The Problem of Evil is a philosophical question that goes something like this:
If God is omnibenevolent (fully good), omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing), why does evil exist?
Put differently, the problem asks how a good God, fully aware of every evil and fully capable of preventing it, could allow evil to exist.
To answer this question, philosophers and theologians have taken a variety of approaches, leading to a field of study known as theodicy, which specifically attempts to explain and/or prove how a God with these three qualities can coexist with a world rife with evil. However, in thinking about it, I can’t help wondering if we’re not getting ahead of ourselves by posing the question in this way.
Central to my thinking on the matter is this fact, which I consider to be incontrovertible: All evil in our world is perpetuated by human beings. With this in mind, it seems to me that the “Problem of Evil” is operating on a faulty assumption: that the responsibility for evil belongs to God. Only with this assumption already made can we then ask how a good God could allow evil. With a proper understanding of humankind’s sole responsibility for evil as our defining premise, it no longer makes sense to ask how a good God could allow evil; instead, one must ask why God would create this world — specifically, one with human beings (beings capable of doing evil) in it.
To answer this question, it is necessary to consider the nature of what we refer to as “good.” In questioning why God might create a world in which created beings might do and perpetuate evil, the assumption may be that God should simply have created a world populated by creatures not capable of doing evil. The common objection to this is that human beings with free will are superior, their existence more good, than “puppet” beings incapable of choosing how they would act — even though that free will is what leads to evil. However, while I do think that explanation has merit, I would again like to back up and examine the primary assumption of the line of thought that presumes that a world where evil is impossible would be better than one where it is possible.
The nature of any thing or any concept is that, by definition, its existence requires the possibility of its absence. That is, if a thing is, then it must also be possible for it not to be. It is in this context that Albert Einstein is said to have made the point that there is no such thing as darkness, for it is merely the absence of light; and there is no such thing as cold, for it is merely the absence of heat. (It was not, in fact, Einstein who said this, nor did he make the correlating point regarding good and evil, but they are commonly attributed to him.) Light and heat are the things in question, but their existence also creates the possibility of their absence, and darkness and cold are what result wherever they are absent. Similarly, “Einstein” stated that evil is not a thing; it does not exist in and of itself. Rather, evil is the absence of good.
With that in mind, let us return to the question of why God would create a world in which it were possible to do evil. This question relies on a faulty premise, because it assumes that it is possible to create a good world in which evil is not possible. However, since evil is the absence of good; and since the existence of good, by its very definition, requires the possibility of its absence; it follows that without the potential for evil, it is not possible to create a good world. In fact, I would posit that without the potential for evil, it is not possible to make anything good. This question, then, becomes, “Why would God create a good world?” Or, similarly, “Why would God create good?”
Since the very premise of this entire discussion—the Problem of Evil and the subsequent question, “Why would God create a world where evil is possible?”—is the assumption that good is desirable and evil is not, this would seem to be a question that does not need answering. Why should God create good? If that is the question, then the Problem of Evil is irrelevant, for the Problem of Evil takes for granted the goodness, and therefore the desirability, of good. Put another way (because it may seem strange to suggest that good is desirable because it is good): Integral to the definition of good is the fact that it is desirable; better, which is more good, is more desirable. Therefore, the question of why God should create a good world answers itself — because it good, by definition, is desirable.
Working backward from the above, our conclusion must be thus:
Good is necessary, and it is both desirable and praiseworthy that God should have created the thing and concept of good, as well as a world that is good and creatures capable of doing good.
Since good is necessary and its existence is desirable and praiseworthy; and since the existence of good necessitates the possibility of its absence; and since the result of its absence is evil, then the existence of evil is necessary. To eliminate evil would require the elimination of good, which is not an acceptable answer to the Problem of Evil.
In a world where good is possible—and therefore evil, or the absence of good, is also possible—the perpetrators of evil are human beings, not God. Thus, God is responsible for creating a world that is good, populated by species that are good, and that is both good and praiseworthy. The responsibility for evil lies with those who perpetuate it; that is, with human beings, not with God. Therefore, the existence of evil is not contradictory to the goodness of God.
Finally, even with the understanding that God is responsible for creating a good world, and humans alone are responsible for perpetuating evil, there is a more basic, emotional response to the concept of a God that would allow evil. It is rooted in the idea that the result of evil is that people get hurt. How could a loving God allow people to be hurt by the evil actions of others? I believe the points above answer this question more than satisfactorily; nonetheless, I think that there is yet a further answer to this question, and once again it comes down to a faulty assumption.
The assumption is that a loving God would not allow any harm to come to those that he loves. But is this true? In many ways, the relationship between God and people is seen as comparable to that between and parent and a child. Would a parent always prevent harm from coming to his child? Any parent reading this is probably having the following knee-jerk reaction: “Of course I would!”
Would you really?
As a parent, at least for the first 18 years or so, you have the power to control virtually everything your child does. Will you prevent her from getting a broken heart? To do so would be to forbid her from dating; in fact, it may even require preventing her from ever interacting with boys, ever. Would you prevent him from making bad decisions? You could do so, but it would be at the expense of his ever learning to act responsibly for himself. What is the greater good? The reality is that any truly good parent, as much as it pains them, recognizes that they cannot save their children from all pain, harm, and even evil — nor should they. This belies the faulty assumption that a responsible party who is capable of preventing harm and evil from befalling those for whom he is responsible, if he is to be considered good, must do so.
To conclude, I actually believe (though not to such a ridiculous extent, nor in such a ridiculous fashion) that our world is in fact that “best of all possible worlds” that is satirized in Voltaire’s Candide, primarily through the character of Pangloss. While evil is unfortunate, the only way to be rid of it would be to also be rid of good — and that is not an improvement on the nature of our world in any way.