God and Evil — Part 4 (An Intellectual Approach)

See part 3 or the introduction.

Thus the defense of exhibit B is different from exhibit A.

Since there is no good at all, except incidentally, in a morally evil act, in evil done, there is nothing created there, hence an action of God. A morally evil act as such is an absence of something, a failure on my part to live as humanly, as intensely as I might have done. Evidently God does not bring about failure as such, for failure is not there, it is an absence.

When, as in the case of the lamb, the failure is brought about by the fulfillment of something else, …the fulfillment of the lion. But here there is sheer failure on my part, not brought by the fulfillment of some outside agent, but simply allowed by me. So God has no hand in it at all.

It all comes down to choice a person makes. In every choice, a person is faced with fulfilling their good, like the lion, between two desires. The defect, the evil done, the morally evil act, arises when the lesser good is chosen over the higher good. Suppose I have to choose between being just and being rich.

There is no harm in bring rich of course, unless, as it usually does, it conflicts with being just. If I then choose the riches unjustly I have failed in being human, and that is moral evil.

…My desire for riches is a positive thing, and a perfectly good positive thing, created by God—the only thing is that it is a minor thing. I should desire other things more than this. My failure to seek my true happiness and fulfillment, of course, since it is a failure, an absence, a non-being, is not created or sustained or brought about by God.

There are no such things as evil desires, there is only evil disproportion in our desires; human evil, moral evil lies in sacrificing great things for the sake of trival things, it lies in the failure to want happiness enough.

And finally,

…though it is due to God that any good and positive thing is due to me, it is not due to God that any moral failure is due to me. God does not make absences, non-beings, failures. On this count then my client is fully exonerated and his character has no visible stain on it.

Ah! Although God does not bring about failure, could he not bring about instead success? In other words, although God did not cause me to fail of choosing good, could he easily have me choose good without interfering with my freedom?

There is no question of God having to permit me to sin in order to leave me with my freedom. That kind of argument belongs to a theory that freedom makes me independent of God. In fact God could have made a world in which nobody ever sinned at all and everyone was perfectly free. In such a world, if it were material and historical, there would certainly have to be suffering as the obverse of the good of material things, but there would be no need whatever for sin. Sin has no useful function in the world except by accident.

Then is God guilty by neglect?

You can only be guilty by neglect if you have some kind of obligation to do something and you do not do it. It is the helmsman who is accused of neglect, and not the cabin-boy, because it is the helmsman’s job to steer the ship. Now by no stretch of imagination is it God’s job to prevent me from sinning. In his mercy and kindness he frequently does so, and frequently he gives me the grace to repent of the sins I have committed, but this is not his job, his métier. There can be no sense in the idea that God has any job or is under any obligation; if there were, there would be something greater than God which constrained him. God is no more under an obligation to prevent me from sinning than he was under an obligation to create the world in the first place. He cannot therefore be said to be guilty by neglect.

This, I believe, demonstrates that the mystery of evil is not logically inconsistent with an omnipotent and good God.

On the premise, which I think you will accept, that the natural material world is a good thing to have (including, as it does, ourselves), we cannot blame God for the necessary concomitant of some suffering [the lion/lamb]. I think I have also shown that although there is no such case for the natural necessity of moral evil, the most we can say is not that God causes moral evil but that he does not prevent it—that he permits it; and I think I have shown that in not preventing it, God is not failing in any duty and thus cannot be charged with neglect.

McCabe concludes,

Suffering (of the lamb) is not, of course, a perspicuous sign of God’s goodness, but the fulfillment (of the lion) which is its concomitant is a sign of God’s goodness; in sin, however, there is no manifestation of God’s goodness at all. But it is one thing to say that sin is not a manifestation of God’s goodness and quite another to say that sin is a manifestation that God is not good. We do not know why the good God has made a world which does not at all times manifest his goodness, but the notion is not contradictory.

McCabes goes on to say,

Somehow the infinite goodness of God is compatible with his allowing sin. We do not know how, but it is good to recognise this for it reminds us that we know nothing of God and his purposes except that he loves us and wishes us to share his life of love.

Continued in part 5 for an emotional approach.


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