The problem of evil refers to an ongoing, and perhaps unending philosophical and theological debate about the nature of God, the existence of God, and how a person can resolve the question of why evil exists in the world. Evil has proven a divisive issue for millennia, predating the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. When gods/God is seen as omnipotent, it’s hard to reconcile this fact with evil in the world. Why would a God allow for evil to exist, or allow people to suffer the consequences of other people’s evil actions? Some explain away the problem of evil by suggesting that we do not know God’s plan, and we cannot see the ultimate good that might result from evil acts.
Many attempt to create good things from evils. The number of parent advocates and organizations that have sprung up to help other families whose children have been murdered or kidnapped is a hands on way of addressing the problem. These organizations are usually founded as the result of extreme evil — the murder or kidnapping of a child. They don’t resolve the problem of evil, and may not even address the existence of God, but they do try to turn extreme evil into good by extending help, service, and love to other sufferers.
From a theological or philosophical standpoint, the problem of evil is addressed in myriad ways. The basic question is the following: How can an all-knowing, benevolent, all-powerful God allow evil to exist, and especially allow evil to be done to his/her followers? Some explain this as inexorably tied to the principle of free will. When people are allowed to make their own choices, then some people will ultimately choose to act in sinful (minor or major) ways. Since God gave us free will, evil remains, because it is a choice people can make.
Others suggest that the problem is resolved by saying that the God of the Christians, Jews and Muslims, who authored free will, is an impersonal, not a personal God. Having created this world, he allows it to be. It is difficult to reconcile the concept of a personal God with the problem of evil, since it’s hard to explain how an omnipotent God would allow his followers to experience the evil of others. In other words, the presence of evil suggests to some that God doesn’t always choose to intervene.
For some, the problem of evil directly results in atheism. Since God will not, or does not seem to take a direct hand in events, he cannot exist. How could God allow holocausts or ethnic cleansing? How could God subject his most innocent people (like children) to abuse? The universe is Godless, since a good God would intervene. For the spiritual, direct contact with tragedy may lead to either renewed faith in an unknowable master plan that is not clear to them, or it can result in spiritual crisis.
Others see certain events as direct punishment by God for what they consider to be "evil deeds." Certain plagues and illnesses have been considered "cleansings" by God — modern replays of Sodom and Gomorrah. Even some natural as well as man-made disasters have been blamed on divine retribution for immoral deeds and religious or cultural practices.
To sum, the problem of evil is one that exists in nearly all cultures and all religions and leads to these following, and many more conclusions:
- People have freewill; therefore the potential for evil exists.
- God is impersonal; therefore he does not intervene to save his faithful.
- God has a master plan that will be made clear to us in time.
- God cannot exist, because a loving God could not allow evil to be done to his children.
- God is fickle, and sometimes allows evil to occur.
- God is a personal God who uses evil as a way of punishing sinners.
- Our understanding of God is minimal and imperfect, and we therefore are not qualified to question his actions.
- God is not omnipotent, loving, or benevolent.
- God wants us to resolve evil as a way of serving him.