If you’ve either been watching the news at all or if you’ve been scrolling your timeline on Facebook, you are probably aware three moms and six children were gunned down by drug cartel thugs in northern Mexico. As Jane Wharton of Metro.uk reported “Mexico’s top security official Alfonso Durazo blamed drugs gangs for the attack, saying they may have mistaken the SUV convoy for a rival cartel or it could have been a kidnapping gone wrong. Rhonita Maria LeBaron died alongside four of her children, including her seven-month-old twins Titus and Tiana. Daughter Krystal, 10, and son Howard, 12, were also in the van, which exploded after the gunfire hit the gas tank. Christina Langford Johnson, 31, and Dawna Ray Langford, 43, were traveling in another SUV, which came under attack. The two mothers died instantly alongside two of Dawna’s children, Trevor, 11 and Rogan, aged three.”1
A very disturbing video of of the grandfather surveying the scene of the murder has been played on Fox News multiple times and can be viewed here. –> https://metro.co.uk/video/us-mormon-family-attacked-gunfire-mexico-2042540/?ito=vjs-link
As I thought about this issue, several questions came to my mind. First, why would God allow this? Why would God allow these evil men to kill innocent children and their mothers? Secondly, these people were part of a heretical cult and not saved. This means that, as least the adults, went to Hades to await being thrown into Hell to suffer a violent execution.2 Why didn’t God strike the cartels down before they could shoot and burn these poor people alive especially given that they would go to Hell for not being Christians?3
This is a tragedy to be sure, and questions of God’s goodness and power and even His very existence are bound to be raised in light of this. However, although my heart breaks for this family, I cannot come to conclusions on the basis of what I FEEL. I have to come to conclusions based on rational argumentation and evidence. And when I examine this horrible trajedy with the left side of my brain instead of the right, I find that there is no reason to doubt the goodness, power, or existence of God.
First, The Suffering That Was Inflicted Was Inflicted By Free Will Creatures
It is important to keep in mind the fact that the vast majority of suffering occurs because God gave human beings libertarian free will. This means we have the ability to choose to do either good or to do evil. This is evident in the case of our first parents Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve did not have to listen to the serpent and eat the forbidden fruit. They could have chosen to NOT eat the fruit instead. If they had, they wouldn’t have been banished from the Garden of Eden, the only source of eternal life (Genesis 3:22), and the sin nature and death would not have spread to all of Adam’s descendants (Romans 5). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man, and God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can endure, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape also so that you will be able to endure it.” In other words, when we give into sin, we did not have to sin. Sinning was not inevitable. God provides “The Way Of Escape” so that we can avoid giving into temptation. If we do fall into sin, we have only ourselves to blame. We can choose to (A) sin or (Non-A) not sin.
The drug cartels who murdered Rhonita Maria Lebron and her four children Titus, Tiana, Krystal, and Howard, did not have to do the evil that they did. Their natures and desires didn’t compel them to do it, and God certainly didn’t (cf. Isaiah 30:1). It is not God’s fault that the cartels committed this evil. It is the cartels’ fault. God is responsible for the FACT of freedom. Human beings are responsible for their ACTS of freedom.
But one might ask “If God knew that we would abuse our free will, why did He even give it to us? Why not force us to do good all the time?” That’s a very good question. One reason is that without free will, love is impossible. True love cannot exist unless the possibility to choose NOT to love is available. In his article “Harley Quinn + The Joker = True Love?”, Tim Stratton wrote
” Some have described the love she [Harley Quinn] has for the Joker as unmatched. …. Indeed, Harley longs to be with the Joker and seems to be willing to do anything to be in his arms. Harley Quinn demonstrates that she lives for the Joker, she is willing to die for the Joker, and she is willing to kill for the Joker. Her life revolves around the Joker and she is devoted to following him no matter the costs! Many guys can only imagine what it would be like to have a beautiful woman willing to do anything to be next to them. Most would love to know what it is like to know the kind of love the Joker knows. Or does the Joker know?
Although it has been said that Harley Quinn and the Joker are a great example of true love, I think this relationship is the farthest thing from it. In fact, this relationship makes me sick to my stomach! I contend that this relationship is not true love at all; rather, it is the epitome of evil.
You see, according to the Suicide Squad movie, the Joker kidnapped and brainwashed Harley against her will. The Joker forced himself upon her and causally determined her to be unable to resist him. Left to Harley’s own devices, she would always reject the Joker if given a choice, but the Joker took any ability away from her to choose otherwise. She has been manipulated, she has suffered psychological trauma, and she has been raped against her will (even though the Joker has forced her to think and act in accords to his will). You see, the Joker has no idea what it truly means to be loved. All he has is a kidnapped woman who has no choice but to follow him. She literally has no ability to do otherwise — she is basically no more than a programmed robot.”4
If we cannot resist God’s advances, then we are essentially divine rape victims and are experiencing cosmic Stockholm Syndrome. If you still don’t see the point, let me put it another way:
imagine it’s the year 3,000 where robotics have been perfected to the point where robots look, sound, and behave 100% identical to real human beings. You go down to “Robot Depot” to buy yourself a wife. You buy this android that looks as beautiful as a supermodel. Based on her looks, you already know she’s got the attractiveness quality. But what of her character? The manual she comes with tells you that you can program her personality anyway you desire. So, you program her to always do whatever you want, to always put your needs above hers, and to always laugh at your jokes, etc. You program her to never leave you for another man. You program her to say “I love you” 20 times a day. You program her to never bother you while watching football. In fact, you program her to be just as into football as you are. You program her to be the perfect wife.
Question: would any of this be meaningful to you? Would you feel loved? No. You would clearly recognize that her love for you is artificial. Every act of kindness, every display of affection, and every “I love you”, was your doing, not hers. You causally determined her to do these things for you. They did not originate within her. All of her acts of love and selflessness would be empty gestures because you caused her to do them, and she had no capability of doing differently.
Similarly, if God causally determined everyone to love Him, praise Him 24/7, to never disobey Him, and to always do good, our actions would be devoid of meaningfulness. The only reason we praise Him is that He programmed us to praise Him. The only reason we abstain from sin is that He programmed us to abstain from it. It would be the same for our “love” for one another. If God causally determines a man to love his wife, I don’t see how that would be any more meaningful than when a little girl causes a Ken doll to show love to a Barbie doll.
On this basis, a deductive argument can be made that it’s actually good that God permits the possibility of evil. Tim Stratton gives this argument in his ETS Paper “The Apologetic Significance Of Molinism”5
Tim Stratton calls it “The Free Will Argument Against the Problem of Moral Evil”:
1- If a Maximally Great Being (God) exists, He is perfectly good and all loving (this is the property of omnibenevolence).
2- If God is all-loving, He desires a true love relationship with all mankind (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
3- If true love is to be attained with all mankind, all mankind must possess libertarian freedom.
4- If mankind possesses libertarian freedom, then mankind can freely choose to do evil.
5- If a Maximally Great Being (God) exists He is all-powerful (this is the property of omnipotence).
6- Therefore, God could prevent the possibility of evil actions by eradicating human libertarian freedom (He would have the power).
7- If God eradicates libertarian freedom, then He eradicates the possibility of true love with humanity.
8- Eternal love with God is the ultimate good humans can experience & humans freely choosing to love God brings Him ultimate glory.
9- Therefore, preventing love would be evil.
10- Therefore, it would be evil to eradicate libertarian freedom.
11- Therefore, it would be evil for God to eradicate the possibility of evil.
12- Therefore, since God is perfectly good and all loving, He allows the possibility of evil.
But Couldn’t God Create A World Where Everyone FREELY did The Right Thing?
One may wonder though, if God is all-knowing, and therefore knows what all free creatures would freely do in any given circumstance that God could create them in, then couldn’t God use this knowledge of what all free creatures would freely do to arrange the world in such a way that everyone would always freely choose to do good? While there is a logically possible world in which everyone has libertarian free will and always freely chooses to the right thing, it may not be feasible for God to actualize. It may be the case that any world God creates with free creatures in it, there would always be at least some people doing some evil some of the time? It might be the case that no matter how God arranges when and where people are born, and which individuals come into existence and which individuals never come into existence, there would always be people who freely choose to do evil while others freely choose to do good.
The same goes for those who freely choose to respond to God’s offer of salvation. It may be the case that in ANY world God could create that contains libertarianly free creatures, there would always be some who embrace the gospel and others who reject it. It is at least possible that there is no world in which there are free creatures and EVERYONE FREELY chooses to be saved. While a world of universal salvation is logically possible, it may not be feasible for God because of how free creatures actually would choose. No matter how God arranges when and where people are born, it may be that some are saved and others are damned. Now, the difference between who gets saved and who is damned may differ from world to world, but universal salvation would not be achievable without coercion. It may be that in a different feasible world in which some of the condemned in the actual world are freely saved and those who are saved in the actual world would be condemned. But there would be saved and condemned people no matter what God does (unless he removed our free will).
Therefore, although perhaps God could have actualized a world in which this Mormon family embraced the true gospel instead of Joseph’s Smith’s false gospel, perhaps a different group of unsaved people would have been in the cartels’ line of fire, such as a family of Muslims or atheists for example. Or perhaps this Mormon family would have died of old age while still rejecting the gospel. Or perhaps a feasible world existed in which this Mormon family embraced the true gospel, but this world is a world in which someone else, who is saved in the actual world, would end up condemned.
Thus, I am not convinced of one of the crucial premises of The Logical Version Of The Problem Of Evil.
1: If God is all-powerful, He can create any world He wants.
2: If God is all-loving, God would prefer a world with no evil and suffering.
3: Since God is all-powerful and all-loving, it follows that God would prevent evil.
4: Evil exists.
5: Therefore, God does not exist.
For this argument against the existence of God to be sound. ALL of the premises must be NECESSARILY true. If it’s even possible that one of them is false, the argument is unsound. As I have demonstrated above, it is at least possible that premise 1 in the above argument is false. It may not be possible for an all-powerful God to actualize a world in which everyone freely chooses to not inflict suffering upon one another. All it takes for an argument to be bad is for one premise to be false. Thus, even if we grant 2-5, the argument would not justify atheism.
I think it’s actually quite plausible to think that a world where this much good without also this much evil is infeasible for God. When you consider that our actions and circumstances influence those around us, and that there are trillions and trillions of things going on right now, both big thing and little things, and billions of people all influencing each other in an unfathomably complex web of interactions, there may very well indeed be no world available for God to create in which no one ends up doing evil. I think this is quite plausible.
The Butterfly Effect
We have examples of God bringing about a greater good through evils in The Bible. My favorite example is the story of Joseph in Genesis chapters 37-50. Joseph was the son of Jacob who was the son of Isaac who was the son of Abraham. Joseph was one of Jacob’s 12 sons. Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was Jacob’s favorite child and this was obvious from the fact that Jacob constantly showered Joseph with far more affection than his other children. One day Joseph’s brothers finally had enough, and they sold him into slavery.
As if being a slave weren’t bad in and of itself, Joseph suffered in his slavery as well. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of trying to rape her (she did this out of spite because she came onto him and he refused to have sex with her). This resulted in Joseph being sent to prison. While Joseph was in prison, he was able to accurately interpret the dreams of two other prisoners who were there. One of those prisoners told the Pharaoh about Joseph’s amazing ability to accurately interpret dreams once they were released and Pharaoh was in need of having someone interpret his dreams. Pharaoh let Joseph out of prison and told him his dreams. Joseph told the Pharaoh that his two dreams meant that there would be 7 years of abundant food followed by 7 years of horrible famine and that to prevent widespread starvation he should store up food during the 7 years of abundance so that they could compensate for the lack of food the next 7 years. Pharaoh elected Joseph as governor and put him in charge of food storage.
As bad as Joseph’s experience was, God had a good reason for allowing it all to happen; If God hadn’t let Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, Joseph would never have been able to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams, and that would mean that Pharoah would not have known to save up food during the 7 years of abundance so that they would have food to eat during the 7 years of famine, and that would mean that thousands of people would have died of starvation. As Joseph was being carried off to Egypt, he was probably wondering why God didn’t intervene to stop his brothers from selling him into slavery. He might have been thinking “Why didn’t God stop my brothers from selling me into slavery? Now I’ll never see my father and younger brother Benjamin again!” If Joseph had reasoned like an atheist, he would have thought “I can’t see any good reason for God not to have intervened to stop my brothers from selling him into slavery. God must not exist.” But Joseph later realized God’s purpose for allowing his suffering (and Jacob’s suffering as well for that matter since Jacob was mourning because he believed a wild animal had killed Joseph). He himself said so when he saw his brothers again years later “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” – Genesis 50:20
God had a reason for not intervening when Joseph’s brothers were sinning against him, but from Joseph’s vantage point it was impossible to discern that reason. If Joseph had judged that it was improbable that God had a good reason for allowing him to be sold into slavery, he would have been wrong.
Summary and Conclusion
1: Jane Wharton, “Mormon massacre as Mexican cartel murder three mothers and six children” Tuesday 5 Nov 2019 1:26 pm: https://metro.co.uk/2019/11/05/mormon-massacre-mexican-cartel-murder-three-mothers-six-children-11044702/?ito=cbshare
2: Unlike a lot of Christians, I do not believe that Hell is eternal conscious torment. Rather, Hell is a place where the damned are annihilated. I talk about this in my upcoming book “Yahweh’s Inferno”. The Bible is saturated in the language of destruction, execution, perishing, and being brought to an end, there are also passages that imply a period of conscious torments, such as The Parable Of The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 and the mention of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. The entirety of The Bible precludes eternal conscious torment but also precludes the Jehovah’s Witness view that annihilation is immediate.
2 Peter 2:4 mentions “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment;”
We can imagine that these angels are filled with dread (mental torment) as they await their final punishment in the realm known as Tartarus. Perhaps the same is true of humans. This is analogous to people being held in a jail cell for a time prior to being brought to the judge, being sentenced to death, and then being executed. Interestingly, the context of verse 2 Peter 2:4 speaks of judgment as being that of destruction “In their greed, these false teachers will exploit you with deceptive words. The longstanding verdict against them remains in force, and their destruction does not sleep. For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them deep into hell, placing them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; if He did not spare the ancient world when He brought the flood on its ungodly people, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, among the eight; if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction, reducing them to ashes as an example of what is coming on the ungodly;…” (2 Peter 2:3-6a)
What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of what will happen to the ungodly. And what happened to them? They were thoroughly destroyed by fire from God (Genesis 19:24-25). God didn’t subject them to conscious torture. In Genesis we read that “Early the next morning, Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and all the land of the plain, and he saw the smoke rising from the land like smoke from a furnace.” He didn’t see the inhabitants screaming in agony in a fiery inferno. They were destroyed. Only smoke and ashes remained.
3: To see why I say that Mormons are not Christians, see the GotQuestions.org article “Are Mormons Christians? Are Mormons Saved?” – https://www.gotquestions.org/Mormons-Christians.html and Matt Slick’s Article and Jim Boucher’s article “Can A Christian Believe That Jesus Is Not God?” –> https://thereforegodexists.com/can-christian-believe-jesus-god/
4: Tim Stratton, “Harley Quinn + The Joker = True Love?” – December 16th 2016, https://freethinkingministries.com/harley-quinn-the-joker-true-love/
5: Tim Stratton, “The Apologetic Significance Of Molinism (ETS Edit)”, March 11th 2019, — https://freethinkingministries.com/the-apologetic-significance-of-molinism-ets-edit/