The Problem of Good

From: Steve Petermann (
Date: Sun Sep 07 2003 - 19:32:56 EDT

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    So many theologies seem to be significantly shaped by the "problem of evil".
    Extraordinary measures are taken to shield God from the responsibility of
    evil. Recent discussions concerning the limitations of God in process
    theology or Christian notions of human freedom as the source of evil, are
    all attempts to maintain a notion of a "good" God. Instead of the problem
    of evil, I think it is "a problem of good". Almost invariably the essays on
    the problem of evil start out with the premise to be defended is "God is
    good, loving, caring, etc." From there the arguments begin without really
    delving into this notion of "good". But what is this thing we call good? Is
    this term when used as an adjective really so simple as it may seem?

    Without question most people would say that life is good. Even in the midst
    of times of great trial most people deep down affirm life. But what is it
    about life that we all enjoy and cherish? What is it about those things in
    life that we enjoy so much. Do they occur because for the moment evil is not
    possible? To the contrary. I suggest that the very reason we love those
    things in life is because the *structure* of life is such that evil is
    possible. While, of course, evil itself is to be loathed and challenged
    wherever it is met, life would not be what we want if the potential for evil
    were not possible.

    Just a few examples. Almost everyone likes to eat. Why is that? When is
    it that we enjoy eating the most? When we are the hungriest. But hunger is
    based on a deficit in the body. The more the deficit, the more hungry we
    are, and the more we enjoy eating. But what happens when hunger grows to
    extremes. We call it starvation. We call it evil.

    What about playing cards or any other game? What do we enjoy about it? The
    challenge? The risk? Would it be fun to play cards if there was never a
    chance you could lose? We enjoy games *because* of the risk of failure. It
    is the challenge and possibility of victory or growth that creates the
    "good". Taking that challenge to extremes, however, leads to total failure
    and what we would call evil. Life entails pressure but life without any
    pressure is dull and unappealing. Too much pressure and we call it evil.

    So if this life we have is such a wonderful gift why is it that God would be
    at such great fault if the cost of creating this wonderful life is the
    potential for evil. For God to be good does not mean that God must preclude
    the potential for evil in this life. That would create a life structure we
    wouldn't want anyway(no loosing at tennis, no challenge, no need to learn
    and grow). My feeling is that the *structure* of a life we would want
    entails the potential for evil. The good life is not one without this
    potential but one where we and God co-create love, justice, beauty and
    meaning in the midst of life's ambiguities.

    Best Regards,
    Steve Petermann

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