How Would You Defend the Concept of a Benevolent and Omnipotent God?

I apologize if this has been covered - please point me to the proper thread if it has.

I’m curious how one might defend the concept of a benevolent and omnipotent God, given that bad things happen to innocent people, and those things have no visible benevolent purpose. For example babies are born with painful and quickly fatal physical defects.

One defense might be that there is a benevolent purpose behind every natural (God-caused) action, but it is just beyond our understanding.

In response, I would ask you to imagine an evil God that enjoys torturing and killing innocent babies, but still wants our love and worship. Would His defense be any different from the one I just mentioned? How plausible would you judge that defense to be if it were a powerful human giving it for apparently evil behavior?

Taking a different tack, would you expect a perfectly benevolent and omnipotent Creator to make creatures that are unable to understand the justification of the painful things being done to them? Wouldn’t it be more benevolent to create them with the ability to understand? We are capable of understanding the idea of experiencing pain to get a better future, why limit that capability?

Another defense could be that suffering makes us better people by overcoming it. But it doesn’t make the babies better people, and suffering short of painful death for innocent babies would seem to suffice.

I’m looking forward to an interesting conversation.

God does not exist. However, this question assumes, as a priori, the centrality of our current state of existence. One possible defense that comes to mind is that earthly suffering is irrelevant and that any such suffering which happens to innocent people, such as babies, is simply superseded by the next state of being. Or put another way, assuming the certainty of an infinite, enjoyable afterlife, any kind of earthly suffering is nothing at all.

Thanks for the reply. I would say pointing out the irrelevance or insignificance of suffering is not really a defense of the suffering, but rather a negation of the suffering. Interesting point nonetheless.

My take is that we are children of God, and God is raising us to be ‘gods’ and perhaps one day to have our own created universe for us to create with God but for us. For us to be truly in God’s image and likeness, to be Christ, child of God and ruler of all as our inheritance. This plays out on an eternal timeframe, not a lifetime time frame. We have lessons to learn and some of them will be hard. We will repeat them till we learn, and that can mean it gets harder.

The difference between a good God and a evil God is the same as it is for us humans, intent. We as human can kill a person for good reasons such as a mercy killing, or for evil reasons (no example needed). So while the act may be identical, it is the heart, and the intent that God looks over. Any act can be committed for good or evil, and judging only the act, not the intent, is morally wrong. So while your evil God may look the same externally, one God is raising up Gods, the other is trying to get worship for their own glory. So it is quite a difference in intent.

The only real defense is that the suffering is necessary as some form of big picture we cannot understand, like when I force feed my dog his pills, he will never understand why.

Thanks, but on further reflection its not much of a defense at all. An omnipotent, benevolent God would not have any reason not to explain the reason for earthly suffering. On the other hand, if such a thing could be proven with certainty, it is nothing less than monstrous. The most benevolent, rational thing one would do is to kill every single human at birth.

This is only true if you you know better than the hypothetical omnibenevolent deity. If our puny human minds are incapable of understanding the ineffable plan, they’re equally incapable of dictating how our omnibenevolent deity should act.

In other words, you’re telling the shadows on the wall what they should look like without having ever seen the outside of the cave.

No, it is more like we are assigning attributes to those shadows without having enough knowledge to do so. “You cannot know the mind of God” doesn’t mix well with “Kind, benevolent and loving God”, especially when you consider that a lying and deceitful God would indeed lie in a book he supposedly guided and, being God, would be more than capable of being successful at it.

Precisely. Any number of justifications can be had for the existence of earthly suffering, and given the right incentive (such as an infinite, enjoyable afterlife) humans would justifiably bear it. But the mere fact that we don’t know why is unnecessary for a benevolent being with omnipotence. One could say that such knowledge would be harmful, or would have undesirable consequences, or against an ineffable plan, but since the being is omnipotent, it would be able to handwave any such consequences away.

It perplexes me that so many people stumble over the concept of the OP. All the arguments and objections that are commonly raised on this topic can be answered simply, concisely, and easily–

Free will.

Anybody who studies the biblical depiction of God will find that His love and benevolence are perfectly balanced by His justice and holiness. A God who allowed wrong-doing to slide by unpunished would be an unbalanced–and thus imperfect–God.

The Bible is VERY clear that ALL forms of pain, suffering, and general unpleasantness in the world are a direct result of sin–something that entered the world as a direct result of free will.

The angels were already created at some point before Adam and Eve. But the angels are somewhat akin to robots–they had precisely one chance to decide whether they would serve God or Satan, and that one chance sealed their fate forever. At this point, they no longer have any choice in the matter.

God wanted a class of intelligent beings who could freely choose to worship Him–even though that very ability to choose had the inherent risk of producing a different result. God has the power to override free will–but He refuses to use it, because exercising that power would render the whole thing meaningless.

To ask questions such as the OP asks is a seemingly-sophisticated form of saying, “I’m going to blatantly ignore 95% of the source material, and then have the gall to be puzzled when I can’t figure out the answers.”

But, free will wouldn’t really exist in Heaven, and most souls spend essentially all of their existence (the difference between 0.999… and 1, almost) in Heaven. God seems fine with no free will in Heaven. What use is an infinitesimal period of free will followed by an infinity without it?

And, I would argue that babies have essentially no free will when born, but still can’t get into Heaven unless they are baptized (according to some readings of the source material), so billions of babies spend eternity in agony, having not had the chance to be baptized.

To the OP, I don’t think we’ll solve this several-thousand-year-old problem here. The answer is usually that we can’t understand the mind of God or something like that.

Hey, for those babies born to suffer and die, maybe they were the next Hitler!

There is I believe other threads on the existence of “free will”-you should look into them. Your "“simple” answer merely throws another unevidenced assumption onto the pile.

One first thought:

It’s not hard to reconcile human suffering with benevolence toward the universe, or toward humanity en masse. Or a God who loves some individual humans but not others. I wouldn’t want to worship, love, or defend such a God, though.

For example, the OP mentions “babies are born with painful and quickly fatal physical defects.” It may well be that this sort of thing is an inevitable result of the way evolution works, without which we wouldn’t have people at all. But it still sucks for that baby and its parents.

But, free will wouldn’t really exist in Heaven, and most souls spend essentially all of their existence (the difference between 0.999… and 1, almost) in Heaven. God seems fine with no free will in Heaven. What use is an infinitesimal period of free will followed by an infinity without it?

Catholic theology has the beatific vision, which is basically the elimination of free will. Since all souls at their core desire to be with God, with the satisfaction of this need, all desires end, and nobody wishes anything else for eternity. Ego ends, the concept of self ends, free will ends. The “reward” for goodness in Christianity is a holy lobotomy.

How do you (i.e. how does God) bring about a vision of eternal good, with everyone eternally happy and fulfilled and at peace, without that “holy lobotomy”—without depriving people of their selves or their wills? That, I think, is the problem of Christian theology: to explain—or if that’s not possible, to enable us to believe or trust—that this present messy reality is the means to that ultimate happy end.

OP, you should definitely read Blameless in Abaddon by James Morrow. It’s the sequel to Towing Jehovah. God dies in the first book, and in the second book, this guy with cancer sues God for allowing so much pain and suffering. I think you can read the second one without reading the first one, but it has been a while since I read either.

(On an unrelated note, you should also read Only Begotten Daughter by the same author, because it is also excellent. It’s not as on-point for this thread, though.)

Benevolence and free will are difficult to believe in Biblically(And let’s not bring up the possible worshipping of graven images). According to Numbers 21:4-9:
“From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”

Benevolence makes more sense without omnipotence. Maybe a god is really powerful, but omnipotence is qualitatively different than just really powerful, it’s all powerful.

Omnipotence means that a god would not need to allow suffering in order to achieve its plan, it could achieve its plan in other ways.

Pantheism or at least a dualistic nature makes it more plausible that a god is benevolent. It wants the best for its followers, but there are other forces at work that prevent it from delivering on its benevolence while we exist in the mortal realm.

Omnipotence defined as powerful beyond our comprehension can be compatible with benevolence and suffering. Omnipotence defined as literally “all powerful” can not.

God is a participatory identity and a participatory event. The bad things that are happening to innocent people are actually happening to God who is manifesting GodSelf as this or that innocent person, alongside of also manifesting as everyone and everything else.

The benevolence resides in the possibility of connection and integration: realizing that you are not merely your individual self (which among other possibilities of experiencing “bad things”, is gonna die some day). And the benevolence also resides in the overarching rules of things, that caring for others and being connected with them really has ultimate meaning, that the “true nature” of everything is not that the most predatory and antagonistic exploiter and killer “wins”, etc etc. That there is purpose and meaning in it all and not random meaningless dissipation. That it is all taking place volitionally and you’re a part of it.

There is no situation in which God is one entity and “tortured innocent babies” are a different entity. In any sentence where God exists, all the other entities are a part thereof.

Because free will is how you get to heaven.