If God is a God of miracles as theists claim, then why doesn’t he perform more to stop evil?
I must admit this is one question I’ve wrestled with in solidarity with my atheist friends.
My initial response is to recall the words of the prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD” (Is. 55:8). While I acknowledge this as true, it leaves me dissatisfied.
As a Christian I believe, with St. Paul, that God “works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), but I’m still often left wondering if there is any sense in God not performing more miracles to stop evil.
Though this is a mystery, I think we can make some sense out of it.
Is God really idle?
Let’s begin by distinguishing between moral evil and physical evil. Moral evil is evil caused by the abuse of human freedom, i.e., sin. Physical evil refers to any sort of suffering, decay, or corruption caused by nature.
Now, if speaking of evil in general (moral and physical), one response is to wrongly assume God hasn’t done anything. It may well be that God has already prevented and is preventing horrendous crimes or natural catastrophes that could wipe out the entire human race. There is simply no way, given our spatial and temporal limitations, to know he hasn’t already done this. As Norris Clarke says, “Our ignorance cannot be a basis for blaming God for what he is already doing” (The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics 288).
Let’s not obscure things
If the question concerns physical evil in particular, one possible answer is that an overwhelming presence of miracles might obscure the supernatural character of the miraculous.
Consider a scenario where miracles are as common as rain. In such a scenario, it would be difficult (though not impossible) to distinguish between the supernatural and the natural, since we can only know the supernatural by contrast with the natural.
As philosopher Edward Feser points out in his lecture for the symposium “God, Reason, and Reality,” such difficulty lends itself to either of two extremes. One extreme is an occasionalist view of the world, a view that holds that God does everything directly without the cooperation of any natural causes. The other extreme is the view that there is no order to the universe at all, which has the potential to lead to an extreme David Hume–like skepticism, or even atheism, since causal regularity is needed to reason to God’s existence as manifested in St. Thomas Aquinas’s five ways.
So, one may conclude that God doesn’t will a more overwhelming presence of miracles to stop physical evil for the sake of not obscuring the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders of reality.
God values choice
What about moral evil? Why wouldn’t God perform more miracles to stop moral atrocities in the world?
One response is that it would violate his divine wisdom. Why would God make man with the capacity to choose good or evil in order to merit man’s eternal reward and then rob him of that capacity the second he chooses to exercise it? It doesn’t make sense.
This would be analogous to someone installing an air conditioning system in his or her home and then turning the system off every time it turns on to cool the house. (Having lived in Southern Louisiana the majority of my life, I can affirm this would be a stupid thing to do.) One might be inclined to ask, “Why did you install the air conditioning system in the first place?”
Similarly, it seems contrary to reason for God to create human beings with the capacity to choose for him or against him and then take away that capacity every time they choose to exercise it against him.
“But,” you may say, “perhaps God doesn’t have to take away man’s capacity to choose evil but could stop the evil effects of man’s bad choices—like changing a fired bullet into butter.”
The answer to this question is that God values the power of choice with which he created man. If God never allowed the choices of man to have bad effects, there would be no real value in man’s ability to do good or evil. In this case the alternative of a bad choice would never be a real alternative. Why give humans the capacity to choose evil if there would never be any real effects from that choice? One might summarize the argument as follows:
If no real effects are possible from man’s choice, then there is no value in man’s power to choose good or evil.
But God values man’s power to choose good or evil.
Therefore, there must be real effects that arise from man’s power to choose good or evil.
It’s reasonable to conclude God doesn’t ordinarily perform miracles to stop bad effects caused by bad choices because he values the power of choice he desires man to have.
These answers by no means fully dispel the darkness of the mystery of why God doesn’t perform more miracles to stop evil. However, they do shed a bit of light that may help one navigate the darkness.This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Catholic Answers.