Guest post- The problem of Evil

I’m excited to present the first guest post here on The Aspirational Agnostic. Jess blogs over at, and this post includes a quote from one of the best scenes ever from one of the best TV shows ever, so it’s all win here as far as I’m concerned!




No. It does not at all imo. But it is taking me some pretty crazy mental gymnastics to explain why not. I had this way out there thought the other day. I know it’s out there. So I’ll have trouble explaining it.

I don’t have a perfect grasp on what god is. Which doesn’t bother me.

What bothers me is a concept people refer to as ‘the problem of evil’.

That means:

How do we reconcile a good, loving, omnipotent god with pain and suffering? This is the single biggest hurdle Christianity in particular has yet to leap. No one’s told me anything close to a decent answer.

So here is what I’ve heard, in short.

1.  Evil has its place. It teaches us good things. True, up to a point.

2.  We wouldn’t know joy absent pain. It’s the classic explanation.

3.  Evil is plain old karma. We earn it. Now that really pisses me off.

4.  We are mere humans. And our little brains could not possibly comprehend God’s master plan. It includes evil. Who are WE to question it? This pisses me off slightly less. I am still uber pissed.

Here’s why none of those answers works for me.

1.  Most of what I’ve learned in life comes from pain. I would not trade my experiences. But guess what – I’m not some kid in Syria.

Catch my drift?

2.  This is a tidy, pat, sneaky little response. It works for the small stuff, like hey, I really appreciate the sunshine because it rained 4 days straight. And people in L.A. probably take sunny for granted.

Great. Try telling that tiny kid in Syria he’s actually super lucky because someday his lungs are going to love not inhaling sarin. Well now. He’s already dead. What is far worse for me, he suffered first.

3.  Are you kidding me? Same problem. Karma works for the small things. What goes around usually comes around. More like always.

Are you seriously telling me all those little children in third world countries we see on Save The Children somehow earned that pain.

It’s impossible to deserve that degree of suffering. You’d have to be Hitler many lifetimes over. There was only one of him. Do the math.

4.  If you accept there’s a god, it’s a safe bet he gave us brains on purpose. If we were not supposed to question things because he didn’t want us to he likely wouldn’t have given us the means to do it. Not to ‘blaspheme’. Whatever that means. But please don’t give me that line about original sin and how us humans ate from a tree of knowledge.

Nice touch blaming Eve by the way.

Also a safe bet this god we believe in who’s way smart would not have made life so confusing that it begs these types of questions.

Part of why number four ticks me off huge is that it is so obviously self-serving from the perspective of institutionalized religions.

Prep yourself for some majorly annoyed cynicism.

Make us feel small so we’ll lose faith in our own ability to find the answers? That’s a pretty damn smart way to keep us coming to church.

Let’s get spoon fed scraps of half-baked consolation from human beings who are no better and (my goodness, hopefully) no worse than the rest of us. Let’s continue to kneel at our man-made altars we’ve built from money in our collection coffers. Which should have been going elsewhere. Like Syria. Let’s use it to pay our deacon his salary?

Great use of resources there, y’all. I’m sure god is totally falling-all-over-himself THRILLED to see us throwing that money at wealthy men who don’t need it to give us answers we should find ourselves.

Excuse me. I think there’s something in the bible about a golden calf.

Relevant quote, and a nod to eastern religion. All religions basically say the same thing at the core – that god is love and that we are too:

When there is no attachment and no spontaneous loving service to the Lord, and one is engaged in the service of the Lord simply out of obedience to the order of the spiritual master [priests, rabbis, imams, gurus] or in pursuance of the scriptures [bibles, torahs, qurans, vedas], such obligatory service is called ‘vaidhi-bhakti’.

– Srila Gurudeva. I’m not a fan of complicated names. But whatever.

I’ve noticed eastern spiritual leaders tend to be far more scrupulous about warning their ‘followers’ against putting them personally on a pedestal and making other humans false gods. Major respect points.

Anyway, I’ll quit dodging. So here’s my half-baked theory.

What if it’s not real?

That’s not an assertion. It’s not even my belief. It’s basically a prayer. For me this is the only thing that makes things like Syria make sense.

I bet survivors of the holocaust are really gonna love me for this one.

Ahem – are you telling me I didn’t suffer? I mean. Like. The holocaust didn’t happen? Really, Jess. Like we haven’t heard THAT one before.

I get it. Maybe it’s not cool to even throw this out there, but I believe in exploring everything. I don’t believe in deciding not to consider an idea just because it very well might be offensive or even dead wrong.

Bear with me please.

All we can be sure of is our own experiences. I know what feels real for me. I don’t know what feels real for you unless you tell me. Even then I’m just taking your word for it. I do not have the slightest clue.

What I do know is that my life, up to this point, has been very hard.

Very hard. I wished I was dead for most of it. It was really that bad.

But it was unequivocally tolerable. I got through all of that pain and I came out stronger. My point is I can reconcile my experience of pain with a good loving god who might be trying to teach me a few things.

I can’t reconcile the love I feel – for me it couldn’t be any more real – with the holocaust. Syria. Torture. Slavery. The pain that breaks us instead of making us at all stronger. This is called senseless suffering.

If you believe what your eyes and ears tell you – there is no getting around the fact that there is an unacceptable amount of senseless suffering in this world. And a good god just would not allow it. And any kind of all-powerful, omnipotent god could make it way better.

You simply cannot explain that away by claiming we brought it all on ourselves. Ok. I might have earned my pain. But you are not going to tell me those other people did. No one could EVER earn a holocaust.

So – what if it’s not real?

A god that was powerful enough to create us is powerful enough to manipulate our reality, to alter our perceptions. He could make us see, and hear, and touch, and feel, and smell any number of experiences that seem very real to us, but maybe exist only in our minds.

Think something along the lines of The Matrix. Except a loving being who cares about us is mostly calling the shots instead of aliens.

If you believe god was powerful enough to create us he is certainly powerful enough to do something like hypothetically pull our souls from our bodies before we endure something like a tragic car crash after which a human ends up dead, but suffers senselessly before it.

That god could make us think other people’s senseless suffering is really happening. We can’t know it is happening for sure if it is not happening to us. And when someone else is in that car it’s flat not.

Trust me. I know this sounds like the worst kind of bury-your-head-in-the-sand, shut-your-eyes-so-it’s-not-real, ivory-tower, insanely- hyper-idealistic wishful thinking. That is not how I want it to sound.

I am just saying otherwise none of this makes any sense to me at all.

So I’m not saying it’s not real. I’m saying it better not be. Please. God.

I am saying:

Dear God. Whatever you are. Please tell me that none of this is real?


So here’s an interchange from The West Wing. It’s my fave TV series.

  • Religion is popular CMOA fodder for President Bartlet. Being a devout Catholic, he doesn’t have patience for Strawman Political religious forces. His smackdown to a Dr. Laura-like radio talk show host about her condemnation of homosexuality – using numerous quotes from the Bible and a rather large faux pas she made (‘When the President stands nobody sits’) – works pretty well.
  • (After being distracted from his prepared speech by seeing her in the crowd at a talk radio reception):
  • Jacobs: Ph.D.
  • Bartlet: In Psychology? … Theology? … Social work?
  • Bartlet: I’m asking, because on your show people call in for advice and you go by the name Dr. Jacobs. Am I correct? So I didn’t know if maybe your listeners were a bit confused by that, and assumed you had advanced training in psychology theology or health care.
  • Jacobs: I don’t believe they are confused. No sir.
  • Bartlet: Good. I like your show. I especially like how you call homosexuality an ‘abomination’.
  • Jacobs: I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.
  • Bartlet: Yes, it does. Leviticus.
  • Jacobs: 18:22.
  • .
  • Bartlet: Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? (Pause) While you’re thinking about that, can I ask you another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or is it okay to call the police? Here’s one that’s really important, because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side. Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads. Think about those questions, would you? One last thing. While you may be mistaking this event for your monthly meeting of the Ignorant Tight-Ass Club, in my White House – when the president stands, nobody sits.

How is that for some serious smack down. Maybe learn those by heart and use ’em next time you’re talking to a close-minded fool.

5 thoughts on “Guest post- The problem of Evil

  1. “Trust me. I know this sounds like the worst kind of bury-your-head-in-the-sand, shut-your-eyes-so-it’s-not-real, ivory-tower, insanely- hyper-idealistic wishful thinking. That is not how I want it to sound.”

    This doesn’t sound ivory-tower one little bit. It sounds…unrealistic. I’m not criticizing. I’m just wondering if you think this God is some kind of trickster? Putting ideas in our heads that aren’t real? Like the PoE?

    I’ve never heard this put forth as a possibility for PoE. I have heard it with regards to a literal six-day creation. God can make things as old as he wants to, right?

    But this proposition has it’s down-side. A god who tricks people into unbelief.

  2. Hmmm… Sorry, Jess, but I don’t think it’s going to fly. It is all real, I’m afraid.

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to say, “I can reconcile my experience of pain with a good loving god who might be trying to teach me a few things”, but I don’t believe there is any way we can develop that line of thinking to include either “a good loving god is trying to teach those hundreds of thousands dying of AIDS in Africa a few things” or, as Ruth so nicely puts it, that God is a trickster.

    Both sides in the PoE discussions – theists and atheists – seem to have one thing in common, and for me that is the root of the problem. You ask, “How do we reconcile a good, loving, omnipotent god with pain and suffering?” and that is also the question that atheists ask. But I think it’s the wrong question. I think that the starting point is all wrong; it’s based on too many assumptions, and the chief difficulty is with the word “omnipotent”.

    Why should we assume that God can do whatever God wants, and in fact everything that happens is what God wants? What if God is not omnipotent?

    I stopped believing in an omnipotent God some time ago – about the same time I stopped believing in an interventionist God. Life makes so much more sense once I’ve ditched the idea that God is supposed to pop up and fix whatever is disturbing us me. Who’s crazy notion was that anyhow?

    What if God is powerless? How would ” a good, loving god” deal with pain and suffering then? Surely that question then leads us to a much deeper examination of humanity’s role in the Problem of Evil – both in its cause and in how we are to respond to the existence of pain and suffering.

    The added benefit of being in relationship with a non-omnipotent God is that it relieves me of the horrendous need to blame God for everything.

    Well, it works for me.

    BTW, Eva: I’ve been over to “What the heck is Hezbollah?” and I would like to say: Get your finger out and post!

    • Hi kingstonjack,

      Consider the possibility that God, being omnipotent, chooses not to intervene and do things for us so that we can live our own lives, make our own choices (good or bad), and be human beings, not slaves to an all-powerful, irresistible being.

      Parents often have the uncomfortable experience of seeing their children (young or grown) struggling to do something that would be very easy for the parent to do for them, but choosing not to intervene and take over because of a love for their children, a respect for their integrity as human beings, and an awareness of their need to work things out for themselves in order to grow and develop as human beings.

      If God were to continually intervene, fix all the messes we make, and do all the hard jobs for us (which God, being omnipotent, could do very easily), where would that leave us?

      Being omnipotent is paired with being omniscient. And being omniscient means being wise enough to realize that intervening in human affairs to fix all our problems and do all our work for us would, in the long run, do far more harm than good.

  3. What I’ve been thinking about lately is why everybody assumes that being omni-potent means getting your own way all the time. Is getting your own way, the opposite of loving someone? So if God is all loving and all powerful, then surely his power isn’t just used for getting his own way! Which doesn’t explain everything I know, but just as it is God’s will that no one perishes (2 Peter 3:9) and yet they do, so God doesn’t want anyone to suffer, and yet they do.

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