On God’s “Evil” Actions

Probably one of the most common objections to Christianity that we hear is one that relates to the Problem of Evil. While the problem of evil asks, “How can an Omnipotent, Good God exist with evil in the world,” this particular one asks, “How can God be ‘good’ if he has done all these evil things?” Men will object to Christianity saying that God has done evil things. And from this they conclude God either doesn’t exist, or if he does exist he is not worth believing.

We answer the former problem by demonstrating from the Bible that the fact that God exists and the fact that evil exists do not contradict each other, and that Christianity affirms the existence of both, simultaneously. We then call into question the atheist’s (or agnostic’s) evaluation of “evil” and demonstrate that only by assuming God’s existence can “evil” be made meaningful in the first place. There is a tension that exists between evil and God’s goodness that will finally and fully be resolved for great Justice, but there is no logical contradiction between the two, as the objection attempts – and fails – to show.

The problem of God “committing evil” falls victim to the same fallacy of logic, only more blatantly. Because, while the Problem of Evil silently assumes that a standard of good and evil exists and therefore begs the question, this problem loudly accuses God of violating that assumed standard. Men accuse God of acting evil according to some standard that is above God, which assumes God is not the Author and standard of Good, since God cannot be above God. In this way, they have reasoned circularly in making their claim that God is “evil.” You’ll notice that many of the New Atheists attempt to drown out the noise of the fallacy by simply stating their point more loudly and assertively, as though this serves them in any way. We need not be concerned.

In order to bring this to light, we will ask the atheist, “What or Who determines things to be evil? By what standard is God being considered evil?” Often, he responds with incredulity and says something like, “How can you possibly consider [a particular act of God] NOT evil? No one in their right mind *isn’t* repulsed by [a particular act of God].” There is no need to pay this response any mind, because this doesn’t answer the question. I’ve noticed that many times when this answer is given, it’s in the presence of an atheistic audience. But of course, any particular act of God is good according to Christianity, and you can mention this in passing, but simply press him on the question.

Since he cannot accuse God of evil on the ground of Christianity, and since there is no ground for standard of good and evil other than God, it follows that the atheist’s objection is utterly groundless. He has failed to present a standard for good and evil, and therefore any statement of his concerning good and evil is absolutely groundless. All this means, then, is that he is articulating his personal dislike of God in objective terms. All he has to fight with is a mere opinion. He may think his opinion is right. That is merely his opinion about his opinion.

Alternately, he may cite such things as “empathy” or “the good of the people.” This doesn’t settle the issue, but only raises more questions: which people? With whom should we be empathizing? Surely the man riddled with depression and helplessness is suffering, but should he be empathized with, if he has murdered many people, and wants to murder more? Would the atheist say we should empathize with Islam in seeking to implement sharia? Empathy is not nearly as absolute or objective as it’s made to seem, since we can empathize with people who want contradictory things. But if this is the basis of atheistic morality, then there is nothing that would guard against contradicting moralities.

God is, in fact, absolutely Good. He exemplifies and defines Goodness. (Psalm 119:68, 107:1, 31:19; Exodus 33:19; Matthew 19:17; Romans 2:6-11) Due to sin, man ignores his goodness and misunderstands it (Romans 1). God was good to Israel by letting them overpower their enemies. God was also good to Israel by giving them reason to repent of their sins whenever they rebelled. God’s goodness demands that anything that defies him be punished. God’s goodness demands eradication of evil. When any sinner calls the actions of God evil, he is fulfilling the words of Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…” How does God regard this phenomenon? Isaiah 5:24: “for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” They call good evil and evil good, not because they have neutrally, reasonably, considered all the evidence and have come to the scientific conclusion that God is evil, but simply because they have rejected Him and his law. There is no open-minded, even-handed consideration. There is only sinful rebellion.

To understand the “trouble passages,” where God commands something in which we don’t immediately see goodness, we must keep in mind our presuppositional committment to what the Bible says about God: that He is Good and that all he does is necessarily good in accordance with His nature. With this principle in mind, we proceed to exegete the passages and if necessary highlight the particular circumstances which justify God’s Just wrath (e.g. Israel acted in self-defense, or in punishment of a nation at God’s command, etc.). Where we do not see such circumstances, we are still to hold to our committment above. If an atheist wants to understand these same passages, he must also keep in mind what the Bible says about God and Good. The moment he says God has done something “evil” or come to any conclusion other than our own, he has posited a standard which transcends God, which – as I showed above – he has no basis for, and is simply evaluating God in terms of his own worldview instead of the Bible’s, leaving Christianity as such untouched.

Challenge to God’s accusers:

  1. In the interest of honesty, qualify every one of your moral pronouncements.
  2. What is the basis for your statements about morality?
  3. Should your statements about morality be taken as more than mere opinion?
  4. If Yes, then on what basis? This basis cannot be “empathy” because then it is not objective, and the basis cannot be “the general good” because this begs the question.
  5. If No, why do you feel compelled to say anything in the first place?

3 Comments

Tyler Noble

My question revolves around the concept of objective morality. I am not convinced that there are only two options; objective morals or relativistic morals. This seems like a false dichotomy that I feel is generally overlooked and rarely mentioned. Could there not be an inter-subjective moral foundation for our moral sentiments?

It seems to me like the best moral an embodied subject could establish would be one that extends to other subjects. A moral system which could use descriptive facts about humans as a foundation for our ‘innate’ moral beliefs. It seems our limited subjectivity can only extend as far as our minimal understanding of fellow subjects (what you might call empathy) and end there as an ethical system only pertains to the relation between unique embodied subjects.

That being said, I am unsure that we could even know the difference between an objective moral standard and one that is inter-subjectively understood. Objectivity, as I imagine you would define, must not only apply to our capacity as moral agents but extends far beyond our own understanding, indefinitely. How then do we come to understand the extent of that ethic? Something beyond our finite abilities becomes meaningless and senseless. Because of our limitations, I fail to see the reasoning for an objective moral standard or, through my reasoning, the attempt to establish that standard.

Now an attempt to answer your questions:

1. In the interest of honesty, qualify every one of your moral pronouncements.

I think this is a legittimate claim. The type of ethic I am advocating only would establish a consensus among different subjects but because of the nature of an ethical system, it need only extend as far as the subjects involved.

2. What is the basis for your statements about morality?

The basis for every moral claim could be based in descriptive biological facts about human sentiments and mental states and its cultural counterparts. One as a foundation, a biological baseline for our moral feelings and the other accounting for variation among ethical claims. This does not solve moral debate, on the contrary it creates a debate among those involved in the ethic, but it does create discussion and interlocutors for an ever evolving and refining moral code.

3. Should your statements about morality be taken as more than mere opinion?

I am skeptical about your question in asking if something is “mere opinion”. As previously stated I am claiming that I am suspect of how one would establish an objective ethic, as those involved cannot reach to that same extend, thus rendering all ethical thought as “mere opinion”. However, many of the canonical moral questions, I believe, are establish in descriptive facts of the human species.

4. If Yes, then on what basis? This basis cannot be “empathy” because then it is not objective, and the basis cannot be “the general good” because this begs the question.

I believe I answered this question through the following question. Objectivity is not necessary to establish an ethic to determine how we should act. Empathy goes a long way as a mechanism for a moral system, a mechanism I would argue is required to have any ethical relation to another subject, but one that need not be objectively based.

If No, why do you feel compelled to say anything in the first place?

Opinion is how we debate, reason, and better ourselves as thinkers. I am compelled because I am in relation to other subjects with whom I must interact daily. The discussion of moral actions and the parsing between areas of grey is almost as important as the ethic.

Hopefully this reaches you well. I am interested on your view and would love the discussion.

Matthias McMahon

Tyler,

Thanks for your comment. I’ll begin by explaining my basis for morality from Christianity, and hopefully from there my answers to your questions will make more sense.

As a Christian I affirm that God created all of reality as we know it (Genesis 1, Exodus 20:11). He created man and gave man laws from the very beginning, which filtered down ultimately to Obedience to God. Whatever particulars these laws may entail, the one thing they all fulfill is Obedience to God. And the reason God’s commands are to be obeyed is that He is to be glorified by all His creatures. Indeed, we are created in God’s image – as what you might call an “analogy” of Him – and so we all know he exists, whether we embrace that knowledge or suppress it (Romans 1). As such, inasfar as we are not completely suppressing our knowledge of God, we all recognize that certain things are morally good and morally evil. Furthermore, by virtue of our status as creatures of God, his laws necessarily apply to all humanity, irrespective of groups. We can know this if we believe that the Bible is God’s Word. And so our basis for morality is God himself, and particular ethics are derived both from commands in Scripture and the character of God.

I admit that a person who does not believe the Bible will not be able to affirm any type of “objective morality,” and it is my opinion that whether two people agree or not on a particular statement of morality, the statement remains subjective because its basis is found primarily in the subject. Even if absolutely everyone believed a certain thing to be morally good, it still does not follow on that basis alone that it is objectively good, not unless we can verify that with something *outside* the subject. I understand many people confuse “relativistic” with “subjective” (I’m guilty of this myself sometimes) so I appreciate that you recognize this as well.

I would say there is a distinction between Objective morality, and a morality that is inter-subjectively understood, because while they both may align with each other, they are in different categories. My argument is that a morality that is *merely* inter-subjective is necessarily relativistic and self-referential. So while a group may cite an inter-subjective “foundation” for their morality, I don’t see how this dodges fallacious ad populum appeals. The dispute is over the origin of the morality. Now, the group may accept that a self-referencing morality may be sufficient because it’s all anyone has to work with, but then they have no argument with anyone who disagrees. I imagine you might admit to a *potential* difference between objective standards and subjectively-understood standards, assuming an objective standard actually exists, and I understand the tendency to conflate the two if one affirms that objective standards do not exist (not that this is what you’re doing).

I’ll respond to your answers to my challenges numerically to correspond to your numbers:

1) I agree that ethical systems reach only as far as the subjects involved. But as a Christian I affirm that the subjects involved comprise all humanity. Is it your opinion that there is no universal ethic to which all humanity should adhere, irrespective of groups?

2) The problem I see with this is that we make assumptions on how the human species should *should* be whenever we evaluate and describe how the human species *is*, and so we’ve only begged the question. Or, committed the naturalistic fallacy.

3) #2 answers this, I believe. Also, if “opinion” is too vulgar, take “conjecture,” or “guess,” or “theory.” Any of those would work here. Wherever there exists no objective standard, subjective opinion is often elevated (and argued loudly) in its place. I don’t believe this solves the problem.

4) Sure, any ethical system can be established on virtually any basis. The problem is not whether someone can come up with a system; the problem is whether that system a) can be accounted for, objectively (which is the only thing that can possibly keep subjects’ accusations from reducing to mere opinion), and b) is entirely consistent with itself.

5) I suppose if one holds that there is no objective morality, this does not necessarily prohibit him from arguing at all. But then one must be willing to admit as much, as I ask in my first challenge. Many people do affirm there exists no objective morality, and yet they still argue on the basis of *something.* This is inevitable, because man recognizes morality by virtue of being created in God’s image. He is left, “opposing himself,” as we would call it.

Thanks again for your comment. I hope I was able to clarify some things, and I apologize if I have misunderstood anything you said.

Regards,
Matthias

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