Contradiction on intervention

If there really is a God, surely he would do something about all the evil and suffering in the world?

It’s a common enough objection to the existence of God, isn’t it? Surely, the argument goes, a good God would do something about the existence of evil. Why doesn’t he step in and do something.

How can a good God command such heinous things in Canaan? That is the behaviour of a megalomaniacal despot!

That’s another common one that often gets thrown out. If God is good, they aver, how can he order such horrors from his people. His behaviour hardly seems good to me. Why does he command such things?

Neither question is necessarily bad. Both are legitimate things to ask. But if they are asked by the same person (as I have often found) they rather seem to cancel themselves out. The first question is essentially asking why God doesn’t intervene when bad things happen. The second asks the exact opposite and wonders why God does intervene when bad things happen.

If we are going to make the case that God doesn’t exist because (on our view) he is evil – a logically incoherent argument to make at any rate – we do need to stick to one or other of these particular arguments. The same applies even if only making the case that God isn’t good. Either we want God to intervene to stop evil, such as the barbaric practices of child sacrifice prevalent amongst the Canaanites, or we want him to keep his hands off all human affairs altogether. But we are contradicting ourselves if we insist, on the one hand, that God isn’t good because he never intervenes and then, with the other, insist he isn’t good because he sometimes does.

Of course, behind this whole discussion sits a view that we can perfectly judge justice in a way that the God we are seeking to impugn doesn’t. But if we can’t avoid contradicting ourselves about God’s intervention in the world, what hope have we got of enacting perfect justice ourselves? Indeed, it assumes an overreach of our own knowledge. We, who have limited knowledge, believe we know better than God, who has perfect knowledge, what would be perfectly just. Even aside from how good God is or isn’t, it seems a touch arrogant to assume that we have better insight than – if he is there – the Almighty creator of the universe who judges even the innermost thoughts of man.

But essentially, we have to pick our argument. Either God is bad because he intervenes in human affairs, or he is bad because he doesn’t. What we can’t do is argue both simultaneously. Of course, it might mean God just isn’t bad at all.