Evil – A Primer

evil [ē-vəl] (n., adj., adv.):

1. morally wrong or bad; wicked.

2. harm due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character.

3. anything causing injury, harm, misfortune or suffering.

The word evil connotes a negative judgment about some event, idea, action, etc. Usually with a moral component, per the first two definitions, above. To do that meaningfully there needs to be an understood standard – a definition of good – against which the assessment of evil applies. For Theists, and specifically Adventist Christians, this goodness is either defined by, or perfectly exemplified by – God[1]. When the idea of a perfect God comes into play – one with the qualities of: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving – the idea of evil becomes the Problem of Evil (POE). And thus a need for answers – which can produce various defenses of God, called Theodicies[2].

The problem is a collision between: 1) a perfect God, and 2) the (apparently) inescapable fact that “bad” things happen in our world. One of the earliest, yet still often referenced, statements of the problem is attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who wrote:

“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?”

Before considering this head-on I first assert that the POE is not peripheral to one’s Christianity – not some “angels dancing on pinheads” type of issue. Indeed, if you tune your ears to the frequency, you will hear this question (albeit without the label) asked over and over in religious circles, usually in informal settings, like Sabbath School, foyer conversations, potlucks, etc. In my experience it typically gets raised quizzically, with resignation or mild distress. Rarely have I heard anything resembling answers in such situations. Some personal, contextual version of the problem is spoken out loud, hangs in the air momentarily, and we move on after a short, awkward silence. Further, in my (now many) years of Adventist church attendance I can count on one fist the number of sermons I have heard that directly address the POE. Now, I am sure there are sermons and pastors who have done so and I also have a collection of books by Christian authors speaking to the problem. But, I claim, substantive consideration of the POE – however named – is rare in church settings. If I am right, why is that?

The questions are piling up. But indulge me a brief additional delay, for further definition and clarification. Both parts of the POE – “Problem” and “Evil” – can be subdivided. There is the pastoral Problem and the philosophical Problem[3]. When people experience bad things they need both comfort and answers. The comforting is a pastoral task – whether or not it is performed by clergy. You lose your job, your spouse is unfaithful, you have a serious illness. Such hurtful experiences provoke a need for comfort and we often seek out those who might help. How best to help such sufferers is a different issue than how to answer Epicurus. I will restrict my focus, below, to the searching-for-answers part. Next, Evil conceptually may be separated into Moral Evil and Natural Evil. Moral Evil involves the bad acts of people – such as theft, infidelity or murder. Natural Evil is the category we sometimes loosely call “acts of God” – tornadoes, fires, tsunamis, etc. Both will be considered here.

Now, I left two questions hanging:

1) How to answer the problem posed by Epicurus and others (or are there any answers)?

2) Why do we rarely address the problem in Christian circles?

The second question is easier, I think. If we had good answers there would be more discussion about the POE. But the reality (so say I) is that there are no fully satisfying answers, and if we think there are it’s because we haven’t thought about it hard enough. Everyone would like simplicity and certainty in a confusing world. But when we do not get quick resolution to our dilemmas and doubts we have some difficult choices. The two endpoints of the response continuum are: 1) we can double-down on the yearning for certainty/simplicity by denial and defensiveness; or 2) we can live with (at least) temporary ambiguity and spend time searching for answers. In practice I think people choose a varying mixture of both.

But denominations exist in part because they claim to have superior theology to the competition. And this type of allure demands that its apologists proclaim the denominational version of the God story with confidence. This can have the unfortunate unintended consequence of papering over difficulties so as not to confuse seekers and possibly prevent them from making an important decision for God. The trouble is, this simplifying move, while perhaps appropriate for novices (i.e. “milk” not “meat”[4]) carries over too often into general church life – and venues there for dealing with hard questions are few. Add to that a widespread human aversion to ambiguity and everyone’s natural intellectual laziness (certainly including me) and you have a church populace with a high percentage who too often opt for comfortable oversimplification instead of admitting uncomfortable, even distressing, complexity and ambiguity.

Be that as it may. But obviously, the better the answers, the less ambiguity and distress. So let me now turn to the Philosophical POE.

The best exposition I have found of the issues and answers is a book by philosopher Peter van Ingwagen, entitled (surprise!) “The Problem of Evil”. It is concise, dense – yet surprisingly readable, and (unfortunately) expensive. In the space remaining I will be implicitly referencing van Inwagen in trying to peel back the complexity.

The most helpful (to me, anyway) beginning is to recognize the assertions and rebuttals ought to be structured as a formal argument – which is quite different from the idea of tuxedoed people getting into a verbal fight when they disagree . Conceptually a formal argument begins with some disputed statement of position-as-truth, made by its proponent, and is responded to with an initial push-back by the opponent, who gives reasons against the opening position-statement. This is followed by a series of alternating rebuttal attempts from each side, intending to show why the previous rebuttal is, itself, problematic. The “jury” in this exercise is supposed to be a group of “pure” agnostics – people who observe the conversation without any initial bias toward either position.

A useful analogy for this back-and-forth process is a baseball game, where first one team bats then the other – each trying to score. One can somewhat naturally fit the arguments found in the whole POE discussion into this form. So let’s proceed that way.

1A: top of the first inning) the POE position (contra Theism) “bats” first and presents the argument, per Epicurus, quoted above. What then is a quality counter-argument?

1B: bottom of the first) the initial response is usually what is called the “Free-will Defense”[5] (FWD) which says God allows humans freedom but is not responsible for what they do with it, just for the allowance. And, since created beings thus can and have sinned, it is their abuse of this freedom that is the root cause of evil. God’s allowance is legitimate, even laudable, since freedom is a necessary prerequisite for love. And the need for a love-based universe trumps and legitimates any risk.

First let me note that IMO this is a powerful counter-argument to the initial POE statement, and has been viewed so historically. Further, when on the rare occasions I have witnessed church-based conversation on the POE, where tentative answers are actually proposed, they have invariably centered on the FWD. Unfortunately the response almost always stops here, usually with the tacit assumption that a FWD is sufficient. That is where I personally get frustrated because it seems like such a move tries to justify avoidance of harder, deeper aspects and tries to reduce the POE to a more satisfying over-simplification.

2A: top of the second) the POE position will not be that easily satisfied, and thus if Theists (and I include myself) wish to be persuasive, even to themselves, they must contend with further and harder parts of the problem. And at this point the issue of Natural Evil gets introduced. The POE position says: what about earthquakes, birth defects, famine, etc.? These natural evils seem to be rooted outside a perversion of creaturely will, i.e. some kind of sinning. The FWD is therefore inadequate for this type of evil.

2B: bottom of the second) The most frequent response at this point is to deny that natural evil is actually independent of moral evil, but instead a consequence of it. To get here it is necessary to back up the sin issue from the point in time where humanity fell from grace (identified by the Garden of Eden story), to where sin originated in the universe – Lucifer’s fall[6]. The argument is that Satan was exiled on the Earth and God withdrew His protection from this planet at that point in time – including protection from any natural consequences of Satan’s rebellion. This would include allowing nature to decay – producing not just death but disease and violent planetary events, like earthquakes or tornadoes. It would also cover unintended physical consequences from sin-mingled human activity, like Global Warming, STDs, building collapses due to design flaws or code violations, agricultural failures rooted in corrupt political choices, etc. Now, why God might choose to allow such domino effects is, of course, problematic. This is usually explained by appealing to a need to persuade unfallen beings elsewhere in the universe that sin is a very bad thing and is something they should never contemplate – as its consequences are so severe.

3A: top of the third) Persuading an uncommitted observer to accept argument 2B is, I believe, much more complicated and less successful than accepting Argument 1B – the FWD. And, in my reading of papers and articles where these things are considered, there is much pushback by God-skeptics for whom 2B sounds a lot like wishful thinking or even desperation. But the dominant reason they are somewhat unimpressed is now presented in the 3A argument: the issue of “overkill” – evil in quantity and duration. Why, says the argument, is so much badness allowed, and why has it gone on for so long? If the idea is to demonstrate the heinousness of sin to the universe, wouldn’t you think they would “get it” by now? How stupid must they be if they yet haven’t figured it out and thus this awful demonstration has to continue? Plus, so much evil (especially the natural variety) seems to be gratuitous – i.e. serving no obvious purpose[7] in meeting the ostensible goal of showing the remaining, still-sinless, non-Earth populace (the presumed “jury” here) that they should personally reject the option of sinning while still retaining their free will.

3B: bottom of the third) I hope you can see that the arguments and responses – for both sides – are getting less compelling and more complicated. Thus the audience is likely to be splitting off at various points with a wide variety of “yeah but” reactions, and consensus toward some happy ending (theodicy) for the Theist-leaning, or an equivalent slam-dunk rejecting of God’s existence for the Atheist-leaning – is less and less likely. Our “jury” ought to be (and I think is) – conflicted. But the 3B response moves toward the unsatisfying (but inevitable) Argument From Transcendence (AFT). What, says the God-defense “attorney”, is really enough? Should God, for example, save one more deer in a particular natural-evil forest fire (e.g. Rowe’s fawn) whose presumed reason for dying horribly to demonstrate evil – is so marginal? Ok then, let’s have God save that one animal. Not needed to persuade the jury. Then the question (reminiscent of Abraham’s pleading for Sodom[8]) becomes – how much evil can be reduced before the full, stark consequences are too obscured? And, is God to be faulted if He steps back to let the world “run” basically without divine intervention (except for the occasional miracle)? Plus, since we are not God – thus we lack a God’s Eye View – how do we know that we see enough of the whole picture to validly critique how much intensity and duration this presumed sin-demonstration should include? This point leans on the Argument From Ignorance (AFI), which is often shows up in parallel to the AFT.

Such a response is, at minimum, unsatisfying. To one inclined toward skepticism (let alone some “pure” agnostic) this can seem like Theist desperation. But, at some point, for honesty’s sake, one ought to concede our general ignorance, lack of perspective and struggles to adequately understand deep concepts like love, freedom and evil. Still, it is clearer that, because we are mired in such a difficult subject, there are no handy, satisfying one-liner answers to give in some Sabbath School discussion setting. So the POE becomes the church’s “elephant in the corner”.

Ok, I will arbitrarily stop now after three over-simplified “innings”, even though I fear the anti-Theism position appears to be ahead. But perhaps not. The AFT and AFI responses always sound weak – I will suggest – because it appears like all we are doing is engaging in wishfulness for a good God. But demanding closure and simplicity for deep problems is also a mistake. And rushing to an anti-God conclusion when no easy, satisfying pro-God argument is produced – also exemplifies the Argument From Ignorance.

Finally, I am not seeking, in this article, to persuade anyone pro or con regarding the POE. Frustratingly for some, I may perhaps appear to be an insufficient apologist for the pro-God position – to which I claim membership. My modest aims however are to encourage readers to: 1) not run away from thinking about this critical problem; 2) appreciate how complex it is; 3) avoid simple and unsatisfactory partial answers – which a thoughtful skeptic will understandably reject; and 4) better understand where the focus of our attention ought to be – not merely the FWD, but in the issues raised in the “third inning”. To these ends, I hope I have modestly contributed some value.

[1] There is significant dispute and confusion about which of these options is the correct starting point – as explored by Plato in his dialog: “The Euthyphro”.

[3] Sometimes this is called the Logical Problem of Evil, because we are abstracting the problem away from specific, painful human situations and dealing strictly with the logical argument.

[4] “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.” – 1 Cor. 3:2, NIV.

[8] Gen 18:16-33.

Rich Hannon is Columns Editor for SpectrumMagazine.org.

If you respond to this article, please: Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7536

To do no harm. How does one differentiate between sin and harm or are they different sides of the same coin. To twist Scripture to Fit ones theology Seems both harmful and sinful. Yet we see and hear it from many ports. Within the Church and without. The election cycle is prime time for such abuse. The 28 are not exempt. Tom Z


Evil is only a problem for those who believe that God is in charge of everything. Agnostics and atheists have no such problem as they merely accept the world as it is without needing to identify the causative agent. Was it Voltaire who asked: “Is this the best of all possible worlds”? We know no other so why try to create the myth of a former Eden or one restored?

Those who can live with content, knowing that much of the world around them is not in their control and often, even their own personal lives cannot be fully controlled. Learn to accept what cannot be changed, change what you can, and know the difference. This leads to serenity.


The author could have saved himself a lot of trouble by just reading Patriarchs and Prophets and The Great Controversy. In those inspiring books, it is explained quite well, at least as well as can be expected from a finite perspective.

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Birder, you might be the poster child for my complaint in the article of people who try
"to justify avoidance of harder, deeper aspects and [try] to reduce the POE to a more satisfying over-simplification".

The GC stops at the FWD level. I appreciate EGW’s GC theme very much. But it in no way covers enough to get to the bottom of the problem. To quote myself again, regarding your comment: “if we think there are [satisfying answers] it’s because we haven’t thought about it hard enough.”

This, I assert, applies to you, as your casual dismissiveness reveals you need to think more about this. Or, feel free to demonstrate how GC addresses “inning 3” issues, let alone resolves them.


Perhaps the “critical problem” is the assumptions of modernity which we have taken in with mother’s milk.

Or maybe it goes back farther than that.

Maybe Plato and Socrates took the wrong turn, and we need to go back to the presocratics.

Or maybe it goes back farther than that.

Maybe we ate from the wrong tree.

The tree that started us thinking that abstractions would get us anything but more abstractions.


Elaine, I basically agree with your statement:

“Evil is only a problem for those who believe that God is in charge of everything.”

But that begs the problem. If you choose to believe in a different sort of God, or no God, and it delivers you serenity, then you are not the audience to whom the core parts of the article are addressed. And, of course, the problem does go away if your definition of God alters, as Epicurus inferred long ago. But I doubt most readers of Spectrum will find your “solution” acceptable.

BTW, it was Leibnitz who proposed the “best possible world” explanation and Voltaire satirized it in Candide.


Do we need to resolve them? Can finite humans ever penetrate to “the bottom of the problem?” Can’t we content ourselves with the truth that God is good, and that whatever He does is for the best–for all concerned? Or, to quote a passage from GC: “‘Great and marvelous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.’” GC 668 (quoting from Rev. 15:3 in the context of the final eradication of evil.)

I don’t profess to understand why God allows some things and prevents others, but I believe in His intrinsic goodness, and that He will, as Rom. 8:28 says, work everything out for good in the end.

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Birder, “resolve” and “bottom” are probably too strong. But your casual dismissiveness is also a problem, I suggest.

Now, if you are content to “believe in His intrinsic goodness, and that He will, … work everything out for good in the end” then I have no burden to disturb your beliefs. However, you ought to realize that many others are not so sanguine and the POE is a deal breaker for them to believe in a good, wise, omnipotent God. And there are countless people who have lost their faith when “evil” hit them and the only answer they got was “all things work together for good”, and “if you only believe you could move a mountain” (thus you presumably could faith-pray away the cancer).

You seem to be suggesting that such people ought to follow your lead and “just believe” - irrespective. If that works for you, fine. It didn’t for Job. Either you should not infer people ought to be able to “suck it up” (accept evil’s buffeting without questioning) or perhaps you should hang out a shingle to help the Job’s of this world.

A “good God” is a conclusion, not an axiomatic premise. And the POE gets in the way of people being able/willing to reach that conclusion. But you say “Can’t we content ourselves with the truth that God is good” as if that premise (“goodness”) needs no justification (it’s just flatly “the truth”). This results in a circular argument where a presumed-good God justifies our acceptance of evil since His attribute of goodness is your premise.


BIRDER, You write:
The author would have saved himself a lot of trouble by reading ( EGW’s) THE GREAT CONTROVERSY." REALLY???

EGW’s Great Controversy is an anthology of atrocities starting with Christian families being thrown to deliberately starved, ravenous beasts in Rome’s Coliseum.

EGW’s explanation of these atrocities, is with each successive horror, " the universe" was hopefully to be persuaded, that Satan was “evil” and that God was therefore “vindicated”.

Problem is, as these atrocities accumulated, they cascaded to such an unacceptable avalanche of anguish, that only an extremely obtuse, and dim witted universe, would not have rendered an adequate arbitration eons ago!

EGW’s Great Controversy displays a God, so obsessed and consumed with his own “vindication” that he has tolerated six millennia of abject anguish and MISERY for mankind, while distracted by his indefatigable, interminable pursuit of his exculpation
And, if modern science is to be believed, his obsession has actually produced, sixty thousand years of misery!

With each new atrocity perpetrated by ISIS, thanks to EGW’s toxic theology,
I visualize God chalking up another “victory” on his giant scoreboard of "vindication ".

EGW’s Great Controversy is clearly a largely plagiarized piece.
Had EGW REALLY seen “in vision” families being consumed by ravenous beasts,
heard their screams in Dolby stereophonic sound,
viewed the blood and gore in TECHNICOLOR tints,
seen the horror with IMAX screen intensity,
EGW, being an intelligent woman, would have known INTUITIVELY , that
NO “universe” would have been complacent, uncaring or unmoved by such an atrocity!

FAMINE is the ultimate face of EVIL
My Irish grandfather, born and raised in Dublin, makes the
GREAT HUNGER, 1845-1852, caused by potato blight,
very poignant for me: one million Irish starved to death,
one million were forced to emigrate. Most famines are due to
"acts of God", droughts, locusts, hailstorms, crop pests.
The Nazi siege of Leningrad was “man made”.

Helen Dunsmore’s 2002 masterpiece: THE SIEGE: A NOVEL,
(obtainable from Amazon for $12.20)
what the New York Times review called "elegantly, starkly beautiful "
is a monumental work describing the 1941-1944 Nazi siege of Leningrad,
when 1,500,000 people perished with scenes of
desolation, destitution, deprivation, and desperation,
unparalleled in recent modern history.

It should be a companion piece to any reading of EGW’s Great Controversy.

Because of desperate starvation, cannibalism was documented.
DIMITRI LAZAROV, a Russian diarist evocatively depicts the scene in terrifying rhyme:

A dystrophic walked along with a dull look,
In a basket he carried a corpse’s arse,
I’m having human flesh for lunch!
This piece will do.
Ugh, hungry sorrow!
And for supper, I’ll clearly need a little baby,
I’ll take the neighbors’,
Steal him out of his cradle.

And the Angels watching this scene??? Vote your choice!

Does God run a psychiatric clinic for Angels suffering from
post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD?
Are Angels, automatons, robots, incapable,of feeling?
Is there such a myriad of Angels that they are only assigned guardian duty
for thirty minutes per century so as not to bond with their human protégés??

I wish EGW would return one century after her demise, like legendary Rip van Winkle,
to give her take on twentieth century atrocities,
the Armenian, Bosnian, Pol Pot, Rwandan, and Holocaust genocides.
Not to mention Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and now ISIS!

Would she insist that there was still a CONTINUING need
for Satan to be indicted for “Evil”??
Or were six thousand years of rapes, murders, genocides, famines, plagues,
epidemics, droughts, earthquakes, wars, and atrocities,
adequate evidence for his prosecution??
Would she express astonishment that “the universe” had not yet vindicated God??

Why are the Angels not CLAMORING to God to end the carnage?
If, as EGW suggests, Angels are the JURORS in this trial,
are they not COMPLICIT in prolonging, perpetuating,
mankind’s MISERY,
when they fail to render a verdict,
despite OVERWHELMING evidence?


It’s difficult for 2B to satisfy the inquiring mind because no one yet has defined the mechanism by which human evil causes earthquakes, meteors hitting the earth, etc.


Perhaps we have to turn to the jewish people for clues for after all if there were a group of people who would know God, it would have to be the jewish people. They started it all.

“In a 2013 Pew research survey of the US jewish population, 34% were certain God exists, 43% believed but were uncertain and 23% reported not believing at all. Another survey found that two-thirds of US jews see no conflict between being jewish and not believing in God. The findings suggest that Jews’ beliefs about God are complex and dynamic. The reports also suggest that although the US jews believe in God, they hold a variety of images of what God is,” and herein could lie a clue to our dilemma of the POE. We as a religion have placed a “limiting factor” to our definition of God. This belief of a “perfect God” and the “inescapable fact that bad things happen in our world” is rooted on our infantile world. We begin life by being mandated by our DNA for survival reasons to believe and trust our parents and to hold them perfect no matter. This is evident in mental health clinics among abused children who continue to cry and demand for their parents even though abused by their own parents. As infants all our wishes and demands are satisfied by our parents, not knowing that as we develop and grow, our wishes and demands get to be increasingly complex to the point where our parents are unable to satisfy our “needs” and yet we are compelled to hold our parents perfect and demand continued satisfaction. Could it be that this “infant experience” has influenced the foundation of how we formed our image of God? If it were so and as long as we hold on to this image, we will never resolve the dilemma of the “POE” anymore than our parents can provide complete satisfaction to our increasing complex needs. Yet we struggle to find every reason to hold them perfect, at times against overwhelming evidence to the contrary.


Well, maybe those books are “inspiring” to some people, but not to others. :wink:


Adventist Self Serving Theodicy
1.Robin, don’t you ever wonder why the Adventist masses don’t get it? Why corporate Adventists keep it quiet from the general public for public relations reasons? Why Adventist scholars avoid it? Why liberal progressive Adventists don’t publicly disown it?

2.I agree with you. The Great Controversy, Adventism’s supposedly unique contribution to Christian thought does not work. Traditional Christian teaching is about God reconciling and saving man. The Adventist ‘good news’ is that we are players on a stage, pawns in some Star Trek movie while God and Christ battle it out with Satan until the extra terrestrials aka ‘the universe’ give the thumbs up. The Adventist gospel is that our salvation is dependent on the whims of extraterrestrials who seem to love blood and guts. This sounds like some esoteric teaching from Scientology.

3.Corporate Adventism has a vested interest to keep re running this movie. It is what brought Adventism into being and justified its existence. The Adventist Church will not survive in its original or current form just with the ‘One Project’. You see, corporate Adventism is the star of the Great Controversy movie. It’s the key player in the last part of the movie. All the extra terrestrials attention turn to the universal Sunday law and the plight of Adventists to keep the Sabbath and without a mediator slog on with a ‘perfect character’ (That is except in Samoa)

4.The corporate Adventist Church is stuck with a Victorian movie made up of plagiarized elements. If it ‘reinvents’ itself’ with a new script there will be a lot of angry old guard people. If it doesn’t it will become more and more irrelevant.

This movie doesn’t sound like a great investment if you are a betting man. And what does it truly say about the character of God? - Edgar


Richard Rohr in his book “Breathing Under Water” has a chapter titled “Only a Suffering God Can Save”.
He quotes Origen from “On Prayer” – Who among those who have read the Gospels does not know that Christ makes human suffering His own?"
He writes — The evidence is overwhelming that God fully allows and does not stop genocides, the abuse of children, brutal wars, unspeakable human an animal suffering, the imprisonment of the innocent, the sexual enslavement of girls, the regular death of whole species and civilizations, the tragic lives of addicts and their codependents… and he “cause” or at least allows “natural” disasters of drought, flood, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, plague, infestation, physical handicap, mental illness, and painful disease of every kind [acts of God] that have made human life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short.
"I do not see any all-powerful God taking power at all. HOW is God loving? There is a workable and loving way through this. God is somehow IN the suffering, participating as a suffering object too, in full solidarity with the world He or She created… At least WE Are Participating In Something Together. ONLY if human suffering is first of all and last of all divine suffering can we begin to connect any dots.
Jesus is not observing human suffering from a distance but is somehow IN human suffering with us and for us. He includes our suffering in the co-redemption of the world. Are we somehow business partners with the divine?
Is suffering necessary to teach us how to love and care for one another? ONLY people who have suffered in some way can save one another. Deep communion and dear compassion is formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure.
Suffering people can love and trust a suffering God. Only a suffering God can “save” suffering people. Those who have passed across this chasm can and will save one another.
Any other god becomes a guilty bystander, and one that you will not deeply trust, much less love.
Jesus is in competition with – Death, Suffering, Tragic sense of life itself. He wins by including it all inside of his body. God hangs with me, through me, toward me. God wants to love and be loved rather than served. How wonderful is that? It turns the history of religion on its head.
Greek dramatist Aeschylus [525 to 456 b.c.] – “He who learns must suffer, And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, Falls drop by drop upon the heart, And in our own despair, against our own will, Comes wisdom to us, by the awful grace of God.” pages 120 to 128.
EDIT ------
If you want to WATCH a great study on Where Is God? I would strongly suggest watching the movie-play titled – GOD ON TRIAL. It is a bunch of Jewish men in their barracks waiting to go to the gas chamber and ask, Did God Break His Contract? And they put God on Trial.


It seems to me that Epicurus’ questions imply a couple of simple statements:

  1. If God were both good and omnipotent, evil would not exist;
  2. Evil exists, therefore God is either bad, or there are limits to His power.

This raises various problems, none the least of which is that some notable Biblical authors believed God was both good, and all-powerful.

Personally I find it easier to explain the Bible in terms of God’s power being finite, than Him being a tyrant.

Thank you Rich, for reminding us that the POE has no easy answers.


Well, I am the one with a sermon about the Evil. Beginning with Konrad Lorenz “Das sogenannte Böse” ( a researcher working with the behavioural patterns of geese : “The So - Called Bad”) and “Das Böse in Religion und Psychotherapie” by Goerres and Rahner. - and, olf course, all those hints and illustartions the Bible gives us - also about the evil dwelling in us ( ! Some protests from the congregationn, only some!) .

Welll - the “Bad” destroys. Here and now an right on. Just the very example I displayed : Compensation for pain here is divided in thre classes : heavy , mid - heavy and light. OK. every event , caused by a human to another human ist thereby evaluated. Now, unconciousness because of head injury or a necessary narcosis means “heavy pain” - it cuts off time of your life totally. But every event that causes a postraumatic stress disorder, fully occupying you and hindering you to follow any personal interest - is heavy pain ( I was expert in the first court file where this new classification could be applied).

Now let us imagine :t he extra work I caused for somebody else - - the sleepless nights one has because
of my offence or my cynical joke about him - - that cost life time, maybe more than smoking a cigarette. An no human being could pay the costs of compensation for his destroying, hurting, offending, blackmailing, gossiping - -

(But : Epicurs problem broadly displayed by Lucretius in his “De natura” in six books, maybe onethousand verses each, is not answered. What about those microorganisms, destroying us and our environment after a living being dies off ?)

Once I will repeat my sermon…


Robert: your statement #1 seem to be a re-statement of “Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?”, except Epicurus asks it in the form of a question, you make a categorical conclusion. And, in #2, you likewise state a conclusion, not pose a dilemma/question.

In this way, I suggest, you are taking a position more extreme than Epicurus - that there is no solution to the POE. That is, it is not actually a problem, we just have to pick one of the undesirable alternatives because no acceptable solution/escape exists.

If this is what you are saying in the comment, I disagree with you. Since you have basically recapitulated Epicurus, I would say that the FWD is a proper start to a full rebuttal, just as the order of arguments in my article suggests. Now, since you have the whole “three innings” available for perusal, I wonder why you backed up to inning 1A and think the game is over?

Gerhard, I’m glad to hear you have tackled the POE in a sermon. May your tribe increase. Actually - full disclosure - I too have preached on the POE, many years ago, but excluded myself in the count in my article text.

I will say, in candor and trying to be fair/charitable to my pastoral friends, that many (if not most) parishioners would not be ready for the challenge and angst dropped on them if the POE were approached in any way like my article. That kind of exposition is not appropriate for a sermon which IMO would need to be skewed in a pastoral POE direction.

So, have I just now undercut the lament I made in the article? Maybe a little, but what I wish pastors could do more is, to begin with, personally have some decent orientation to the POE - as a problem. I seriously question whether the subject is broached at all the their training - even at seminary. I would love to be badly mistaken on this, however. Next, if the pastor understands the problem beyond the GC meme, then they could - in some sort of sermon series (likely not a single talk) - begin to make some headway toward congregational comprehension and recognition that partial answers exist and BAD answers must be rejected.

Bad answers? Basically answers that may be acceptable for a specific instance but unacceptable as a general explanation. One of the more egregious being “all things work together for good”. Serious damage occurs IMO when this, at best contextual, answer is hastily generalized to THE answer.

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Elmer, I found your comment:

both interesting and puzzling. Puzzling because you seem to be inferring that expecting God to be omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent is a limitation. Isn’t this a necessary definition of any God with a capitol G? Thus your phrase “perfect God” would be redundant.

Personally I’m in agreement with Anselm’s definition of God - “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”, where “greater” applies to the above three core characteristics. I think this is pretty orthodox but, orthodoxy be hanged, I think it makes sense and is mandatory for a God definition.

My question is - do you? You seem to be musing that a desire for this Anselmian God is analogous to the longing a child has for a perfect parent. And, as adults, we need to grow up and get realistic. Is this what you are saying?

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