Answer to Epicurus – a Discussion of Divine Justice

April 1st, 2010

There is an old saying aimed at God by the philosopher Epicurus who invented the philosophy known as Hedonism. It goes:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”  – Epicurus 

My answer to this speaks from the idea of justice developed out of an understanding of karma and re-existence (both of which I think I can even demonstrate are Biblical if that is of interest). 

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent…”

That doesn’t follow…. what if evil has a developmental use? Those who believe in God also believe you have an immortal aspect, usually called the soul. In the Bible that one is called the spiritual man or elohim, a god who pre-existed the foundation of the earth. And then you have a man made from dust on the “6th Day” (after everything else was made) called the earthly man, the animal body in your charge. This one which you ride and try to humanize, the earthly personality, is the one “unto whom it is appointed once to die, and then the judgment”, or a summing up of the fruit of his works. Evil in your sense really just means things that can happen to your body, because of its frailty and mortality, that you don’t want to feel or experience. But if, as spiritual people believe, you are not your body, and your consciousness survives death – and even causes your next body to be formed according to the divine pattern given it -then you are entirely unharmed by anything that happens to it. If it was known for a fact that nothing you could experience could really harm the one who survives death, nothing whatsoever – which if you wake up after you die IS the case – bodily experiences then might be seen as learning situations rather than as anything that does you real harm. Especially if your experiences are mere reaping of what you sow. Like the principal of a primary school, God ensures you have the environment, tools and teachers you need to learn, ensures you are in no real danger and cannot be harmed, and guides the curriculum. But he also ensures that each learns under their own interest and initiative. And instruction is through deeper consideration of what is true, and failing that, through experience.

“Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent…”

Under the above described scenario, since nothing ultimate is actually at risk, where is the malevolence? Human culture is the expression of our ideas and desires. The difficulty arises when desire suppresses intelligence to satisfy or get some feeling you want. When you ignore what things do/are/feel like to others/your body/the environment. You dont care. You just want to feel what you want to feel, and you cant if you have to think about what you know to be true. Like smoking kills the body. The results of suppressing intelligence like this at the behest of unreasoning desire, is mirrored in society as the willingness to condone the actions of vested interests, preference, habit and prejudice, over what people know or see is true, fair, good or real. So mankind learns why not to do this. How? Well, since they will not think (because they are suppressing their knowledge and intelligence to satisfy desire, or craving) the only way to reach them and make them think, when they absolutely will not and do not want to, is to make them feel. More specifically, make them suffer. Evil, so-called, provides the opportunity to smart under unfairness, under someone else’s unreasoning desire, under somone else’s rationalizations for not caring what you go through.

It brings your willingness to allow things to happen to others, so long as you are not disturbed, up for consideration, by reversing the situation you desire and making you experience it, thereby provoking thinking about it.

“Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?”

From our own thinking of course. But also, from the higher standpoint of the inner man, from our willingness to develop and evolve as consciousnesses, and use our experiences honestly, to do so. It is our honesty that demands, because of our divine nature which does not lie, that we experience what we sanction. Consider you were about to come into life, and you could influence the ideas your culture adopted and stood for, but that you had no say in the position, gender, power, status, or money you personally would have, or be, in that culture… what ideas then would you promote? Well in an intelligent universe trying to teach selfish people simple ideas about fairness and human decency, experiences which caused them difficulty might be in order IF every time they got into a position to lord it over someone, they did so. The eternal Ideas of God, in the form of the Logos according to Heraclitus, would then have others who were similarly confused about fairness administer balancing doses of pain and difficulty to those who previously imagined this was a cool plan; who doled it out whenever they thought there was no mechanism in place to correct their ignorance, no blowback. This is the “spitting into a fan” explanation of evil. The word karma incidently comes from…. ka from kama, or desire. Ma, from manas, or mind. R, a letter for action or interaction. Thus karma means literally, the action or interaction of mind with desire; the result of that. “Everything we are by thought is wrought and built. If a man think evil, pain follows him as surely as the wheel the ox behind. If a man think good, joy follows him as his own shadow, sure.” – from the Dhammapada.

“Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Since God is normally conceived as comprising all, then evil would be said to come from him, as there could not be an equal and opposite force outside of him, and he still be what we call God. What that means though is that all experiences are controlled to learning, and are in place to accomplish the divine ends projected for our education. In other words, All things work for good to those who love God, or the Light of the World. Since nothing ultimate is at stake and only your selfishness and willed ignorance allows you to suffer, or causes you to suffer, then the picture of what is happening is different than what it appears to be, especially to the vested interests of your ego. Interfering with the lessons your inner being is trying to teach your own personality by preventing them would be the same as constantly telling the child what the solution to the problem was, and not allowing him to work it out and develop his or her own powers.

The above, even if you don’t know that it is true, is a perfectly cogent answer to these questions. You can see them as working hypotheses if you like. They do explain the strangeness of human experience and why earth is, as the Buddhists term it, the place of Middling pain. A place where it was never intended you get comfortable in any permanent sense, as this is not the mind’s real home.

Daniel Drumm©2009