12. The Problem of Evil or Suffering


In the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil (alternately, the problem of suffering), is the attempt to reconcile the existence of evil with that of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent deity; in simpler locution, why ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people. If placed in absolute terms — as does the Christian religion — the existence of such a deity renders impossible that of evil.

Fervent theists have advanced that all evil in the world is but punishment for sin. Thus, the ‘good’ people subject to this seemingly unexplainable suffering are, in fact, sinners, and are consequently being punished by God. This, however, raises the question: what of dying infants? What of the countless children perishing at unnaturally early ages, product of some unexpected infection or disease? To this, the theist might say that their death is punishment for their parents’ sins. Inadvertently, the theist has proven his God to be immoral.

Another religious postulation is that suffering is God’s mechanism for testing faith. It with ease that we envisage a world in which God’s creations are ‘put to the test’ and must prove, in this way, their faith or lack of it. But what of immediate death? A man crosses a street, is hit by a school bus and is killed instantly. How can this man have possibly been provided the opportunity to prove his faith in God?

Others have proposed the notion that this suffering is an inevitable by-product of free-will. We are free to do as we choose, and thus, though perhaps unintentionally, bring about the consequences respective to our actions. To this we might say: and, what of natural disasters?

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716) argued that suffering is not for the good or to the detriment of the individual; instead, each instance of suffering is to establish the best balance in the world — part of God’s ‘larger plan.’

Perhaps the most appealing ‘solution’ to this problem is that of the existence of a malevolent deity. With the existence of such a deity, each instance of suffering is a personal attack, it is willed, not a mere by-product of our actions. The idea that this immensely redoubtable being would go to such lengths to make us suffer is indeed very seductive: it affirms that each of us is undeniably, absolutely important.

Image Source:

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Tommaso Cassai Masaccio. http://www.italianrenaissance.org/masaccios-expulsion-of-adam-and-eve-from-eden/


2 thoughts on “12. The Problem of Evil or Suffering

  1. How is it immoral for God to punish infants for their parents’ sins? Yes it is extremely unfair, but does that make it immoral? Morality seems to be a subjective construct. Also, for the man who crossed the street and died, perhaps he could’ve proven his faith by the thought he had right before he lost consciousness and died.

    This read was fascinating because it outlines all the main arguments for the existence of evil and people’s attempts to rationalize it. I’ve tried to see it in these ways, but find them flawed as the article simply explains. I have reached the same conclusion, that perhaps God, is a deity who has potential for malevolence, that he is not all loving or good. The world makes much more sense in this way. He likes who he likes, blesses whomever he wants, and strikes down or casts ills on those he doesn’t at that moment.


    1. Morality may be a subjective construct, but it’s an institution that most human societies live with. If is not immoral then it is pettily vindictive and serves as enough weight to question his integrity and his morality. The problem with ethics is that it is difficult to define it in non-ethical terms which is why often philosophers equate the words ‘immoral’ with ‘unfair’. As for the case of the man who crossed the street and died, it is truly the mark of a petty God who requires being praised all the time for the man to have to prove his faith at that point in time. We know nothing of this man’s past actions, were he a clergymen, would he also have to immediately prove his faith before getting hit by a school bus?

      In any case, In both non-cognitive and cognitive ethical systems, we see that god’s actions are highly immoral. Under the heading of emotivism, the feeling that it is unfair warrants us to judge god as immoral for condemning the man to hell. Under prescriptive systems such as utilitarianism, we see the nefarious slippery slope of using any means to justify His ends, which if not immediately immoral is definitely questionable.

      Thank you so much for your comment, and if you want to read an article similarly dealing with God’s morality, might I suggest article 16 🙂



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