Monday, August 15, 2011

"Why isn't God preventing 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?"

The Epicurean Paradox might seem like one of those clever riddles that will stop you in your tracks, make you pause and get all introspective, but it really isn't. I still think it's a good spiritual exercise to occasionally sharpen your saw by playing the role of the doubter though. There's no better way to strengthen your faith than questioning what you're told is the unquestionable, searching for the answers and finally, that peaceful feeling where you are one with your belief, knowing full well that what you believe in is where you arrived at with your own mind and heart.

So today I attempt to tackle this from how I understand it:
Before we humans jumped into the picture, it was perfect. Picture Perfect. An Almighty God, and angels, animals, nature..all willingly worshiping and praising Him. There was just the one peaceful system that God willed, and everything was in order. Anyone looking at the universe then would smile and say nothing's missing.

But God is Creative, and Just, and Wise, and if there was anything Higher and More Perfect that could be, He would let it be. And there was. You see: all the elements in that perfect picture didn't have a choice- they had to be good and peaceful and loving. The superior element that was missing was us: creatures with the freedom of choice. That's what sets us aside from the rest of the world.

By creating us, God may have been risking the smoothness of all that existed, (probably the reason why the Qur'an tell us the angels voiced their concerns when they were told we were arriving), but He was also unlocking the greatest potential ever. Because by choosing to do good, rather than doing good because it's the only choice, they could reach levels higher than any angel. Simply arming humans with freedom of choice made them that special. God gives us way more credit for using our minds to choose good over evil, instead of being compelled to do good. The greatness that humans could come up by being given a choice to do good is so large and powerful, that God judges it's worth all the trouble of giving up a world defined by 'goodness'. That's how much faith He has in us.

By expecting God to prevent evil, we're asking Him to take away from us our essence: the freedom to choose. If God prevented evil, He would be unfair because He would be taking away from us what distinguishes humanity. All the evil that happens in the world is a result of choice- our lives are a product of choice. True, there are victims of other peoples' wrong choices, but that's why God has a system of justice in place and accountability, and no good choice goes unrewarded.

Going back to the paradox, God doesn't Will good- He Wills freedom of choice, and that just illustrates and emphasizes the importance of the freedom in decision-making, in that the AlMighty Himself Wills it upon this universe. However, besides God's Will is God's Wish. God's Wish is for humanity to make the best of the gifts we've been given and use them for good. (Another conclusion you can come up with here is that no matter WHAT a person does, they are never going against God's Will, because they are exercising their right to choice. They may choose to go against His Wish, but that still is in line with His Will)

So Epicurus was wrong in concluding that if God is able to stop evil but does not, then he is evil-willing. That's like a professor who teaches all the material, prepares a reasonable exam, but still decides to whisper the correct answers to students during their exam. (In want of a better analogy. I know this one is weak because the student may not know what the answer should be, but there is no human heart that cannot make out right from wrong- another law of nature Willed upon us). I'd be offended if I as a student am not given my simple right to think for myself during the exam and trusted to come up with my own answer. I'd also be offended if God gives me a brain that processes information and is able to distinguish good from evil, but then He doesn't let me use this brain to do evil if I want to.

Imagine God did decide to take back our gift of freedom of choice and prevented all the evil in the world. Evil wouldn't exist, but then you wouldn't be able to call what exists as 'good' but simply 'existence'. Good would have no meaning then and no weight or measure, and when I mean good it includes powerful things that can shake the world, like love. Logically speaking, if no evil existed, good would be nothing, and so would everything that is part of good. I don't want to live in a world where I have no freedom of choice and where I see good in the world but just perceive it all as what exists, no thanks!

We all want everyone to not be ruled by misunderstanding, and so does God, but He cannot Will it (i.e. cause it to happen) because that would make creating us and this world pointless. A world like the one we dream of is beautiful because it is a world in which we, with our own choice, would make that way. If that same world happened because God willed it upon it to be that way, it wouldn't be beautiful anymore. It would be like the women in the movie 'The Stepford Wives'.

Good and Evil may be relative, but only to a small extent. Generally, humans know when they're doing lovely and when they're messing up. They know that they're collectively responsible for the ugliness that's been created of the beautiful world gifted to us. Yet we have the nerve to shift the responsibility away from us, and towards God. How about we open our eyes and see the gifts we've been given, the ones that could do wonders, and use them for a change?


  1. Salam, I'm am so impressed by the way you have written this post, masha'Allah, it's a very nice and logical read - thanks :D

  2. Assalamualeikum wa Rahmatulahi wa Barakatuhu dear sis. A late Ramadan Kareem from Denmark! <3
    I too, like stylish muslimah, am impressed by your analogies, your examples, and just your whole post in general, mashaAllah. It gave me a whole new insight as to how to answer this question when it is put to me during class or wherever I may be. Jazakillahu khairan dear sis, for sharing. <3

  3. Assalamualaikum sis,
    That is a good post
    Indeed very enlightening and good reasoning


  4. MashAllah, you've covered a lot of useful points. Jazak Allah Khair for posting this! ^-^


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