How much evil could God allow for a greater good?
In “Does God ever visit Ronald McDonald House?” I asked a question that crushes me. But as a Christian theist how can I not ask it? A few responses from the skeptics in our midst were, as I expected, incredulous. For example, Ray replied with the following:
“The good of consolation is only a runner-up prize to the good of not needing consolation. Would you give your child cancer so that you could experience such a heartwarming moment?”
No I wouldn’t. But Ray’s comment set my trivializing detectors off just the same. We’re not talking about a Hallmark moment here. We’re talking about the possibility of a morally sufficient reason for extreme suffering. Is that at least possible? Let’s consider an illustration which might place the question before us into a context.
Imagine that you’re walking across the street. Suddenly you hit the curb and bloody your knee. It happened so fast you don’t know what happened to you. Blood on your favorite blue jeans. Why, oh why?
From that point we consider two different scenarios.
Scenario A: You fell because you were pushed by somebody else, but it was for a good reason.
Scenario B: You tripped.
Now which would you prefer to be the case? That is, would you prefer that you were pushed and your knee was bloodied due to the morally sufficient intention of a third party, or would you prefer that your knee was bloodied for no reason at all?
For me it is a no brainer. I’d prefer there was some reason behind it. I opt for Scenario A. So then I ask: “What reason was there?”
And then the response comes: “A car was about to hit you.”
But what if that doesn’t make any sense to me because the only cars I’ve ever seen are made of foam and travel at 5 mph? I may be puzzled, thinking I’d much rather be bumped by a foam car than get a bloody knee. Indeed, I may be tempted to reject the greater goods defense altogether.
And all the while I’d never suspect that in fact had that stranger not acted I would have been turned into pavement pizza by an aging two ton Cadillac.
Isn’t it possible that bloody knees are allowed for an even greater good that we can’t conceive due to our limited horizons of experience? Of course it is possible.
Now another question: if we allow bloody knees then what about other cases of suffering? Is there a threshold of suffering at which our moral intuition revolts and says “No, I’d rather have Scenario B in this case. It is worse to have a reason for that suffering than none at all”? Why would anybody say such a thing if Scenario A remained open? Wouldn’t you always prefer a reason (in terms of a greater good) why you suffered rather than no reason at all?
Let’s say that somebody says NO! I’D RATHER HAVE NO REASON IN SOME CASES!
Okay, if you did choose Scenario B in some cases, what was the level of suffering that would be sufficiently egregious to trigger it? One hour of a child with cancer? One day? One week? One year? And why that degree of suffering rather than another?
Let me sum this up. Atheists talk with great confidence and moral indignation about what God could not possibly allow for a greater good. But when push comes to shove I find such objections high on emotional appeal and low on careful reasoned reflection.