Evil, Pain, Suffering, Theodicy

Everything Happens For A Reason

‘Everything happens for a reason’ they say. God is love and never gives us more than we can handle. God has His hand in everything. No matter what we are going through, He is there. He can do miracles. Nothing is impossible with God.

Here’s a story that you may or may not have heard before. It’s the story of Kelly Anne Bates via wikipedia:

On 17 April 1996 Smith presented at a police station and said that he had accidentally killed his girlfriend during an argument in the bath, claiming that she had inhaled bathwater and died despite his attempts to resuscitate her. Police attended Smith’s address and found Bates’ naked body in a bedroom. Bates’ blood was found in every room of the house, and a post-mortem examination revealed over 150 separate injuries on her body. During the last month of her life she had been kept bound in the house, sometimes tied by her hair to radiators or chairs, and at other times with a ligature around her neck.[1][2] William Lawler, the Home Office pathologist who examined her body, said: “In my career, I have examined almost 600 victims of homicide but I have never come across injuries so extensive.”[3] The injuries included:[1][2][3]

  • scalding to her buttocks and left leg;
  • burns on her thigh caused by the application of a hot iron;
  • a fractured arm;
  • multiple stab wounds caused by knives, forks and scissors;
  • stab wounds inside her mouth;
  • crush injuries to both hands;
  • mutilation of her ears, nose, eyebrows, mouth, lips and genitalia;
  • wounds caused by a spade and pruning shears;
  • both eyes gouged out;
  • later stab wounds to the empty eye sockets;
  • partial scalping.

The pathologist determined that her eyes had been removed “not less than five days and not more than three weeks before her death”.[3] She had been starved, losing around 20 kg in weight, and had not received water for several days before her death. Peter Openshaw, the prosecutor in Smith’s trial, said: “It was as if he deliberately disfigured her, causing her the utmost pain, distress and degradation … The injuries were not the result of one sudden eruption of violence, they must have been caused over a long period [and] were so extensive and so terrible that the defendant must have deliberately and systematically tortured the girl.”[1] The cause of death was drowning, immediately prior to which she had been beaten about the head with a shower head.[3] Openshaw said: “Her death must have been a merciful end to her torment”.[7]

The problem of suffering is one of the most common arguments against God. But it’s still one of the most devastating. Here is why:

God is omnipotent according to Christianity. This means he has all power. No force can stop him. What he wants to do, he can do without any hesitation. Whether Satan is at work or not, God ultimately is in charge and in control.

God is also the creator of all things according to Christianity. He designed our bodies. This means every nerve that sends pain signals to our brains was created by him. Psychopathic people were born that way because God allowed them to be, or created them that way. Torture techniques are only effective because God allows the pain.

I want you to think about Bates’ suffering. Her pain and agony. Picture yourself as a father or mother, watching this happen. Picture yourself having the power to stop it, and not doing anything.

If everything happens for a reason, why would I ever want to find out the reason for this, or live with the Being whose purpose and plan it was? Who’s really in charge here?

A popular argument to explain suffering and evil goes something like this: ‘true love cannot exist without free will, and free will cannot exist without evil, therefore God is good because He created free will’. The premise of the argument is built on the hypothesis that evil is necessary for free will to exist, and that God is limited by this fact. But if this were true, God would not be all-powerful, since the assumption is that He could not have created free will without evil being a necessary side effect. But an omnipotent God most certainly could have created free will without evil, unless we are willing to deem Him subservient to a hypothetical external law.

The only way to rationalize the existence of suffering is to conclude that God wanted it to exist. Anything less would make Him an impotent divine consequentialist. This is why I don’t believe I could ever again call God ‘good’, since he must have wanted rape, murder and torture to exist for the sake of rape, murder, and torture. An omnipotent God cannot claim that it is the ‘lesser evil’ when He sets the rules to begin with. He could’ve created a better world right here, without suffering, and still allowed free will and true love, because nothing is impossible for him. To say he couldn’t would be an insult to his omnipotence.

A common response is that God did create a place like that called Heaven, but that does not eliminate the fact that God still wanted this type of suffering to exist, even temporarily. Add Hell on top of that, and you’ve got a God with a serious sadistic streak. If Kelly Anne Bates did not accept Christ, then she is in Hell, where she will burn forever according to Christianity. What good father would knowingly let their child be blinded, scalded, tortured, stabbed and drowned, then throw them in fire where they would burn forever?

Not one I would ever want to have a personal relationship with.

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How 1 Enoch Destroyed My View of Biblical Infallibility

The issue that ultimately tipped me over the edge and caused me to change my beliefs a few months ago was the relationship between a collection of pseudepigraphical Jewish intertestamental writings called the Book of Enoch and the Bible. Some of the biblical writers (Jude and 1-2 Peter in particular) based their theology off of traditions paralleled in it. If anyone doubts the connection, read this article:  http://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/the-book-of-enoch-as-the-background-to-1-peter-2-peter-and-jude/

Example A is 1 Peter 3:18-20, which cannot be adequately explained without the story chronicled in the Book of Watchers (earliest section of 1 Enoch). Trust me, I tried very hard. Yet I knew enough about the story of the Watchers to know what was clearly being alluded to.

The writer of 1 Peter says that Jesus was:

“…put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” (1 Pet. 3:18-20 NRSV)

The Greek word here for “spirits” (pneuma) is never used anywhere else in the Bible to refer to humans in all 383 occurrences. So this obviously could not be referring to Jesus preaching to men in Hell as is often thought, or even to wicked men before the flood (as some suggest this passage means that Jesus went back in time to preach to them). It must refer to either angels or demons based on the biblical usage of the word.

In short, the Book of Enoch contains the story of angels who left the heavenly realm, came down and had sex with women on earth, which led to the birth of the nephilim (described as giants as tall as trees), the offspring of humans and angels. The wickedness of the angels and nephilim led to the flood, in which the nephilim were wiped out and the disobedient angels were imprisoned. The nephilim were believed to have survived as demons upon death due to being part-angel.

So either an angel or nephilim-turned-demon could be described as a pneuma and both were disobedient before the flood when Noah was building an ark. And Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 both mention angels being bound and imprisoned as they are in the Book of Enoch. So we have “spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah” in the Book of Enoch. Seems the only logical conclusion is that the writer of 1 Peter based his theology off of Enochic traditions. This troubled me deeply as a Christian. How could I trust anything written in the books if they are pulling from sources such as these?

Then Jude 14-15 directly quotes 1 Enoch 1:9:

It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.””

Now we have a dilemma. From this quotation we could conclude that either:

a) This was a real prophecy of Enoch recorded in the Book of Enoch, and the Book of Enoch contains prophecy. This is a problem because the Book of Enoch is incredibly strange (not to mention containing a differing view of how sin entered the world). The evangelical community would just as soon accept the Book of Mormon as they would the Book of Enoch. It would also mean that for 2000 years or so the church has neglected an inspired book of Scripture.

b) This was not a real prophecy of Enoch and the writer of Jude was in error. This would mean that the Bible is fallible.

I chose b. And there is a significant reason why I chose it. We know that the Book of Watchers (the section of 1 Enoch that was quoted) was written sometime around 200 BCE, far removed from the antediluvian patriarch Enoch. So it is impossible for the Book of Enoch to have been written by Enoch himself. Therefore, when the writer of Jude claimed that it was a prophecy of Enoch, he was wrong.

Some have tried to argue that Jude was not quoting The Book of Enoch, but rather a prophecy of his that just happened to be included in the book. I find this explanation highly improbable. Could an oral or written quote from Enoch really have survived by transmission through Noah’s family and on through their descendants for 1700 years or so until 200 BCE, get written down in Enoch, then written down a couple centuries later in Jude with Jude having no intention of referencing the Book of Enoch? And why would God make such a theory look so improbable if that is the case? Another reason to doubt this is because the entire book of Jude is filled with allusions to the Book of Enoch, which means that he probably was quoting directly from it. Also, Jude alludes to the Assumption of Moses as well, which shows that he had no problem referencing extra-biblical sources, and thus there is no reason to assume he wasn’t quoting 1 Enoch here.

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The Bible

The Law and Sin

As shown in my previous article, morality must come from God in order to maintain a Christian worldview; and divine command theory states that God’s commands establish morality. It is a Christian’s moral duty to obey God’s commands. Whenever a human breaks one of God’s commands, it is called sin.

We must recognize that the concept of sin in Judaism was any violation of the Mosaic Law, since it was believed to have been established by God himself. Sin was not an abstract moral concept, but a matter of disregarding religious imperatives.

When Christianity emerged in the first century, there was often confusion regarding what constituted sin. Some believed that the Mosaic Law was still in effect, while others said it was null and void. This was an especially important issue as Christianity largely became a Gentile (non-Jewish) movement. Many had questions about whether Gentiles should observe the Law, or whether they should observe parts of it , or even whether Jews should observe it at all. In the Bible we can observe evidence of these disputes (Gal. 2; Acts 15:1-29; Gal. 5:1-12; Rom. 2:12-29; 1 Co. 7:17-20).

The question of how much of the Law was to be observed was an important one. After all, if Christianity’s moral system is based upon the commands of God, it is of paramount importance to determine what commands are to be observed. Despite the insistence that God’s commands are found in the Bible, not all of them are considered binding for Christians. This is due to a view called supersessionism; which teaches that since the Mosaic Law (contained in the Old Testament) was established under the old covenant (for pre-Christian Jews only), it is now no longer binding for those under the new covenant (Christians). The writings of Paul and the book of Hebrews teach this to some degree.

However, this cut-and-dry approach is not without serious flaws. For example, if the entire Mosaic Law is now void, what constitutes sin?

The early church grappled with this, and Paul even addressed those who would claim that Paul was teaching lawlessness:

“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:15-16 NRSV)

Paul upheld the view that sin was still to be avoided. Yet the question obviously still remains: what constitutes sin? How much of the Law is void, and how much of it is still valid? Many would be surprised to learn that in one passage Jesus taught that all of the Mosaic Law would always be binding:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:17-20 NRSV)

What is often missed when examining this passage is the fact that Jesus was affirming the continuity of the Mosaic Law. He claimed that he did not come to abolish the Law, which conflicts with Paul’s assertion that he “has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances” (Eph. 2:15). Also, in the context, the “commands” Jesus mentioned could not have been any other moral commands than those contained within the Law. The significance of this is that Paul actually did teach others to break commands of the law (circumcision and the Sabbath in particular); precisely what Jesus warned not to do.

The Mosiac Law could be divided into two basic categories: 1) purification requirements and 2) behavioral prohibitions. After the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE, it became impossible to fulfill all of the purification requirements of Judaism. Many sacrifices and ceremonies could no longer be practiced in the way prescribed in the Mosaic Law. Christianity was no doubt affected by this, as questions regarding observance of the Law could no longer include most of the purification rites.

In contrast, some of the behavioral prohibitions were adopted by Christianity (such as those against sexual immorality and idol worship). But now, with a supersessionist view of the Mosaic Law, how can one establish these moral commands as binding? The church obviously needed to have it’s own set of authoritative rules to establish morality.

I believe this eventually led to the formation of the New Testament. Churches began to accept the writings of certain Christian authors as authoritative, and inspired by God. With this view, the Christian church could now have it’s own binding moral commands apart from the Jewish scriptures.

The church eventually accepted both the Jewish and Christian scriptures as authoritative, although the Jewish writings held considerably less weight. The Christian writers of the first century, such as Paul had become the voices of Christian morality, as Jewish heritage faded into the background. Sin became what Paul and Jesus, Peter, John and James said was sin. They and the early church determined what Christians would retain of the Mosaic Law and what they would disregard.

Although the ten commandments are often used as the foundation for Christian morality, they were a part of the now-defunct Mosaic Law. And the fourth command regarding the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-10) was specifically made void by Paul (Col. 2:16-17). To this day Christians do not observe the Sabbath in the way prescribed in the Mosaic Law; thus violating the command. Obviously even the ten commandments are no longer binding for Christians. So why does the church still act as if they are? And how did Paul, a mere human, nullify a previous divine command?

As mentioned before, the writings of the early church eventually superseded the Jewish scriptures and the morality prescribed by the apostles and Jesus became the new law per se. Whatever Paul, Peter and Jesus deemed no longer applicable, became void. An amalgamation of Mosaic commands and Hellenistic ideals became the new morality of Christianity.

However, until the rise of protestantism in the early 16th century, the church was governed primarily by the teachings of their leaders, as opposed to a fully authoritative book; although the writings of the Bible were seen as the foundation for beliefs. This transition to biblical infallibility as opposed to church infallibility heightened the emphasis on early apostolic authority.

As I have argued in a previous article, the belief in biblical infallibility and divine inspiration is incredibly circular. There is no compelling reason to believe that Paul and the apostles were infallible when they wrote the New Testament. They were human, not divine. But I believe that for most Christians, the need for an authoritative collection of writings prevails. And that is how religious morality is developed. You choose a book or collection of writings, believe it to be infallible, and hold people accountable to what is written. Even if there is no evidence that the writings of Paul for example, were direct commands from God, the desire for black-and-white morality is stronger. This circularity is no longer desirable or necessary for the shaping of morals in a post-enlightenment world.

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The Christian Delusion of Absolute and Objective Morality

If you are familiar with religious philosophy, you may have heard of the Euthyphro dilemma, which originated in the writings of the Greek philosopher Plato. The essence of this conundrum is the question of whether morality comes from God, or whether it exists independent of him. Over the ages the question has been taken up by legions of religious and moral thinkers. The conclusions drawn from it can affect how we view human rights and religious duty; which in turn influences the moral constitution of society.

Christianity teaches that God is omnipotent. There is no rival to him, nor is his power limited by any external force. The logical conclusion of this is that morality comes from God and is not independent of him. Otherwise, by saying that God cannot choose that which is evil, we are saying that God is limited to act according to an external law of morality. Another difficulty with this view is that an external moral law is hypothetical, and does not appear to exist. And if it did, God would not be required for morality to exist; which would sufficiently justify secular moralism.

The mainstream view among Christians is that God is good by nature. What He does and what He commands is always good, because His nature is inherently good. But if that which we consider to be morally good is not defined by an external, objective law, then what defines it?

Divine Command Theory

This ultimately boils down to what is called divine command theory; which says that a principle or action is only, and always, good because God defines it as good. Everything which God does or commands is good because it comes from God.

There are many problems with this theory. First of all, this means that no command from God can be immoral, even if it includes acts which violate basic human rights. No clearer consequence of this can be seen than in the Old Testament, where God often commanded mass genocide, including women and children (1 Sam. 15:3; Duet. 20:16-17). In some passages the Israelites were commanded to keep virgins for themselves and kill all the women who had slept with men (Num. 31:17-18; Judg. 21:10-12). Dispensationalism does not solve the dilemma that if God really did command mass genocide today, as he purportedly did in the OT, Christians would be morally obligated to obey.

When violent Muslim extremists commit mass genocide, or rape women, there is no way to prove that God did not command it. Muslim extremists have an unfalsifiable claim to divine justification. According to this philosophy, there is no objective way to argue in defense of human rights without proving the absence of a divine command. And a Christian cannot argue that God could not command something like that, since according to the Bible he did. If God hypothetically did command Muslims to take actions such as this, they would be good and moral according to divine command theory.

Secondly, according to divine command theory, the absence of divine revelation prohibiting a specific action affords no moral foundation by which one can argue against it. The Bible does not cover every moral issue specifically. For example, slavery is never prohibited in the Bible, and was arguably legitimized (Lev. 25:44-46). Under divine command theory there would be no moral argument against slavery. Slaves are commanded in the Bible to obey their masters, even when enduring harsh treatment (1 Pet. 2:18; Col. 3:22; Eph. 6:5-7). And Exodus 21:20-21 only prohibits the beating of slaves if they die within a couple of days of the beating; the justification for this is that “the slave is the owner’s property.”


Another significant problem has to do with semantics. Under divine command theory, God’s actions cannot be judged objectively. This ultimately reduces many attributes of God expressed in the Bible to meaningless claims. For example, to say that God is loving or just implies a positive objective judgement of his character. Under divine command theory, the ultimate meaning of these praises is reduced to nothing more than ‘God is God’, since the claim that ‘God is loving or just’ is unfalsifiable. God’s character and actions can never be deemed unloving or unjust, which eliminates the possibility of a positive judgement.

Is God Moral?

Many Christians believe that God’s actions and commands in the Bible are consistent with each other; but it can be decisively shown that if God’s commands create morality, he is not bound by them. And as shown previously, there are even times when he commanded that they be broken.

For example, I don’t think it’s necessary to list all of the times that God takes life in the Bible. It is simply viewed as his prerogative. Yet the ten commandments include the command: “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). If God establishes morality by his commands, then he has shown himself to be above them in every way, and as in the case of OT genocide, he has even commanded that humans disregard his moral law for specific purposes. This means that God cannot be judged by any moral standards, and is thus amoral by nature.

How Should We Determine Morality?

There is no objective and static moral law if we take divine command theory to it’s logical conclusion. God’s commands are all that matter. What is disturbing about this is that we have no clear criterion for determining what actually constitutes divine revelation. How could one go about this without creating a subjective methodology? Surely, if Christians were to create a truly objective criterion for determining divine revelation, either most or all of the Bible would fail to meet it, or many non-Christian claims of divine revelation would also be deemed legitimate. Would we not run the risk that the Koran could be deemed as legitimate by the same logic Christians use?

The only solution to this circularity and subjectivity is to admit that mankind has no absolute and static moral law. This is true whether you are a theist or not. The question now is whether it is more beneficial to rely on divine revelation for our morality or to define our own moral ideals, apart from God.

Atheistic or humanistic morals will never be absolute and universally binding. But individually we can each decide to form our own morality; hopefully informed by the opinions and philosophies of others. There is no way to achieve perfection here, but I believe that morality stems from our natural sense of compassion coupled with a rational understanding of universal suffering. By cultivating this understanding we can hopefully continue to make strides morally and ethically, and seek that which benefits all and upholds human rights.

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Additional image via AtheistRepublic.com

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