God’s evil addiction

There’s an old joke about a woman who keeps hitting herself in the head with a hammer. When they asked, “Why are you doing that?” she replied, “Because it feels so good when I stop!”

Yesterday we looked at Mighty Timbo’s story about how God allegedly healed his wife years after a serious car accident left her disabled and in pain. It’s a great story because it points out a huge flaw in the Christian theology of healing. Think about it. God supposedly could have healed her any time he wanted. He could have healed her a year earlier than He did, or within a few weeks of the crash. Heck, He could have prevented the crash in the first place. Instead, He chose to allow her to be seriously injured and to go through several years of pain and disability, just so that He could take the credit where her suffering finally stopped.

At least in the old joke, the woman was wielding her own hammer, and could stop whenever she liked. But this business of God putting us though sin and suffering and evil just so that it will seem so good when He stops—yikes!

I’m sure that if Timbo were here, he’d hasten to explain that it’s not like that at all, that God is really doing all this for our own good, and that He’s wiser than we are and knows more than we do, and that if we could see things from God’s perspective we’d realize that this is really all part of a wise and loving plan to bring us a unique blessing that we could not obtain any other way.

That’s a great rationalization, and a lot of people use it to try and reconcile the wonderful stories of a loving Almighty God with the harsh realities of life. But it doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. Let’s imagine, for a moment, that God does exist, and that He loves us, and that He wants to bring us to a place of maximum blessing and goodness. How is He going to achieve that goal? Can He do it by means of His own goodness and blessing alone, or is it necessary to resort to sin and suffering and evil and death in order to produce the maximum goodness?

If we say it’s possible for God to bless us without the need for sin and suffering and evil and death, then we’ve got a problem, because that means that we’re experiencing all these things unnecessarily, and a good and loving and all-powerful God wouldn’t let that happen. But if we say that it’s not possible for God to bless us without the need for sin and suffering and evil and death, then that’s even worse, because we’re saying that Evil, rather than being the enemy of Good, is actually a vital part of Good—that true Good requires evil in order to achieve true blessing. And God is supposedly true Good, hmm. Makes you wonder what the blessings of Heaven are really like, doesn’t it?

But it gets worse. Suppose evil isn’t really necessary. Suppose that without evil, you can still do good things, but with evil you can do even better things. That way God doesn’t actually need evil, but as long as it’s there, He can use it to produce an even greater blessing. Sounds plausible, right?

Well, no, that’s pretty poor morality. Let’s use a concrete example: the local church is holding a fundraiser to benefit orphans in Haiti. If they hold a bake sale, they can raise about $600. If they sell crack cocaine, they can probably raise about $12,000. In other words, they can produce a greater benefit if they resort to evil than the benefit they produce by good alone. Which is the morally justifiable way to raise funds?

I think most people would agree that it’s better to do a little good without evil than to do more good with evil. Thus, if God is going to be a moral and just and good God, He’s necessarily going to pursue the lesser blessing, so as not to sin by resorting to evil in order to obtain the greater one. And that means that the only way a good God could create a world full of sin and suffering and evil and death would be if goodness and blessing were completely incapable of doing any good at all apart from evil.

Timbo is telling us a tragic story with an eventually happy ending, but it’s clearly not the work of an all-good, all-wise, all-loving and all-powerful God, because if such a God existed then either the accident would never have happened in the first place or else He’s either too weak to do any good by His own power.


  1. unbound says

    Reminds me of the updated version of “The Atheist Professor with No Brain” that I saw here.

    The first 2/3 or so is from some xtian site (up through the line “The class is in chaos. The Christian sits…”), but the remainder is a well written rebuttal of the nonsense that includes some of the same concept that Duncan writes here.

    Basically, do you really want to worship a god whose idea of being good could be very different than your idea of being good? This god may consider eternal torture to be a good reward…

    • wholething says

      This god may consider eternal torture to be a good reward…

      Suppose the pantheists are right and God’s body is riddled with billions of black holes, each surrounded by billions of nuclear fusion reactions. What would he consider just rewards for creatures basking in the glow of one of those reactions and whinging to Him for help in finding their lost car keys?

      • Skip White says

        Perhaps it’s just because I’m re-reading Breakfast of Champions, but there’s something rather Vonnegut-esque about that.

  2. A says

    From a humanistic perspective, there seems to be something desirable about striving to achieve goals. We could probably hook ourselves to direct endorphin injections in the brain, and experience complete bliss, yet, we do not. As a researcher, I enjoy extending my knowledge – but for this, there has to be something left I do not know.

    I would assume that some Christians would translate this into a story about how evil is necessary to appreciate good or whatever.

  3. mikespeir says

    “…we’d realize that this is really all part of a wise and loving plan….”

    Well, when they can inform me about the whats, hows, and whys of this plan maybe I’ll take a second look. In the meantime, I can think of all kinds of good reasons why things ought to be different. So I have to choose between either the unspecified speculations of believers in a being they can’t prove to exist or what I can see with my own two eyes and the reasonable inferences I derive from it. Too easy!

  4. mikespeir says

    Suppose tomorrow some chemist mixed up an elixir that completely eliminated disease such that our great grandchildren wouldn’t know what disease was except through history books. Would they miss it? Would they be worse off for the lack? This apologetic has to be one of the sorriest lines of reasoning I’ve ever seen.

  5. Sunny Day says

    Don’t forget god isn’t supposed to have ANY limitations. So the argument that god needs to do a little evil to accomplish a greater good is worthless.

    • Aliasalpha says

      But it won’t really matter which choice you make in the end because it all amounts to roughly the same outcome

  6. BKsea says

    But, if God did not do evil so that he could then do good, we would have no reason to believe god exists

  7. sailor1031 says

    a couple of facts about doG;

    1. anything he does is good, no matter how evil it is.

    2, religionists love doG becaues they are too afraid of him not to.

    All this stuff – good, bad, worse or even worse than that, is in the doGly plan and he doesn’t have to explain it to you, because you just can’t understand really serious stuff like that plan. Hell, according to Ray Kurzweil you can’t even understand where artificial intelligence will be in twenty years…..let alone doGly intelligence millions of years into the future.

    • Len says

      If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.

      OK, that’s from Harley-Davidson. I guess it’s true, they must really be god.

  8. peterwhite says

    All this rationality is becoming boring. When will the theists be back so they can be torn to shreds? Mighty Timbo was a great entertainer. Reading his posts was like watching a contortionist squeeze herself into a matchbox.

  9. says

    “we’re saying that Evil, rather than being the enemy of Good, is actually a vital part of Good”

    And inevitably, Satan from the South Park movie springs to mind, singing “without evil there can be no good, so it must be good to be evil sometiiiiiimes!”

  10. Azuma Hazuki says

    I always disliked these cut-rate apologetics. Hello, people, if you’re dealing with a being that’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and transcends spacetime, there can be no free will. At any given moment this being already knows it all, “knew the end from the beginning” as the Bible says. This entire discussion is moot.

    Interestingly, this explains why so many Calvinists are otherwise very intelligent; they know all this, have thought about it all, but can’t ditch their religion, so they throw out “omnibenevolence” and basically go “Too bad, Cthulhu owns you. But he knows I know how he works so he won’t send ME to Hell (…right?)!”

    • Janney says

      I’m glad to hear someone else bringing up the free will thing. It’s my new favorite thing. God doesn’t even have to do anything: He could just sit there, knowing the future. It’s Determinism for Dummies.

      The last Christian I talked to about free will used the Molinism defense–this is apparently William Lane Craig’s official line as well. I looked it up, but as far as I can tell Molinism amounts to “God is even more omniscient than we thought!”

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