…as put to me in the following statement from a Facebook private message:
If God is willing to abolish evil but not able, then he is not omnipotent.
If he is able, but not willing, then he is malevolent.
Is he able and willing? Then where did evil come from?
If he is neither able or willing, then why call him God?
Also, where does God reside if not within nature? If he doesn’t reside in reality, then he doesn’t exist.
Who created God?
Before beginning, I must pause to admire Epicurus’ (and his translator’s) rhetoric, which features in the initial paragraph. Poetically speaking, it’s a job well done, and must undoubtedly provide much catharsis and pathos for atheists – as well as overwhelm uninformed theists when the sustained, progressive reasoning breaks of into a disorientating accumulation of pithy questions that scale the page faster than they can be intellectually grasped. The poetic aspect of the text aesthetically and intellectually flatters the cause it supports, as the catchy, lucidly expressed maxim requires minimal intellectual exertion to merely parrot, and maximal exertion to refute. The two-way nature of a debate between physical actors conceals the fact that it is not the parroter whom the theist is refuting, but the late Epicurus himself; and that the atheist, safe behind his flat-packed bulwark of borrowed, accessible genius, can pitch his shot in strong whilst scarcely needing to lift a finger, thanks to Epicurus’ talent as an aestheticist. I wish to make it clear that this is not a poetry competition or a contest in flattery, and that I propose to deconstruct the questions at my own pace and with the level of verbosity that my considerably inferior intellect requires to make itself understood. I also wish to maintain that the self-evident facts and goings-on of this world are often anything but flattering in the eye of the human beholder, and I see no reason why metaphysical truths should necessarily be flattering either – that is, to people in the eyes of each other, or to God in the eyes of people who unconditionally refuse to worship him.
The accompanying questions and statements in the second paragraph I understand to be personal assertions of the writer of the message and do not appear to be part of the Epicurean question. Together, they carry an underlying condition that “naturalism” necessarily equates to “reality” and is thus arbitrarily the only worldview of philosophical legitimacy. This condition presupposes the conclusions about a non-material God that the question supposedly seeks: a non-material God cannot reside in a non-material realm because an alternative definition of “reality” as constituting anything except material “nature” is not negotiable: ergo, “On the condition that nothing that is immaterial can exist, and that God is immaterial, I challenge you to convince me that an immaterial God can exist” . Unless conceptually freed from this straitjacket of philosophical preconditions, God of course cannot exist. Nonetheless, the question of whether naturalism is the only possible worldview of philosophical legitimacy – provided that the statements were turned into a question that is falsifiable – would constitute a debate in itself. I do not have the time or resources to address that debate now, however. I will draw on this last paragraph in my discussion, but as it is presented as an aside, an “also”, to the Epicurean questions, then the paragraph will not constitute the central object of my argumentation.
As a further preliminary note, regarding Epicurus’ riddle, how one defines ‘evil’ and how one conceives of it is a matter of great importance. It is evident that people of different societies and cultures have different ideas about what ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are. This leaves us in a position of relativism whereby there are so many different opinions that a universal definition of good and evil such as the one that Epicurus presupposes cannot exist. Epicurus was writing before the age when researchers were ethically obliged to take account of their own subjectivity in light of other cultural realities; Epicurus would have us believe that what he thought of as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ was the absolute definition of those terms.
As concerns the debate, I am only interested in defending one God, and that is the God of the Bible, who is Sovereign and Lord over creation and chooses to reveal himself to man through divine inspired writings. This perception of God is according to Evangelical theology of the Calvinistic school which posits that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, according to its own testimony and the conclusions laid down in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy . This is the God and the view of God that I am defending. The God of the Bible is a Sovereign God who does what he wants, applies to himself the descriptors he wishes to apply to himself in the Bible, and defines the descriptors by the acts he chooses to define them by therein also. By ‘Sovereign’, I mean Lord and King over every aspect of creation. The following article provides a basis for this definition in layman’s terms: http://www.theopedia.com/Sovereignty_of_God
Epicurus’ society believed in the Ancient Greek gods and they had no authoritative manuscript tradition defining and describing their gods, therefore the definition of the gods in relation to what they conceived of as ‘good’ of ‘evil’ was already fair game – and Epicurus treated it as such. But standing out from the carnival of relative ideas, the Bible defines good, evil and God in its own terms. These concepts are not, therefore, fair game when the God of the Bible is the subject of debate. If God is Sovereign, then the divine status of the Bible as the Word of God serves to transcendentalize its definitions, which God makes transparent or opaque in their interpretation and ordering to whomsoever he chooses.
- Here are some logical preconditions in addition to Epicurus’ that also must be the case if God is to be Sovereign:
God does not have to be approved of by man for his activities to be transcendentally legitimate. (Romans 9:18-23)
If a Sovereign God chooses to reveal certain things about himself to man, then this is his bidding. Man, whose capacities are beneath those of his maker (evidently man is time-bound, culture- bound, subject to material decay , subject to diverging from God in his thinking, and limited in cognitive capacity), is not in a position to accuse God of being wrong (Isaiah 29:15-16).
If God defines himself, good and evil in his own terms, then no human definition can override God’s. (2 Timothy 3:16)
God can do whatever he wants (Psalm 115:3). This includes withholding knowledge from man, revealing things in ways that some men find confusing, and acting in ways that are incomprehensible to man.
- Regarding Epicurus’ stipulations about what a God should or shouldn’t do, and taking into account the logical preconditions for a Sovereign God above, we know the following about the God of the Bible:
God is eternal, immortal and invisible and the name he gives himself is “I AM WHO I AM”. (1 Timothy 1:17) (Psalm 90:2) (Exodus 3:14)
God is Spirit and resides in heaven, and is not personally visible in the natural world except through his manifestation in Jesus Christ: (John 4:24), (Psalm 2:4) (John 14:5-11), (Daniel 2:28) (Philippians 2:6-8). There is a spiritual ‘realm’ and heavenly ‘places’ (Ephesians 6:12).
Humanity was created with the purpose of giving God glory. (Isaiah 43:1) http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/why-did-god-create-the-world
God has an ulterior plan (which exists for his glory) and does all things to bring about this plan in the time he allots for it to take place. (Ephesians 1:11) (Psalm 75:2)
God is in control of all things, including evil, which he allows to temporarily exist for the sake of ulterior goals, which include the ultimate destruction of evil. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5) (Psalm 94:23) (Mark 3:24)
God allows evil to exist for a reason. (Psalm 34:21)
God’s ultimate plan involves completing the abolition of evil from the world one day. (Revelation 12:19)
- Conclusions that may be drawn from these observations:
- God alone has the prerogative to define evil.
- God is willing to abolish evil.
- God is able to abolish evil.
- As he is Sovereign, God controls evil and uses it to bring about its own abolition.
- As he is Sovereign, God abolishes evil according to his own plan and he fulfils his purposes according to the ways and the timings in which he has chosen to fulfil them.
- Evil comes from refusal to cooperate with God.
- As he is Sovereign, God has not chosen to reveal to man how or why spiritual and mortal beings have the capacity not to cooperate with him in his created order.
- God has chosen to reveal to man that the natural world and “reality” are not synonymous with the exclusion of a spiritual reality.
- God is what he calls himself in the Bible, according to the works described in the Bible that testify to the epithets he gives himself.
- God is to be called God because God demands it, as Sovereign, for the sake of his glory.
- God is eternal.
Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.
Why should the nations say,
“Where, now, is their God?”
But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.