Semantically, Thomas is actually asking for a personal reason Christians can love a God that passively allows tragedy to occur. But I’m going to interpret him charitably here, assuming Thomas is asking for a theodicy: a logically argued resolution to the problem of evil in a world run by an omnipotent, omniscient God who could end evil but doesn’t.
Interesting omission here: Theodicy is only an issue if one tries to claim that Yahweh is infinitely good
, as well as possessing the other "omni-" attributes. If he's malevolent or indifferent, the question never comes up. The author here rephrases the issue to "how can Christians love
a god that could end evil but doesn't." Well, that's easy: they're just kissing the ass of (imagined) power. Anything Yahweh does is fine with them, as long as they get to believe they're on his good side (and he won't do any of the really
horrible stuff to them, plus *~HEAVEN~*), and they can attribute their prejudices and power-lusts onto him while representing themselves as his messengers and courtiers. Megalomania by proxy.
Infinite wisdom, as the author of the target piece argues, isn’t really all that satisfying. Neither is the related “mystery” of God.
I’ve never really been that big a fan of the “free will defense,” since the Bible shows God quashing free will. However, the instances of God upholding free will vastly outnumber the instances of him preventing sin. So I think that free will, while not the answer, is a component of the bigger picture.
If "free will" is not a principle
--something that Yahweh must
permit because reasons--then it can't excuse the existence of any particular evil. If Yahweh can quash free will in this or that arbitrary case, then he could have quashed free will to prevent Hitler and Stalin from going into politics. That he didn't becomes a choice
he made. It cannot be said, "Yahweh had to allow the Holocaust and World War Two because Free Will" if he actually had the option
of quashing free will whenever he wanted to. Thus, the "free will defense" defends nothing.
Greater good isn’t all that great by itself. Strobel’s Case for Faith has a great analogy about a bear trap. Suppose a bear is caught in a trap and you decide to free it. You can’t possibly do so without causing the animal more pain than he’s in, and there’s no possible way to explain to the animal that his increased pain will actually lead to total freedom. And so he’ll lash out at you while you try to free him in a misplaced effort to defend himself.
We lash out at God for people dying in tsunamis and for innocents getting shot in a movie theater. But what if all this is just part of the ultimate plan designed to free us from this bear trap? What if the pains we see and the suffering we endure are really leading up to the day when none of this pain and strife will be necessary? When the metaphorical hunter finally releases our leg and we can scamper pain-free into the woods?
Um...OK, but what if you had the power to make the bear trap disappear by snapping your fingers? What if you could talk to bears and have them understand you perfectly? What if you could magically numb the bear's pain, or were invulnerable to the bear's claws? What if you had infinite infallible foresight, so that you could go and remove the trap before the bear ever steps in it? What if you have all those abilities, and don't use them
--then get mad at the bear for lashing out at you and decide to set it on fire instead of releasing it from the trap? Are you still a good person?
If Yahweh is an omnimax with perfect, infallible foresight, and he created this Cosmos and the spirit realm and all the spirit beings, etc., etc., all in accordance with his flawlessly-executed designs, then he controls all the parameters
. There's no way to give him plausible deniability unless you start taking things out of his control.
"He didn't know, or if he did, there was nothing he could do about it, he's innocent!" Christians love bragging up Yahweh's dialed-to-infinity super-attributes too much to ever make admissions like that.
I don’t think it’s the whole picture, but I think that the greater good defense has some merit to it.
This means I see merit to both free will and the greater good. And I think a synthesis of the two is the answer to all questions related to theodicy. Which leads me toward something I might call the Education Defense for Evil — it is necessary to have evil in this world to reveal God’s full character (wrath, love, and mercy), bring full glory to God at the culmination of history, and to reveal our own nature.
You actually want to go there? Okaaaay...
So what have we learned about Yahweh today, class? First and foremost, he's a glory hog. If children dying of smallpox gives him glory, he'll make sure it happens. His motivations are entirely selfish (get glory, "reveal his character," i.e. show off). Notice that the first
personality attribute he needs to exhibit is his wrath
. In other words, a world where Yahweh has no excuse to get angry and hurt other beings is not a world Yahweh wants. Yahweh cannot feel genuine moral outrage at "sin," because he needs
it to exist, so he can "reveal" what a badass he is when he's angry. But he can't heal amputees because that would reveal--ow, my head hurts.
Of course this means his "love" and "mercy" are just as fake as his "morality." Having created beings for such selfish and petty aims as self-glorification and flaunting himself (while also remaining perfectly hidden--it probably gives him glory or something, I guess), he's clearly not acting in genuine love or mercy for them
. Yahweh doesn't get to invent childhood leukemia "for his glory," then preen around saying he loves, loves, loves the little children, and he's ever so merciful because at least they eventually die.
Oh, and by the way, the "Mysterious Ways" defense is out. You don't get to say, "The Holocaust and guinea worms boring through flesh and parasitic wasp larvae tearing their way out of the bodies of living caterpillars like alien chest-bursters reveals Yahweh's character" and then wheel around and say, "Ooooh, he's sooo mysteeeeeerious <spooky hand gesture> that he and his deeds are beyond human ken!" "Revealed" means revealed.
OK then, so the suffering of humans and animals--all of it
, no matter how horrible, plus the everlasting torture of countless billions of people in Hell--is there to reveal Yahweh's character. What does that say about him?