If humans are responsible for intervening in and preventing evil, does that mean God is equally so? Does divine non-intervention imply that God is either malevolent, impotent, or non-existent?
The problem of evil is often seen as the atheist’s trump card and for good reason. Our world has seen plenty of disgusting atrocities and the only natural responses are “Where is God?” and “Why didn’t He prevent this disaster from happening?” The argument, framed by skeptics, can be summed up in this popular quote from Epicurus,
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?”
The argument can also be illustrated by the following fictional example,
“Imagine that there is a young, strong man who happens to witness the rape of a woman across the street. This act is being carried out by an unarmed man who appears to be far weaker than the spectator. But suppose the spectator did nothing but observe, and when it was over, paid no further attention. Where is the difference between God and the spectator? God watches us suffer every day and yet He stands idly by even when He has the power to prevent such horrible acts. This can only mean He is either malevolent, impotent, or non-existent.”
That scenario packs quite a punch, hey? But we need to stop and think about why we feel that punch because this will be an important point further down. It isn’t the argument that’s affecting us, it is the act of rape that disgusts us. If the scenario used cheating at monopoly or stealing an orange from a fruit stall as an example the punch would be minimal even though the argument itself wouldn’t change.
Looking at the argument it implies that the reasons for the human spectator refusing to intervene are the same reasons God uses. But a human is not in the same standing as God for this objection to work. We cannot see the future or live in the future to see how things will play out and, though we may think we do, we do not have the free will to resist. It arrests us. As many skeptics claim, we see absolutely no reason for evil to occur. All we can do is act and think in the present unless we were given some sort of divine knowledge that not intervening would somehow lead to a much greater good. It may be possible that God is allowing this particular case for a greater good, but we simply cannot know such a thing in this immediate situation, thus our spectator cannot use this as a reason to not intervene.
Skeptic’s argue that non-intervention, in cases where intervention is reasonably possible (excluding the circumstances we described above), is immoral, and we would wholeheartedly agree. Our spectator should learn from the natural consequences of evil and take preventive measures against it. Indeed, doesn’t the very presence of a spectator, in this case, suggests that God wants him to intervene? We may believe in God’s absolute sovereignty, however, we live and move at a relative level with other human begins.
“The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord‘s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.” Psalm 115:16.
If we keep this in mind as we refer back to the conversation between God and our spectator we can reason that our spectator was God’s intervention. Indeed, the moral compass (the very thought that we ought to do what is right) He gave us suggests that humanity, on the earth, is a preventative measure against evil. God, through man, has established a moral conscience, law, education, and emotional response (remember the disgust you felt when you read our scenario?).
Most of the evil that happens is the result of the failures of man to act according to his moral conscious (i.e. to value and treat others with respect and dignity). Imagine the skeptic’s argument (that God should intervene) being used by the criminal in our scenario. God has called us to uphold and look out for the welfare of our fellow man and when our criminal or spectator abandons this they are (relatively) betraying what God placed within them.
As we’re starting to see, the argument of evil itself provides an answer. We form the argument because we grieve over evil and because we grieve we can prevent it. That God should forcibly prevent all evil takes things out of perspective.
And so this brings me to the alternatives skeptics provide, but these alternatives are either worse than what we already have or virtually inconceivable. How should God go about forcing our criminal to stop? Should his muscles freeze up whenever he attempts rape but not anywhere else? Should God put an invisible force field in front of the would-be rapist? Maybe the earth should swallow him whole when he decides to carry out his act? Our skeptics claim that it is common sense that the problem of evil results in God’s non-existence or malevolence but what else are they suggesting exactly? We should remember that it isn’t the argument itself that upsets us but this particular example of evil in our scenario. A good argument should be consistent so we would have to insert these kinds of preventive measures for any and every act of immortality, no matter how small or inconsequential it may be.
Furthermore, the argument must rely on an objective moral law. If we abandon objectivity for relative morality (the idea that everyone has their own moral “map”) then we must ask whose morality should be above all. If God forcibly halted us every time we hurt someone, for example, who gets to define when being “hurt” is right or wrong? The argument presumes that an objective moral law must be enforced in every situation beyond the point of the will of every living person. If the critic can accept these premises and provide specifics on how severe such interventions could/should be the argument might become more practically substantive. They must also provide an answer as to what precisely defines evil and whether they would be willing to submit to it even if it went against their beliefs.
An argument is only as good as its answer and if we take these questions to the streets we may see some very differing values, especially on the nature of freedom. So what are critics arguing for? The exact same world without inherent meaning, where a crooked line could just as well be called straight? Would intervention be confused for oppression? Where would the line be drawn? If there is a line, does that not imply that we have a say as to when said intervention should occur? Our questions could stack a mile high, but even now a circular pattern is clearly emerging.
Our answer is that evil has meaning and when it occurs it is towards the greatest good for creation and the consummation of the eons when all suffering, evil, and death are abolished (1 Corinthians 15:26). We have all been saved by Christ’s death on the cross (1 Timothy 1:15). God isn’t apathetic nor is He watching on the sidelines but He has promised an end to pain through the victory on the cross and it is this promise we carry to the broken.