the Fall of Man. Bishop Augustine stated that natural evil is caused by fallen angels, which I consider an egregious superstition; whereas moral evil is as a result of being estranged from God and deviating from Divine Will. Bishop Augustine believed God could not have created evil in the world, as it was Created good since God is Good, and that all notions of evil are simply a deviation or privation of goodness. Evil cannot be a separate and unique substance. For example, there is no darkness, merely a privation of sight. This portion is consistent with Islamic theology.
Fr. Thomas Aquinas systematised the Augustinian conception of evil, supplementing it with his own musings. According to him, evil is a privation, or the absence of some good which belongs properly to the nature of the creature. There is, therefore, no positive source of evil, corresponding to the greater good, which is God; evil being not real but rational, meaning it exists not as an objective fact, but as a subjective conception. All things are not evil in themselves, but by reason of their relation to other things or persons. All realities are in themselves good; they produce bad results only incidentally. Consequently, the ultimate cause of evil is fundamentally good, as well as the objects in which evil is found. Modern Catholicism states that evil is threefold: metaphysical evil; moral evil; and physical evil; the retributive consequence of moral guilt. Its existence subserves the perfection of the whole; the universe would be less perfect if it contained no evil. The Catholic Encylopaedia states that fire could not exist without the corruption of what it consumes; the lion must slay the ass in order to live, and if there were no wrong doing, there would be no sphere for patience and justice.
6 Because I would proclaim it from east to west that there is no other God. It is the Lord that Speaks, “And there is no other to rival Me; I, the Fashioner of darkness, the Creator of light, 7 I, the Maker of peace, the author of Calamity. I, the Lord, am the Doer of all this.”
6 ἵνα γνῶσιν οἱ ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν ἡλίου καὶ οἱ ἀπὸ δυσμῶν ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν πλὴν ἐμοῦ ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεός καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ἔτι 7 ἐγὼ ὁ κατασκευάσας φῶς καὶ ποιήσας σκότος ὁ ποιῶν εἰρήνην καὶ κτίζων κακά ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ ποιῶν ταῦτα πάντα
6 ut sciant hi qui ab ortu solis et qui ab occidente, quoniam absque me non est: ego Dominus, et non est alter: 7 formans lucem et creans tenebras, faciens pacem et creans malum: ego Dominus faciens omnia hæc.
Accordingly, God is said to be the author of evil in the sense that the corruption of material objects in nature is Ordained by Him as a means for carrying out the design of the universe; and on the other hand, the evil which exists as a consequence of the breach of Divine laws is in the same sense due to Divine appointment; the universe would be less perfect if its laws could be broken with impunity. Thus evil, in one aspect, counter-balances the deordination of sin, and has the nature of good. But the evil of sin, though Permitted by God, is not due to Him. This would be denying Omnipotence, that another equally perfect universe could not be Created in which evil did not exist.
The two Protestant theologians, Martin Luther and John Calvin, explained evil as a consequence of the Fall of Man and Original Sin. Their ideas are inferior to Thomas Aquinas, Pelagius and those that came before. In fact, the entire theological basis of the Protestant movement is painfully weak. They believe, however, due to Divine predestination and Omnipotence, the Fall is part of the Divines Plan. Ultimately, this Plan is “unknowable”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Satan, an actual entity, is the original cause of evil. They believe that he was once a perfect angel, but developed feelings of self-importance and craved worship, and eventually challenged God’s Right to rule. It was Satan who caused Adam (a.s.) and Eve to disobey God, and humanity subsequently became participants in a challenge involving the competing claims of Jehovah and Satan to universal sovereignty. Other angels who sided with Satan became demons. This narrative challenges the belief in an Omniscient God.
As mentioned above, Islam’s conception of the problem of evil is similar to Judaism, in that it is careful not to attribute creation to other than God. But since God is ultimately Omnibenevolent, He does not create evil. Evil is how we perceive things since Divine Justice is overwhelming. The main conceptions of God and the problem of evil in Islam are found in the Mu’taziliyyah, the Ash’ariyyah and the Maturidiyyah. Every school of theology essentially falls within variations of these three positions.
The Mu’taziliyyah emphasised God’s Omnibenevolence. As such, they believe that evil arises not from God but from the actions of His Creations who create their own actions independent of God. This is considered a heresy and rejected by the main body of Muslims, the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah since in the doctrine of tawhid al-af’al, God Alone Originates actions in His Creation. The Ash’ariyyah emphasised God’s Omnipotence. God is not limited to an objective moral system centred on Man. As the Qur’an States many times, He has the Power to Exercise His Will without limit. “Evil” is our inadequacy in accepting and understanding His Will and Decree, but we believe that His Intent is always good. The Maturidiyyah have a variation of this position. They contend that “evil” arises from God but that “evil” has a wiser purpose as a whole and for the future. It is “evil” in our perception. As such, evil has no reality. Evil arises from the lack of realisation, awareness and God-consciousness.