Great letter by Edmond Eh, correcting the mistakes in recent attempts in The Straits Times to explain the tsunami disaster:
"RECENT attempts at philosophical/theological reflection on the tsunami disaster by Mr Tan Tarn How ('Evil? No way, come hell or high water'; The Sunday Times, Jan 9), Ms Chua Mui Hoong ('Where was God when the tsunamis hit?'; Jan 16) and Dr Andy Ho ('Where God was when the tsunami struck'; ST, Jan 22) raise interesting points, but contain important mistakes.
"In the great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God is believed to be (1) existing, (2) omnipresent (all present), (3) omniscient (all knowing), (4) omnipotent (all powerful) and (5) omnibenevolent (all good).
"However, the challenge from the problem of evil is this: given the presence of suffering in this world, it is not possible to affirm all the five properties of God stated. Accordingly, Mr Tan denies (1), Ms Chua denies (4) and Dr Ho denies (5).
"FIRSTLY, Mr Tan states that the problem of evil provides evidence that God does not exist. This is based on a wrong conception of evil. Evil is not a substance or a thing; it is a state of lack of something good. So, the concept of evil is parasitic on the concept of good. This being so, the existence of evil does not disprove God. Rather, the reverse is true.
"As St Thomas Aquinas (1224-74) teaches: Boethius introduces a philosopher asking the question: 'If there is a God, how come there is evil?'. The argument should be turned the other way: 'If there is evil, there is a God.' For there would be no evil, if the order of goodness were taken away...
"Next, Ms Chua believes that God is not omnipotent because He created people with free will and cannot force them against their freedom. This is based on another conceptual misunderstanding.
"Freedom is part of the essence of a human being. Someone without free will is not a human, but an animal or a robot. To say that God is not omnipotent because He cannot stop humans from being free is like saying that God is not all-powerful because He cannot make pigs fly.
"To blame God for not being able to go against human freedom is to accuse God of an inability to perform a meaningless contradiction.
"Lastly, Dr Ho believes that God is not benevolent to all His creatures but 'only some whom he chooses so his will is worked out'. He comes close to the view of John Calvin (1509-64) who taught double predestination in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.
"Calvin held that God only chooses to save some people (the elect) because He predestines some to heaven and others to hell. Unfortunately for Dr Ho, very few modern Calvinists still uphold this doctrine because it creates a wholly inaccurate and cruel image of God. Actually, the simple reason why God allows evil is that if He did not, then a lot of good would be lost. To quote St Thomas again:
"Hence many good things would be taken away if God permitted no evil to exist; for fire would not be generated if air was not corrupted, nor would the life of a lion be preserved unless the ass were killed...
"Also, contrary to Ms Chua and Dr Ho's opinions, evil does not show the limits of God's omnipotence or omnibenevolence. Again, the reverse is true. As St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) explains, God is 'so omnipotent and good that he can bring good even out of evil'."
Great refutations! Edmond's points (1), (2), (3) and (4) were exactly what came to my mind when I read the articles by these three columnists. Only problem was: I either couldn't find the time to write the refutations down, or I didn't know the proper refutations.
Initially I thought he did not really attempt to explain WHY God 'allowed' the tsunami to happen in the first place. Upon closer reading, found that he did write that "the simple reason why God allows evil is that if He did not, then a lot of good would be lost" -- which perhaps suggests "suffering had to be part and parcel of our lives to help us grow spiritually".
Having found out how frequently earthquakes happen and how natural protection had been stripped away by man for "better economy", I think other reasons for this disaster could include:
- God is omnipotent, but He cannot (or is disinclined to, perhaps one 'miracle' here could turn lots of other things haywire elsewhere?) make His creations contradict their own nature, and say, "make pigs fly". (a point made in the letter)
- Much pain and suffering is often brought upon mankind by people themselves, especially when they don't follow God's will.
- Suffering could be megaphone to mankind, as another writer quoted C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain.
Still, we don't KNOW, right?
Yes, God can still bring good out of evil. But to say that God allows evil in order to bring more good into the world sounds rather disturbing and problematic to me. Yes, granted that we grow spiritually when we suffer. However, some evils are so dreadful that one really wonders why God would 'allow' them to happen in order to.... E.g., a young girl being raped, the recent tsunami (killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions). It could make God seem rather sadistic.
At the end of the day though, it would be presumptuous to think that we (mere creatures) can read the mind of God (our creator) or know how He works. I don't think I need to understand WHY or HOW God acts but rather how to follow Him more closely.
Interestingly, the Living Faith thought for 28 Jan (feastday of St Thomas Aquinas) reads:
""The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how." - Mark 4:26-27
"This passage is a warning against a rationalistic and legalistic (mis)understanding of God's kingdom. Scripture reveals that God's kingdom is a mysterious reality growing of its own internal divine energy and hidden like a seed in the soil. It "sprouts and grows" we "know not how". Too often we talk about this mysterious reality as if it were a definable corporate entity we know absolutely everything about -- and even control by our correct thoughts and right actions, by our orthodox faith and genuine good works.
"We may at times recognize "the kingdom of God," but we would be sadly misguided to think that any of our explicit efforts to promote or build up God's kingdom are what make that kingdom "sprout and grow," what make it happen.
"St Thomas Aquinas spent a lifetime trying to fit God's kingdom into a system of rational theology - only to confess in profound humility at the end of his life that all he had produced was so much 'straw'.
"Lord, help us to respect the mysteries you reveal."
From the Catholic Catechism of the Church (thanks, Edmond):
CCC 310 But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world "in a state of journeying" towards its ultimate perfection. In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.
CCC 311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it:
For almighty God. . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.
CCC 312 In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: "It was not you", said Joseph to his brothers, "who sent me here, but God. . . You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive." From the greatest moral evil ever committed - the rejection and murder of God's only Son, caused by the sins of all men - God, by his grace that "abounded all the more", brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.