The problem of evil seems to destroy god claims. However, this is only true if we look at life as a very significant component of our existence.
First, let me point out that this is not an argument for the existence of a god. I am simply pointing out flaws in certain arguments against the existence of god. The distinction is one that I made in Towards Being Secular, and one that I unfortunately have to continue to make, since it seems that there is some conflation between the two.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let me try to explain the issue at hand. Many will argue that a god, especially a god like that in the OT or NT cannot be real, because such a god is supposed to be good, and yet many of its actions are evil. Certainly killing large sums of people does appear to be evil, but perspective is incredibly important.
What is life? To us it is everything. However, if there is indeed an existence beyond this life, and that existence is infinite, or even extremely long in comparison to this life, our life means far less than it appears. It is a fleeting moment. There are many analogies involving our mortal existence. I quite like the sparrow analogy (see source). However, there are a few useful analogies, which help to explain why arguments which reject the existence of a god, based on the existence of pain and suffering, or the acts of killing books like the Old Testament and New Testament, are not quite as strong as we may want to believe.
Imagine being on a playground as a child when suddenly a bully kicks you out. Being thrown off a playground seems benign in comparison to death, but perspective is important. How horrible would you feel after being kicked off the playground? You might cry. You might be incredibly angry. Of course, it’s a silly thing to get so worked up about. It’s just a few minutes on a playground, out of your entire life. But to a child, a few minutes of play can be very important.
Similarly, imagine having your summer vacation cut short as a child. This analogy may be one of the best to explain the perspective issue. At least in America, summer vacation is quite long. And for children, it sometimes feels like a lifetime. Of course, as we grow older, summer vacation feels shorter and shorter. If there is an afterlife, whether eternal or just extremely long, our current existence would be quite similar.
Now imagine a god, who would be much like a teacher or a parent. If such a being told us to “get off the playground” we might be incredibly upset. However, it is very different from a bully kicking us off, is it not? Sure, it may not feel all that much different to us, but the adult has a very different perspective. If the adult thinks that we need to leave the playground he or she is probably right. Likewise, if an adult says that you need to give up your summer vacation because your grades are failing, it’s very different from just having your summer vacation (your life) taken from you.
Whichever analogy is used, the key is perspective. The argument that a god who decides when it is time to live or die or who allows suffering in life, is only clearly evil, if we assume that this life is the only one that we have: that it is so terribly significant. Of course, just as a bully should never kick a child off a playground, we should not be eager to take the life of another person. If the analogy holds true, we are children, not adults. We don’t get to make those decisions.
- What Would an Eternal Afterlife Feel Like?
- The Oxford Companion to Philosophy New Edition (Amazon)