Paradoxes, possibilities, and a precious privilege
I don’t have a very good memory of my childhood. I’ll be at a family function and my brother who is just one year younger than me and seems to remember everything will say to me, “Remember when such and such…” No. “And remember when we all…?” No. “And how about that time when…?” No.
But a few things from my early childhood have stuck with me. Some monumental, for a kid anyway, like holding my mother’s hand as she escorted me to my first day of school. Some that are monumental for many of us, like Sr. Gonzaga having us all kneel and pray when the principal announced that President Kennedy had been shot (oh, dear…I’m dating myself). Others are just random, like my mom asking a few of my siblings and I what she and Dad should name baby #8. And we, after some serious contemplation on this very important matter, doubtless honored that she should even ask us, replied, “If it’s a boy…Tarzan. And Jane if it’s a girl.” Thankfully…it was a girl.
I also do recall being stumped when a classmate presented me with the perennial paradox of God’s omnipotence: Can God make a rock too heavy for him to lift? Whoa. Mind blown.
Now I know how to answer that challenge, but probably only because I have been intentional about familiarizing myself with the evidences for God’s existence and the truth of the Christian worldview. I wonder how many adults are still stumped by it.
As an amateur apologist I have made it my goal to be able to answer all challenges to the faith, and the doctrine of God’s omnipotence gets targeted regularly, especially as it relates to the reality of evil and suffering in the world. The argument attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus capsulizes the challenge well:
- 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 answer to both the paradoxical and the existential challenge is the same: God cannot do the logically impossible. It is not a threat to his power or his presence in the universe to concede that he cannot make a square circle, create you and not create you, nor call into existence a rock too heavy for an almighty God to handle.
It is also logically impossible to force someone to freely do something. And that is the short answer to why this world is marked by evil and suffering. God created us with the freedom to choose good or bad, obedience or rebellion, virtue or evil, life or death. To choose to live for him, or for ourselves. He can’t be blamed if we suffer the consequences of our own bad choices.
God bestowed on us the supreme honor and privilege of having genuinely free volition, as he himself does. It is what allows us to have a genuine love relationship with him, and to enjoy it eternally. To deny us the freedom to sin, which would eradicate evil and suffering, would deny us an infinite good as well. And none of us would likely even be here if that was his best option. What would he want with a bunch of warm robots?
There’s a lot more that could be said about how to reconcile God’s omnipotence with his love and goodness and the presence of evil. The challenge is substantial but not insuperable, and I’ve addressed it in more depth here and here. The paradox of the rock is substantially simpler, and if I had been able to deflect it in elementary school I might have been able to skip a few grades.
Or more likely, be shunned as a nerdy know-it-all.
I think I can hear C. S. Lewis in there…
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