Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Omni-Charateristics of God (Part 5: The Problem of Evil)

This will be my fifth post in a five part series discussing the common characteristics of God and how I see them in light of my universalism. The five parts are:
  1. Omnibenevolence (God is all-loving)
  2. Omnipresence (God is present everywhere in space and time)
  3. Omniscience (God is all-knowing, past, present, and future)
  4. Omnipotence (God is all-powerful)
  5. The Problem of Evil (The question of why, if God has the above 4 characteristics, evil exists in the universe)
In my final post in this series, I will discuss what is commonly called the Problem of Evil. Basically, why does pain and suffering exist in the world, if God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent? For me, it is the most significant problem in theology.  Before I begin writing, I wish to make one thing clear. Many philosophers and theologians have proposed solutions to these problems, and others have created counter-arguments. However, I do not wish to give an overview of these arguments. Dozens of books have been written on this subject, and I doubt I am able to do a better job than them. What I desire is to write about my personal thoughts on this dilemma from the perspective of my universalism. 

Our world is full of suffering. Natural disasters, plagues, famines, wars, and death. No individual on this planet can escape pain for his or her entire life. Yet, we are told that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. How can this be?

In the creation story of Genesis, the Fall of Man is brought about when Adam and Eve gain the knowledge of good and evil. This is often seen to be humankind's downfall. If only Eve had obeyed God and not eaten the fruit! Yet, I feel too few people critically think about this story. What is it that separates us from other animals? Consciousness, free-will and morality. Because we are self-aware and free, we have the ability to make decisions, not on instinct, but on knowing the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. If we had not eaten the fruit of this tree, we would be innocent. But innocent is not good. For how can one be good if one does not know what good is?

Yes, the knowledge of good and evil is a burden. It makes our lives infinitely more complicated than bacteria, plants, or animals. And our ability to choose means we will choose wrong, and we will suffer. But who would honestly give up that knowledge? Theoretically, an "innocent" person could kill millions. Of course, they would not be evil, because they would not know their actions are evil. To me, the thought is terrifying. Without this choice, we cannot better ourselves. Without this choice, we cannot become more like God. I believe God knew exactly what kind of universe He was making. He knew the pain it would involve. I doubt He made this decision lightly. But He also knew the kind of creatures it would eventually create. Not ignorant robots, but human beings not only made in His image, but who learned to grow into His image.

Theoretically, God has the power to stop all suffering. Yet, I believe God gave us free-will. Truthfully, it was probably the hardest thing God has ever done, just as it is hard for any parent to send a child into the world, knowing the child will suffer. But God knows we must make these choices for ourselves for them to have any true meaning. We cannot remain children forever. God desires a relationship with beings who can understand Him, at least in some small way. And the only way God has the power to achieve this is to give up His control over us and grant us the ability to choose, the ability to learn.

Evil, however, can only be defeated by love. God's love, unlike His knowledge or His power, has no limits. Yet, it cannot prevent our current suffering. God loves us so much, He is willing to let us suffer now for a greater existence later. I realize this is probably little comfort to those in pain. What I do find comforting, however, if knowing that we do not suffer alone. God suffers with us. Every tear we shed is matched by one of His. God's love for us allowed Him to create a universe where we would learn the difference between good and evil. God's love for us allowed Him to give us free-will. God's love for us allows us to love Him back.

As a universalist, I believe God never abandons a single soul, no matter how "evil" it may be. God sees our suffering and understands our sins. He wants nothing more than to guide us toward Him. Yet He would never force us. God desires freely given love, for love forcibly taken is worthless. Evil is the absence of love, and God works tirelessly to reveal His love in a way which does not violate our free-will. Yet God does not work in vain. Although I may not understand why certain terrible events occur, I trust God to hold us through the pain. Eventually, I believe, it will be worth it. By learning the difference between good and evil, we will become more like God and truly be His children. During the painful journey, we must remember not only our destination, but the loving Father who is with us every single step of the way, who will wait until every single one of His children comes home. We must remember His promise: 

God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)


  1. Thank you for commenting on my blog "Reflections".I am reposting this comment here on your blog because I was afraid you might not see it on mine. I went to your blog and discovered your health problem. I am sending positive intentions your way. hang in there.

    If you have read my "about" at the top of my blog, you will see we share much....with the exception of age! lol! After about six years of this journey of discovery to find the real "ground of all being", I am beginning to experience the pain of separation from Christian friends, in this case, close family. I hope this never happens to you. It was partly the result of one of my sons being gay. I know it is the "Ying and the Yang", the hot and the cold, the good and the bad. I am making my way through this. Your age will almost assure you that you too, as you said, will be subject to negative feelings from Christians who claim to love as God loves. I strive to let others believe as they will. It is very difficult when I see them throught the lens of my own past. It helps me understand them better when I realize that a few years ago that was ME. Please come again and comment. Good health to you! Don Rogers

  2. I originally posted this comment on my blog, but I want to post it here too, as it has been awhile since your comment was posted. Sorry about that.

    I am deeply sorry about what has happened with your sons. I don't have children, so I cannot imagine how painful that must be.

    I write my blog under a pseudonym so that it is not discovered by my family. Unfortunately, because I do not hide my liberal political beliefs, I have been alienated from family before. I do not know my biological father's family and my mother's family has all passed away, so my remaining "family" members are from my step-father's family. They are conservative both politically and religiously. Most of them are involved in a Southern Baptist church. Several of them refused to have anything to do with me from the time I was born, since I was not truly one of them. Others, however, distanced themselves from me during my teens, as I became more outspoken about my liberal beliefs. My step-father himself has become distant and, at times, angry. If they saw what I wrote here, it would be a scandal.

    Luckily, my friends are accepting of me. None of them share my religious beliefs, but I can freely discuss them without fear in their company. We are a very diverse group and we respect and value our differences. I am blessed to have them in my life, especially my best friend and my boyfriend.

    The conflict with my family has been difficult. However, I am happy that I found this path at a relatively young age. Despite my family's strong religious beliefs, it does not seem like they derive any pleasure from them. They talk about how loving and forgiving Jesus was, but they are not loving and forgiving people. I am glad that I did not turn out that way or that I did not spend years of my life terrified by the idea of Hell. Most Christians seem able to just brush this way. Maybe it is because they are so convinced they are going to Heaven. But I would have been perpetually terrified.

    As you say, I am also "making my way through this". All the pain is worth it in the end, because I am now able to actually love God, because I know He loves me absolutely unconditionally and that I never have to be afraid of Him or what He might do to me. His love sustains me during the worst days and the darkest nights.