Many atheists exclaim that the existence of natural evil leading to suffering (gratuitous or otherwise) is proof that God does not exist. Is this a logically valid objection? Here’s something to think about:
(1) Evil is privation of good (metaphysical evil)
(2) Absence of good is evil; to a degree that something is not perfect, to that same degree it is evil
(3) Anything that is created must be less than Creator
(4) Therefore it must suffer from some metaphysical evil—being less than Creator
The Bible says that God called his original creation, “very good.” He never said it was perfect. Considering this, it would, in fact, be logically impossible to have a world without evil. Anything created by a Perfect Being (God) would have to be less than perfect just by virtue of being contingent upon the necessary and maximally great and perfect being. This means as soon as God creates anything, it immediately must be less than perfect (as only God is Perfect), and this means immediately the manifestation of different kinds of imperfections and “metaphysical evils” that would probably get worse over the course of time.
How could God create something that was perfect, independent, uncreated, and therefore worthy of worship? It is logically impossible for God to create something else that exists necessarily and that is the ultimate standard of perfection. Think about it: it would be impossible for a necessarily existing Maximally Great Being to create another necessarily existing Maximally Great Being because it would necessarily not be necessary, but rather, contingent. Therefore, anything God creates does not meet the standard of ultimate perfection, and therefore, anything God creates is less than perfect.
The best a Maximally Great Being (an omnipotent God) can logically do is create “very good” things (Genesis 1:31).
So the question is raised: why would God create any imperfect and metaphysically evil world? Why would God create a world suffused with moral and natural evil? Even evil that seems to be gratuitous from our point of view? Perhaps we need to consider things from a divine perspective as the Apostle Paul did. Paul explains why a world full of suffering is good as these “light momentary afflictions prepare us for eternity” (2 Cor 4:17). That’s basically a nice way of saying, “no pain, no gain!” Perhaps God might allow a world suffused with evil, pain, and suffering to secure the eternal election of the saints without violating human libertarian free will so that true love with God (the greatest good a human can experience) can be attained into the infinite future. Think about this:
“The gates of Hell are locked from the inside.” That is a famous quote from C.S. Lewis, but if that’s true, then could it also be said that, “the gates of Heaven are locked from the inside?” That is to say, is it logically possible for a person in Heaven to freely choose to sin, blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and freely leave to go to Hell (even if they won’t)?
Perhaps, yes, but why would they want to? That would be an important question to ask. Those in Heaven would have experienced the imperfection of this world with all of its evil, pain, and suffering (including what seems to be gratuitous suffering from our perspective). Moreover, they would be in an epistemic position to know that Hell was even worse in the absence of God and all that is good.
On top of that, those in Heaven would be experiencing a personal relationship with the Maximally Great Being who lavishes them with perfect love and meets every single need with perfection. Why would a saint in Heaven, knowingly, and freely choose to leave this ultimate paradise and perfect love for the imperfection and horror of Hell? They would have the “knowledge of good and evil” and have personally experienced it through pain, evil, and suffering. Moreover, in Heaven, they would have experienced maximal greatness. It does not seem like anyone who has experienced the imperfection of this world and the perfection of the next in heaven, would freely choose to exist in a world (hell) that was worse than the imperfection of the one they just left and already experienced. Perhaps this is how God can guarantee free creatures will persevere into the infinite future!
This is why bad things happen to “good” people!
In conclusion, it seems that it is logically impossible for a maximally perfect being to create anything that is also maximally perfect. Therefore, whatever the perfect being creates must be metaphysically evil to some degree (less than perfect). God allows us to experience this imperfect world suffused with pain, evil, and suffering to prepare us for the eternity of the next world (Satan and Adam took suffering-free worlds for granted; we will not). Therefore, it is “very good” that God created an imperfect and suffering filled world. It therefore follows that what appears to be gratuitous suffering from our perspective actually serves an eternal purpose! Why did God call this world, “very good?” Because He knew it would lead to an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17). God has eternity in mind; we ought to do the same.
Stay reasonable (Phil 4:5 ESV),
1- Thank you to Garrett DeWeese and Kirk MacGregor. This argument is from DeWeese and my article was inspired by MacGregor’s work found here: Philosophia Christi, Vol. 14, No. 1 © 2012