The problem of evil in the presence of God has been around ever since humans invented the concept of God. The bible spends many pages throughout the Old and New Testaments trying to rectify the situation. How can a just and loving god allow suffering in the world?
It is fairly unanimous among the Old Testament authors that evil is the result of God’s wrath. God was angry at us for disobeying Him or not worshipping Him as prescribed in His Law. The New Testament authors were less certain about the evil-as-punishment scenario and tended to believe that we paltry humans could not understand the mind of God and that if there is evil in the world, it must be for some greater good. Some of the authors of the bible believe that evil is necessary for the growth of a person’s spirit. Others believed it to be a kind of Yin-and-Yang circumstance, wherein evil exists simply because good exists; you can’t have one without the other. Then there is the explanation that says that God knows best. Just as a parent takes her child in for an immunization because she knows it will benefit the child by preventing disease, but the child has no knowledge of this. To him, the parent is inexplicably evil for doing this to him. These are all described in various modern theodicies in one form or another.
None of the theodicies, explanations of the existence of evil in a world with a loving god, hit the mark very well. They are all conceits. For thousands of years, mankind has struggled with the question of how evil can exist if God could easily destroy it, but no answer has ever been suggested with which everyone agrees.
Epicurus formulated the following logic centuries before the birth of Jesus: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
Said another way, the Christian concept of God is that he is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-loving (omnibenevolent), and all-knowing (omniscient). And, yet, there is evil in the world. If God is omniscient, then he knows better than anyone that evil exists. If he is omnibenevolent, the he hates the fact the evil exists. If he is omnipotent, then he is fully capable of eliminating evil from the earth. So either God is not omni-something, or there is no evil in the world (which we all know is false), or God does not exist.
I’m willing to accept the possibility that God is not omnipotent. Perhaps He is really, really powerful, but not ALL powerful. Perhaps God is also not omniscient. Maybe He knows an awfully lot, but not everything. I’m also willing to accept the possibility that He doesn’t exist at all. Any of these possibilities would solve the problem of evil.
There is one theodicy, however, that would explain the existence of evil and still allow for the omnipotence and omnibenevolence of God. I haven’t come across this theodicy in my study yet, but I’m not claiming authorship of it. If it already exists, which it probably does, it just isn’t one of the more popular explanations. And one wonders why not as it seems to do the best job of explaining away God’s problem of the existence of evil.
What if God allows evil to happen because evil invariably causes humanity to improve itself? It has nothing to do with growth as an individual; it is growth as a species. This would not only explain human-caused evil, such as crime, it would also explain natural disasters. Consider that famines of the past have forced humans to develop better agriculture to produce more food for a growing population. Or consider that the existence of droughts in the ancient world caused humans to develop and build aqueduct systems.
Maybe God, being eternal, is not concerned so much with conquering evil on the scale of individual episodes, because He knows that, on a societal level, evil tends to force us to progress. Maybe he wants us to overcome evil on our own because doing so makes us better.
Then again, maybe all these theodicies are just excuses for an entity that simply doesn’t exist.