Evil: Another Approach
A different way of discussing evil has its
place. But we should perhaps recognise that it is more an examination of the
ways we think, than a description of God acting in the world at large. I
rely heavily on T P Rebard 
for some of the following brief summary.
Stating the problem
God is defined as all-loving and all-powerful. Evil exists. So either
God can't get rid of evil or God chooses not to do so. If the former, then
God isn't all-powerful. If the latter, then God isn't all-loving.
Thinking it through
The chain of reasoning above is clearly sound. The only part of it
which might be incorrect are the two starting points:
[a] God is
[b] God is all-powerful.
Is God all-loving?
A traditional Christian approach is to think of God as loving and
therefore kind. As far as I can tell this perception is the result of taking
Paul seriously in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 13.4):
Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or
arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable
or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoings, but rejoices in the
truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
endures all things.
I don't suppose that this masterful summary will ever lose its punch.
But we should keep in mind that it's not meant to be a theological or
philosophical statement. It is addressed to ordinary people in a new
Christian group. It's pastoral guidance not abstract thought.
Rebard says that love may not always be what we usually term "kind". I
think what he's getting at is that our understanding of kindness derives
from the way we're brought up. It's not a first principle as is love. For
Some cultures are such that its members never come into contact
with the act of slaughtering an animal for food. They buy meat
ready-packed. For them, there is no "blood and guts".
It's not surprising, therefore, that many in such cultures think
that being "kind" to animals is important.
In another culture, the slaughter of animals is a regular social,
public event. In this context "kindness" is not at issue. An animal is a
valued resource to be nurtured and then eaten.
Kindness is not the important point in relation to love. Rebard gives
... it may well be kind to tell the wife of a dying man that he is
doing satisfactorily, but it is unloving and dishonest. Such a claim
does violence to the intellect and the dignity of the person; it does
not will the good, the truth. Kind, maybe, but loving, no.
He concludes that
To love ... is to incline to the good in one way or another,
according to circumstances.
In other words, love may also show kindness. But love has the overall
good of the other at heart. Loving action is therefore a matter of
calculating what is good. As a result, the other may experience loving
action as unkind: "I do this for your good, even though it pains you now."
If one thinks of God as a sort of powerful person somehow "out there" (theism),
we might suppose that our difficulties are created by an unworkable
C S Lewis makes this analogy .
It is tempting to see God through cultural glasses. When we do that, we're
rather like a young puppy which, when disciplined might well doubt his
master's goodness. But a full-grown dog which has been properly trained
... a whole world of affections, loyalties, interests,
and comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny [and] would have no such
doubts ... We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God
that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses - that He would
give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural
selves: but once again, we are asking not for more Love, but for less.
Love is bigger than kindness. Love may be painful to
give - and receiving it may be hurtful - because it requires not
kindness but the perfection of the beloved.
The upshot is that what we may call evil because it
results in pain or suffering is loving if it comes from God.
Is God all-powerful?
This is a traditional concept of God stretching back from today to the
earliest times of the Hebrew religion. It is the assertion that the word
"God" expresses that which has no limit to its power over everything in
To put it another way, everything in the universe
derives its power from, and is subordinate to, the Creator.
Both Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas asserted that God's
power must necessarily be limited. If God can do what is logically
impossible, then all sense of meaning disappears from the world. Our very
thought processes depend upon the principle of contradiction.
other words, no word can refer at the same time to two different
objects. This can be expressed symbolically: If p (a white cat) then ~p
(not a cat of any other colour). This is the logical rule of the Excluded
Middle. If an all-powerful God were to nullify this logical framework, we
would be cast into a meaningless existence.
It seems, then,
that omnipotence is not the power to bring about an impossible state of
affairs. Not even God can make 2 + 2 = 5 or a cube into a triangle. To do
so would be to destroy creation itself - or at least to destroy the way we
humans appear to necessarily understand the world, which is the
same thing as saying humanity would be destroyed.
Perhaps it might
help to pose a conundrum. Is it possible for God, who is by definition
all-powerful, to create a stone so heavy that God can't move it? If not,
then God fails to bring about a state of affairs in which God is not
all-powerful? In which case, God is not all-powerful.
All this appears
nonsensical in the real world. But it is important to try to establish the
limits of language, since language is our only way of stating meaning.
One solution is
to propose that God is not all-powerful, that some things are made
impossible by God's inherent nature. Thus to say that God is loving is
also to say that God's power is limited. Love is applied to the creation,
which includes ourselves. If we are to achieve our full human potential,
which necessarily includes the capacity to choose freely (in some matters,
though not all), then God's power must by definition be limited. God's
power is contingent upon God's nature.
 The Problem of Evil Revisited, T P Rebard
 Situation Ethics, J Fletcher, 1966
 The Problem of Pain, 1940