Once credited to Epicurus (however, credited by a Christian refuting him and, so far, unsubstantiated), this paradox has always interested me:
Either God wants to abolish evil and cannot,
Or he can, but does not want to,
Or he cannot and does not want to.
If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent.
If he can, but does not want to, then he is wicked.
If he neither can, nor wants to, he is both powerless and wicked.
Most Christians believe that their god is all-powerful (omnipotent), everywhere all the time (omnipresent), knows everything (omniscient), and is always good (omnibenevolent). The paradox above, regardless of its true source, points out the impossibility of him being both omnipotent and omnibenevolent at the same time.
But the problem goes even deeper. There are verses and stories in the Bible that refute every one of those supposed attributes of the Christian god. Let’s start with omnibenevolence, since it’s where I have the biggest problem with the god of the Bible:
God is Omnibenevolent? Not So Much.
I’m not even sure where this idea that god is all good, all the time came from. The god of the Bible is clearly not a kind and benevolent god – and even Jesus, the paragon of kindness and virtue, said and did some troubling things.
But let’s start with Yahweh, the Old Testament burn-you-to-the-ground god. I don’t know how anyone could mistake this god for an omnibenevolent being – especially when he tells us he’s not. In Isaiah 45:7 (I use the Oxford Annotated Bible – yes, we godless heathens read the Bible too; it’s how many of us became godless heathens), God himself says:
I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I the LORD do all these things.
Other bible translations use the line “I make peace and create evil” in place of “I make weal and create woe,” but either way works. Either way, Yahweh is owning the fact that he is the architect of bad things that befall his creations. Not enough for you? Let’s look at Jeremiah 18:11:
Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you.
Even if we’re generous with the definition of “evil” here, and rather than it being some actively malevolent act, it’s just any bad thing that happens to a person…Yahweh just said he’ll be the force behind that bad thing. Again, this is not a kindly, grandfatherly proclamation.
“Ugh, this didn’t go well. Let’s kill ’em all and start over.”
But actions speak louder than words, so let’s let Yahweh’s actions do the talking. We’ll start with the biggest mass murder in history. That’s right: We’re going to talk about the nonsensical story that is Noah and the flood. See, rather than using his supposed omnipotence to just eliminate evil from the world (or, you know, not creating it in the first place), God decides to have the father of all overreactions and kill off every single human other than Noah and his family.
Pro-lifers, think about all the babies that would have been floating in those flood waters. Think about all the pregnant women – and, therefore, unborn fetuses. And how about that God, killing off all those babies in reaction to what their parents did?
And before you say, “But God couldn’t eliminate evil from the world, because free will,” let me ask: Does it make more sense to give people free will and then slaughter them all for using it…or to just eliminate evil from the blueprints when creating said people?
Also, when you’re trying to get your followers to believe you’re a benevolent deity, why would you choose to kill off almost all of them in a flood – letting them die an agonizing drowning death? You’re supposed to also be all-powerful (more on that in a minute), so why not just snap your fingers and snuff everyone out in an instant?
“You can’t change your mind! I’m not done torturing you yet!”
But God’s not done being bloodthirsty – oh no, Brothers and Sisters. He’s not even fully warmed up yet. Later, he “hardens Pharaoh’s heart” so that he can finish inflicting plagues on Egypt (because he wasn’t done showing them how kind and benevolent he was). He condones, and even endorses slavery. I’ve got a whole post on that coming up, but I’ll quote just one of many verses here – Leviticus 25:44:
As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves.
That’s just a small smattering of the not-so-benevolent things the supposedly omnibenevolent god of the Bible does. But let’s move on to omniscience, shall we?
Mr. Knowitall. Well…maybe not.
Of course, God is definitely omniscient, right? I mean, even Christians who accept that he might not always be a marshmallowy do-gooder insist that he at least knows everything that happens, all the time. So let’s take a look at that claim:
First, shit tends to go bad for Yahweh a lot. Let’s revisit that whole flood story, shall we? Because if the god of the Bible is all-knowing…why didn’t he foresee his creations going so evil that he’d have to purge the entire planet and start over? And if he did foresee it, and let it happen anyway, then we’re back to him not being omnibenevolent.
But I think I can shorten God’s Blooper Reel considerably by pointing out just one example: Adam and Eve (but probably not Steve).
If Yahweh is all-knowing, why did he have to go searching and calling for Adam and Eve in the garden after they ate the fruit? Shouldn’t he have known exactly where they were? And why did he have to ask why they’d clothed themselves? Shouldn’t he have known they’d eaten the fruit?
In fact, shouldn’t he have known that they were going to eat the fruit? If he knew, and let them eat it anyway, and then punished them for doing exactly what he’d always known they would do, then he’s a capricious, sadistic maniac. If he didn’t know, well then I guess I’ve made my point on the whole omniscience thing, eh?
And that leads directly into omnipresence.
This is the one that’s drilled into us from the time we’re still learning how to put our hands together to pray. God is everywhere. He sees all. He’s always with you, because he’s present in all places, all the time.
So, again, how did he not know about the whole fruit thing? Wasn’t he right there to see it?
Apparently not, according to Genesis 3:11:
He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
Why does he need to ask? Wasn’t he there to see the serpent tempt Eve? And, not to belabor the omniscient point, but shouldn’t he have known the serpent was going to tempt Eve and, I dunno, not given it the ability to speak?
But there’s an even sillier example. Deuteronomy 23:12-14 reads:
You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.
There are a few areas of downright weirdness here (God is squeamish about the biological functions he gave his creations?), but let’s focus on the omnipresence aspect. If God is truly everywhere…then why’s it matter where people take a crap? It has obvious sanitary reasons, so why not just say, “Don’t crap in camp because it’s freaking gross, dude”? If God’s everywhere, then he’s going to see that crap no matter where you drop it, right?
But, in my opinion, the biggest nail in the coffin of the omni-everything belief is omnipotence. The idea that Yahweh is all-powerful is just not borne out in the Bible. To illustrate this, let’s take another look at that maybe-Epicurus quote.
If God wants to abolish evil but cannot, then he’s not all-powerful. But if he can abolish evil and doesn’t, then he’s most certainly not all-good.
Going even deeper into Christian theology…if God is all-powerful and all-good, then why did he require a blood sacrifice to release believers from the penalty of sin? A truly powerful and benevolent being could forgive humans their sin without having to go through a gruesome torture and murder saga.
But again, there’s something even sillier in the Bible to illustrate my point. You see, God has a performance problem when it comes to iron, apparently:
The Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain, because they had chariots of iron.
That quote (Judges 1:19) is just…odd. Why does God have such a problem with iron chariots? Is iron God’s Kryptonite?
Of course, if we’re looking at the story as written before people decided their god was omnipotent, it makes a little more sense. But if you’re looking at the Bible as the word of a never-changing god, then it’s a facepalm-worthy shortcoming – and a serious strike against omnipotence.
And that’s why the omni-everything theology doesn’t hold water for me. When I was young in my faith and didn’t question, it was easier to swallow. But once I actually started reading the Bible with a critical eye, these oddities put a huge dent in what I’d thought I believed.