Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why did God not allow it?

When the problem of evil is raised, the question typically takes this form: “Why did God allow it?” There are verbal variants, but that’s the basic way in which the question is generally cast.

Yet when you stop to think about it, that’s a very lopsided question. Is there some reason we typically ask, “Why did God allow this evil?” or “Why did God allow so many evils?” rather than asking, “Why didn’t God allow some evil to happen?” “Why didn’t God allow more evils to happen?”

In other words, the problem of evil is typically focused on questioning the evils that did occur, rather than the evils that didn’t occur. But surely, for every evil that happens, there are a multitude of possible evils that never happen.

I suppose that, at one level, it’s easier to consider actual evils, since there’s less to think about. You don’t have to imagine an actual evil. You only need to remember it. All of the specific details are already given in that particular, concrete instance. So it’s easier to think about what did happen than what didn’t happen.

For to think about what didn’t happen opens up vast, receding vistas of unrealized possibilities. Where do you begin?

And yet, when we ask, “Why did God allow it?” there is, implicit in that question, a comparison between what actually happened and a possible, preferable alternative. The question assumes a contrast between an actual evil and the good thing or “better” alternative which didn’t transpire.

“Why did God allow this evil?” carries with it the corollary question, “Why didn’t God bring about a better alternative by preventing the evil event?”

But if we’re going to ask, why didn’t some good take place instead of the evil that actually occurred–then we should also ask, why didn’t some evil take place instead of the good that actually occurred.

For whatever reason, we tend to take the nonoccurrence of evil for granted. And for that reason, a theodicist typically concentrates on horrendous evils or gratuitous evils. On the amount of evil, or kind of evil.

Yet evil possibilities are just as possible as good possibilities. By asking, “Why didn’t God prevent some evil or another?” we neglect to ask, “Why did God prevent so many other evils?”

Some of us lead wretched lives from start to finish, but most of us lead middling lives–with a balance of ups and downs. For most of us, things could be so much worse.

Just consider for a moment all the terrible things which might happen to you in just one day, or just one week–that never actually happened. Around every corner lurk possible evils. Just lying in wait. Crouching in unseen, possible worlds. The Bates Motel at the end of one wrong turn.

Indeed, there are horror films in which that scenario plays out. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.

In which, the day before, everything was going all right for the protagonist–then the next day, inexplicably, things begin to take a turn for the worse. A losing streak. A run of back luck where every “chance,” every roll of the dice, comes up snake eyes.

Men are apt to view life as a gamble in which, “as the odds have it,” you win some and you lose some. Yet, “chances are,” it’s possible to lose every time. Evil nonevents (or possible, unexemplified evils) outnumber evil real events by nearly infinite orders of magnitude. Why doesn’t that happen far more often?

Why blame God for all the bad things that do happen when God gets no credit for all the bad things that don’t happen? What's the catch?

When we count our blessings, not only should we number the good things that befell us, but all the evil things that never befell us. And, from one day to the next, that’s quite a sum. Ever so many things might have gone so very wrong, yet never did. Why not?

1 comment:

  1. This just made me think that the difference between Reformed Theology (RT) and Libertarian Free Will (LFW) carries a significant distinction with regard to the nature of evil. Otherwise thoughtful LFWers chalk the problem of evil up to LFW. However, the multitude of semi-pelagian LFWers also seem to have the biggest problem with the problem of evil. Thoughtful RTers don't have a problem with God causing things that are evil to us. The reason is because the nature of evil differs significantly between the two schools of thought.

    For LFWers, evil is that which occurs and is absolutely evil. That means that if God does it, it's still evil. On the other hand, for RTers, evil is an absolute principle of conditional intent.

    Said another way, evil for LFWers is a momentary act that is always evil. The act has one responsible cause. And because the momentary act is always evil, the responsible cause is at least momentarily evil.

    For RTers, momentary acts occur. These acts have multiple causes. Evil doesn't lie in the acts themselves, but in the intent of any of the causes determined by an absolute principle of God's character. So the intent of any cause is evil if it conflicts with God's character. God therefore causes no evil, but the acts he causes as a first cause may be evil for the fallen human beings who serve as secondary causes with evil intents.

    So, could God have allowed us to not sin? I don't think so, since the sin is contingent on our fallenness. So what of the original sin? I would speculate that God has a purpose for sin in the world that ultimately reveals his character through the atonement. But for us, we must understand our need for it because we can have no intent so high as God's to claim any justification for sin aside from the atonement of Christ.