Epicurus and the problem of evil



Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Thus spake Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who lived from 341-270 BC. This is what you might call a tight spot argument. It seems to cover all the bases and leave us Christians without the faintest hope of getting out. But tight spots are okay. The people of God have been there before. And so with a range of impregnable rocks to the left and to the right, the most formidable army in the world chasing after us from the rear, and an impassable sea right before us, what do we do? Trust in the God of tight spots and march right on ahead over the path that he clears for us through the waters.

Although the riddle is undoubtedly clever, it turns out to be loaded with a couple of erroneous presuppositions: firstly, a flawed presupposition, and secondly, a really flawed presupposition.

So what is the flawed presupposition? In a nutshell, it is the idea that to deal with evil, God must do so in exactly the way we think he ought to, and if he doesn’t, we’re going to get all uppity and tell him that he doesn’t exist. In our wisdom, we know that he ought to deal with evil, and we also know just how he ought to do it. Yet the problem we have is that any of the ways we can come up with to deal with evil end up destroying not just evil, but humanity itself. Let me explain.

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