Last week I had the honor of being on Patrick Madrid’s Right Here Right Now show where we discussed, with the great Peter Kreeft, the problem of evil. Click the play button above to listen to our interview. (mp3 link here).
As I’m reading a lot of Thomas Aquinas right now, I thought, in addition to providing the link so you could hear the discussion, I would respond to Jack’s argument (not that he stated it explicitly but this is what I think he’s saying) in the way Thomas responded to his objectors in his Summa Theologica: I respond to this problem in greater length in my new book 20 Answers: Atheism.
Article 1. Whether evil and suffering are incompatible with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God?
Objection 1. God is believed to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. But If God were omnipotent he could eliminate evil and suffering.
Objection 2. Further, if God were omniscient he would be aware of evil and suffering.
Objection 3. Further, If God were omnibenevolent he would desire to eliminate evil and suffering. However, Evil exists. Therefore it follows that God does not exist, or, if he does exist, he is either weak, ignorant or wicked.
On the contrary, Far from disproving God’s existence, evil actually points to God’s existence in an indirect way. If genuine evil exists then it follows that objective morality exists. If objective morality exists then it follows that God exists.
I answer that, in order to show that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God is not logically incompatible with evil and suffering, one need simply offer an additional premise, “God may have morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering.” As long as this premise is possible it proves that evil, and suffering and God are not logically incompatible. Further, since God is able to bring good out of evil, we must be prepared to acknowledge that this is what he is doing–as the Christian faith claims. As St. Paul says: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Reply to objection 1. Omnipotence does not mean the ability to do the intrinsically impossible. For example, it is possible for God to create beings with the kind of free will that can choose between good and evil, but it is not possible to force those creatures to freely choose good, for that is a self-contradiction. If he forced their choice, it wouldn’t be free.
Reply to to objection 2. Because God is omniscient, he knows many things we do not. This means that he may, in fact, have good reasons for permitting things–like evil and suffering–that seem inexplicable to us. Because of the limitations of our own perspective, we must acknowledge that we may be in the same position as a small child being taken to the doctor for his injections. The child may be very afraid of getting an injection, and he may be too small to understand why his own parents–who normally take care of him–are suddenly holding him down and allowing the doctor to do what he perceives as horrible. But in fact the injection can keep him from getting a disease that would lead to much more suffering, and thus there is a greater good that he is unable to recognize.
Human beings have a very limited vantage point and we often lack knowledge of things true significance. What appears to us to be a tragedy may have effects that bring about great good, and on the flipside, what appears to us as a great good may, in the long run, prove harmful. From our limited reference point, we are often simply not in a good position to judge. Because of this, we have to recognize that a being with more knowledge than us–like God–may have good reasons for things that we are unaware of.
Reply to objection 3. As we think about the omnibenevolence of God, we must be careful not to impose an inadequate understanding of goodness on him.
In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, “By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively his lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by love, in this context, most of us mean kindness. . . . What would really satisfy us is would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contended?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven–a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.”
But Christians do not believe that God created us merely for happiness in this life. Rather, as the Baltimore Catechism says: “God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven” (BAL 3).
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain: (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 31.