Some atheists reckon they have a cast-iron refutation for the Christian belief in an all powerful and all loving God. How come, they demand, if God is all powerful and all loving, that he allows bad things to happen to innocent people?
This, of course, is a question asked not only by atheists, but by Christian and Jewish teachers for much more than two thousand years. It is the theme of the Book of Job. It is a question asked by every child brought up in the Christian faith. If I were God and could do anything, would I allow bad stuff to happen? ’Course I wouldn’t.
It is a very hard question. Funnily enough, it doesn’t seem to do the trick as often as an atheist would expect – that of causing people to abandon faith in a God who is simultaneously omnipotent, good and apparently tolerant of evil. Christians believe that God hates evil. But we still don’t disbelieve – just because he doesn’t wrap a force field around us which repels every evil thing (and he doesn’t program us to behave always in our own best interest). Are Christians just stupid, then? Are they incapable of following a simple syllogism? A good, omnipotent God would not allow evil to exist. Evil exists. Therefore God is not good or not omnipotent or not existent.
Like all thinking Christians, I think about this. It worries me, as it has worried all Christians forever. But it worries me a little less than it did.
Christians believe that God is our Father. Clearly, this is a metaphor. All human parents inhabit Time and Space. God does not. God is the originator of Time, Space, Energy and Matter. When we say, “Our Father...” we are not pretending to be in literally the same relationship with The Creator as we are with our human parents. Nevertheless, we do say it and we do mean it. Christ taught his disciples to say it. Christians who are parents believe that they share, if only to an infinitesimal degree, in the nature of God.
God is omniscient. We are not. However, we are not omni-ignorant. We do know things. We know for certain that when we procreate, our offspring will have to endure suffering. We hate the evil that we know will befall them. We practise varying degrees of self-sacrifice to mitigate their inevitable suffering. But, all the same, we choose to procreate. Knowing what is inevitable, we do not think it would be more loving (of our still un-conceived progeny) not to beget and bear them.
To an infinitesimal degree we are like God. We would not, even if we could, withhold freewill from our children, by genetic modification or brainwashing. Any attempt by others to do so would meet with our fiercest resistance. We abominate the idea of government thought and behaviour control, even when we meet it in fiction, such as in Brave New World.
Having mused on this for a few days, I was surprised to hear Lord Harries of Pentregarth (sometime Bishop of Oxford) developing a similar theme in the Thought for the Day slot on the Today programme last week. It is very seldom that I hear anything in this slot that sticks in my memory. Well done, Richard! Of course, I didn’t expect Humphrys and Naughtie to improve on it; so I switched to Wogan. Terry, don’t leave us!