I have been approached many times lately with this idea that if God is good then he is not God or if he is God then he is not good. Many of these people are quoting, or more often misquoting who they think is Epicurus typically something like this:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing? Then He is evil.
Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?
You have to choose one of the three because if He was able, willing, loving and good then there would be no evil.
-Epicurus, 341 BC, Samos – 270 BC, Athens
First of all, the wording is suspect as well as the date, location and the authorship. There were many skeptic writers before and during this time. Most likely this came from one of those sources, possibly through Epicurus, but aside from this the idea is still held by many. Additionally the “problem of evil” has been addressed by far better writers and thinkers than me. I do not claim to be a scholar, theologian or teacher but I do have some thoughts on the subject.
Let’s take a look at this from a parenting point of view. I am a loving father of two beautiful daughters. I would never wish either of my daughters to experience any pain of any kind. It breaks my heart to hear them cry or to see them hurt in any way. Since only one of them is old enough to move about on her own, we will concentrate on her. It is often completely within my power to prevent the pain that she experiences day to day and I do not. So this would put me in the able but not willing category but does it also put me in the malevolent category?
Let me explain where this evil impulse first began. When my daughter first began to stand up without assistance she would wobble. If no one caught her then she would fall over. My wife was amazingly fast at dashing across the room to catch her at the last second before she would hit the floor. It took me several weeks to convince my wife that I was not the worst father in history because I wanted to “teach” my daughter how to fall by not catching her every time. I did not let her fall into or onto anything that would hurt her. I did let her fall onto padded carpet or fall onto pillows or fall onto mattresses or cushions etc… My daughter being the bright girl that she is only fell a few times before she started to let herself down easy rather than dropping down with all of her weight. Had I kept the discomfort of those first few falls from my daughter she would have never learned to let herself down easy and as she grew so would the danger of her hurting herself more severely as her size, height, and weight increased.
Climbing was the next adventure we encountered and my girl loved to climb. My girl had no fear of any kind when it came to climbing. Stability did not matter, height did not matter, her ability did not matter, and if it was up she was going. Again, as a loving father I wanted her to learn for her safety and I wanted her to learn a couple of new things as well. I wanted her to learn my voice and to come to me when she needed me. Once again, I did not let her do anything that could actually cause an injury. As she would start to climb on something like one of her toys I would be near her telling her “be careful” over and over. Sometimes she would climb up and down completely fine. Sometimes she would fall and run to me. Those times I would embrace her and make sure she was ok. I would love her and tell her to come to me when she hurt. I would tell her to listen to my warnings, to hear my voice, that I only wanted good things for her even while it broke my heart to let her hurt herself over and over again.
As a mortal father, human in nature, nowhere near omnipotent, it is completely within my power in a variety of ways to prevent many of those things. I could remove anything that could be climbed. I could attach a strap to her that did not allow her to get more than an inch or two off of the floor. I could hold her every second of every day. I could pick her up every time she tried to climb something. I could tell her “NO!” and impose consequences that would eventually remove any desire on her part to want to climb. An omnipotent God could do far more, could have: not have invented arms and legs to begin with, imposed so much gravity as to make climbing impossible, removed the desire to climb altogether, not allowed the thought processes to form that would lead to the knowledge of how to climb etc… All of those options also remove learning not only of how to climb but of how to hear a fathers voice, listen to a father’s warnings, of how to know a father’s love, how to run to a father when you are hurt, and how to find healing in a father’s arms.
As my daughter’s grow I know that it will become increasingly difficult to watch them put themselves in dangerous situations. To watch them do things that I know are going to result in their pain. To know that I am going to experience that pain with them. Especially as the stakes rise, at this age the little bumps have no real consequences but the mistakes to come are likely to leave permanent scars on the daughters that I love with all of my heart. I am far from perfect. I am not omnipotent. I will never claim to be any type of a god, but I am a loving father who not only allows evil to enter the lives of my children but at times has prevented others from stopping it as well. The people who are making the “Epicurian trilemma” argument would have no alternative but to say that I am not loving at all but an evil and malevolent father.