If God is supposedly good and almighty, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? Or as a loved-one recently put it, what use is a God that lets such atrocities happen? This is the paradox that religions have struggled with for millennia and continue to contemplate. In theology, it is known as the Problem of Evil.
My favourite atheist Kurt Vonnegut provides a poignant solution: “There is no good reason good can’t triumph over evil, if only angels will get organized along the lines of the mafia.” I think Vonnegut, unlike most people who use the Problem of Evil to argue against the existence of (a benevolent) God, intuitively understood the impasse. As ethicist David Rodin puts it: “if one can defeat evil only by becoming evil, then it is impossible to defeat evil.” Sure, an almighty God can easily kill the evil-doers, or better yet, reach into the minds of the wicked and prevent them from acting out their malicious intentions, but while the end may justify the means the implication is horrifying. God would be the Mafia Boss, the Tyrannical Dictator, the ultimate Puppet Master. Yes, we would not have evil or pain or suffering, but neither would we be free to enjoy anything worth caring about. We’d simply be puppets in a universe void of love or liberty.