How does Christianity respond to the argument from the problem of evil?

One argument against a traditional notion of God (omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent) is to point out various bad things that happen, that it seems God could stop. Yet, He doesn’t. Therefore, there probably isn’t God in the sense understood.

How does Christianity respond?

The first step is to start with context. Christianity begins as a response to various bad things that happen. As a response, it advocates loving your enemies, forgiving, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, and so on. In this context, it is odd that bad things that happen are used as an argument against Christianity, when Christianity starts as a response to bad things happening.

The second step, and the standard classical response, is that God gave humans and angels free will, and this is the path to the greatest good. Yet, it must therefore introduce the possibility of suboptimal actions. So, many of the bad things in the world are a result of free will.

The third step is to look at where the bulk of human suffering is. It’s actually emotional, and in particular anxiety caused by thinking about the future and sadness from thinking about the past. Eckhart Tolle gets things right here – it is our own misuse of our minds which causes a large majority of human suffering. By returning to and being aware in the moment, which is the gateway to God’s presence, we remove much of the suffering. This is reflected in the story of the Garden of Eden – we are separated from God, and this is why original sin is an important element of the Biblical arc. Original sin points towards an inherited state of separation. It is only through a way back to God – embodied in Jesus and his teachings – that we can be reunited with God. Once we are reunited with God, there is much less in the way of emotional suffering.

The fourth step is to look at the metaphysical context. If you die, only to be united in eternal bliss with God, death no longer seems like a bad thing. Similarly, if you suffer from acute physical pain for 3 years, but then go to an eternity of bliss, whatever plan it was that brought that about doesn’t seem like such a bad plan, even though it involved suffering. Similarly, if something suboptimal happens, but it paves the way for future success, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing in the end.

In sum, do these considerations go all the way to addressing the intuitive appeal of arguments against the existence of something like God by reference to bad things happening? For me, they lessen the straightforwardness of the argument, even though I think it still has emotional impact.

Yet, it seems to me what is central to Christianity isn’t an omnipotent, omniscient God understood in the classical sense, but rather aligning with God (which is to say, the Good) and then taking action. Perhaps, at the end of the day, omnipotence, say, has to be understood in some significantly different way than the classical sense, but that doesn’t change the central thrust of Christianity – love God and one another.

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