Omnipotent & Omnimalevolent

August 25, 2009    By: Kent (MC) @ 7:39 pm   Category: Calvinism,Theology

Certainly, the greatest theological problem that plagues most individuals in our generation is theodicy, or why a good and all powerful God allows for evil to exist. We as Mormons can be trite and say, “Well that’s easy, people have agency,” as if that answered every possible objection. Of course there are additional issues that agency doesn’t answer, such as natural evils. An all powerful God could probably make a world with fewer earthquakes, diseases, etc.

Anyway, I’m not super interested in directly answering the problem of evil in this post, rather, I would like to discuss a thought experiment. I really enjoy following the links of the sideblog at By Common Consent which are often humorous and witty. A few weeks (or months) ago they linked to a blog post by Stephen Law titled The God of Eth, which I found wonderfully effective in illustrating the weakness of our common responses to the problem of evil. Stephen turns our premises on their heads by offering a mental exercise wherein professors on the planet Eth are debating whether they can defend their basic beliefs that the God of Eth is all powerful and all evil. He has his characters try and explain and defend a belief in an all evil being who allows some good to come through in the world. You see, they have to deal with the Problem of Good. Here is a short sample of the dialogue.

GIZIMOTH: Hmm. But why would a supremely wicked God give us beautiful children to love?
BOOBLEFRIP: Because he knows we’ll spend our entire lives worrying about them. Only a parent can know the depth of torture a child brings.
GIZIMOTH: Why does he give us healthy young bodies?
BOOBLEFRIP: Well, after 10 or 15 years they slowly and inevitably slide into decay, disease and decrepitude until we end up hopelessly ugly, incontinent and smelling of urine. Then we die, having lived out a short and ultimately meaningless existence. You see, by giving us something, and then snatching it away, our evil creator can make us suffer even more than if we had never had it.
GIZIMOTH: But then why does God allow some people live out such contented lives?
BOOBLEFRIP: Of course an evil God is going to bestow upon a few people lavish lifestyles, good health and immense success. Their happiness is designed to make the suffering of the rest of us even more acute! We’ll be wracked by feelings of envy, jealousy and failure! Who can be content while they have so much more!
GIZIMOTH: Oh honestly.
BOOBLEFRIP: Don’t you see? The world clearly was designed to produce life, to produce conscious beings like ourselves. Why? So that it’s designer can torture us. The world is designed to physically and psychologically crush us, so that we are ultimately overwhelmed by life’s futility and bow out in despair.

So, what has really stayed with me over the month or so since I read it was the issue of trust and faith in a God that we assume is omnibenevolent. So my question for you is: How do you explain faith in a God that could be setting you up to be crushed? I guess it really isn’t that much different than asking, “What if the God of Calvinism is real?” If the God of Calvinism were real, even his defenders today admit that he chooses who he will save and who he will torture. He created the devil, after all. His character is such that he could be setting people up to feel saved, experience joy, make them believe they were eternally secure, then surprise them by torturing them in hell along with all of the sinners. (“So you thought you were better than everyone else, huh? Thought you were special? Never figured that me and the devil were one and the same? Mmmwaahahahaha, haaaaa!”) Wouldn’t that just be devastating?!?!?

Anyway, we always argue about the limits of his power (in order to address the problem of evil), but I don’t think we’ve ever dealt with the issue of the limits of God’s morality and how we can trust that he is not setting us up for a fall. Is there an effective answer to the God of Eth?

49 Comments »

  1. “don’t think we’ve ever dealt with the issue of the limits of God’s morality”

    For me this on is easy. Someone asked Joseph Smith what he would do if all the Mormons went to hell. Joseph said they would kick out all the devils and make a heaven out of it.

    If God turned out to be immoral, I believe it would be our job to kick Him out and make a true heaven of the place.

    Comment by Joseph Smidt — August 25, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

  2. I’ve often wondered the same thing about my Mother. By giving birth to me, wasn’t she just setting me up for an eventual fall. Sure she was nice to me my entire childhood, and always took care of me, and has been incredible in her behavior towards me always. Yes U have seen her suffer for me, and go without so I could have in more abundance. And yes, I have caught her with tears in her eyes on my account, due to the “love” she has for me. But maybe she is just shamming, and has a really startling “gotcha” for me.

    Gotta watch out for those moms.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 25, 2009 @ 8:39 pm

  3. God is benevolent because evil beings don’t get to be omnipotent. They destroy themselves in an earlier stage of development.

    Comment by VeritasLiberat — August 25, 2009 @ 8:56 pm

  4. Joseph, remember that this God is ALL POWERFUL, therefore, while it is a nice thought, God’s creations couldn’t overpower him and end the endless torturing.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — August 25, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  5. Matt, ain’t that the truth! Have you called your mom lately?

    VeritasLiberat, evil beings “don’t get to” doesn’t work. Says you? Perfectly rational humans are probably moral. This God isn’t wired to be moral because he shares little in common with humans. You can’t equate God’s wiring with that of mortals.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — August 25, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

  6. I’m not sure God is benevolent in the classical sense. Perhaps he is better characterized as preparatory? Since his own life appears to have its share of great pain and struggle, why not a foretaste of that? My mother (had to bring that in) used to tell me about the starving kids in China. Why were they starving? To make me feel some guilt! And for them to learn pain!! And suffer through Geoff J.’s posts!!!?

    Comment by WVS — August 25, 2009 @ 9:53 pm

  7. The simple answer to this question is that absolute power does not exist. There are few propositions that make the gospel and the atonement more meaningless than that one.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 25, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

  8. The sign of Eth is rising in the air….

    ByTor, and the Snowdog!

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 26, 2009 @ 9:02 am

  9. Anyway, we always argue about the limits of his power (in order to address the problem of evil), but I don’t think we’ve ever dealt with the issue of the limits of God’s morality and how we can trust that he is not setting us up for a fall. Is there an effective answer to the God of Eth?

    I personally don’t believe in a fundamental “good” or that God defines what is good. I think the goal of beings is to be “happy” (whatever that is) and that celestial society has found out what rules and principles are most conducive to allowing its members to be “happy”.

    One can posit a solitary God where the designs of this earth are our misery. But I don’t view God as being solitary but a functioning member of a celestial community which wishes to propagate itself. Reason intuits that misery doesn’t seem to be an effective tool for such a community.

    Comment by A. Davis — August 26, 2009 @ 9:31 am

  10. Kent,

    The possibility of a malevolent God strikes me as being nearly identical to Descartes “evil genius” in his classic work up of Cartesian skepticism. If God is malevolent and setting us up for a fall while pretending to be benevolent, we have no more hope of discovering it than we do of figuring out that we are all brains in vats. It is the first principle of epistemology to come to terms with this fundamental limitation.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 26, 2009 @ 9:52 am

  11. Jacob,

    This reality is exactly what I was hoping others would realize. It is very similar to the brain-in-a-vat scenario. I find it interesting that the Gnostics dealt with this issue by stating that the Old Testament God was not all powerful in order for Christ to be able to overpower him. So again, everyone eventually seems to give up on an all powerful God in order to defend his goodness. I don’t see the inverse as being required though and think that the idea that an all-powerful and all-evil God is compatible.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — August 26, 2009 @ 10:05 am

  12. Many theologians view the book of Job as the Bible’s last word on theodicy, and the bottom line there is that God’s morality or way of doing things transcends our human moral categories. Besides, even if God’s morality happened to coincide with our morality, which version of our morality would it be? Even LDS morality shows surprising malleability over time. So if God ever deigns to provide a comprehensive explanation of His ways to humans I doubt it will be after the order of Eth or some fly by night morality riff, but we’re all likely to be surprised.

    Comment by Dave — August 26, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  13. Is there an effective answer to the God of Eth?

    Aye, stay the hell away from here.

    Now about this fancified word that the Greeks dreamed up: omnibenevolent. I looked up the word in the dictionary and it means: infinite benevolence. Infinity? What in the world is that? I have a hard enough trying to understand what a week means. So this infinity business makes no sense to me.

    No sir ree. Give me that Old Testament God any day. He’s got some fire in his belly. He’ll whoop the begeeses out of any one who messes with His people then turn around and get really pissed at those same people. But in the end, you know that He will do all in His power to see to it that you return to Him. And, in the end, that’s what it is all about.

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — August 26, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

  14. I am not sure I agree the idea of a “malevolent God” is the same as a brain-in-a-vat scenario. If I were a theist on the planet of Eth. I would probably respond by claiming it is not that I have no hope of discerning whether or not God is evil. But that there is good reason to suppose God is evil (i.e. the abundant evil in the world).

    My understanding of the “Eth” parable is that Stephen Law is attempting to illustrate that many of the common defenses used to justify a powerful good God work equally well when used to defend a powerful evil God (i.e. appeal to mystery, free will etc.). To some extent I think he has a good point. Despite the fact I am a theist who does believe in a good God.

    All the Best,
    Uncertain

    Comment by Uncertain — August 26, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

  15. Rich K,

    But in the end, you know that He will do all in His power to see to it that you return to Him.

    Or in other words, you know he is omnibenevolent. The greek prefix “omni” means “all,” not “infinite.”

    Uncertain,

    I agree with your assessment of the Eth parable. When I mentioned the brain-in-a-vat scenario I wasn’t responding to the Eth parable per se, rather, I was responding to Kent’s question at the end of the post (last paragraph) about about whether there is a response to the possibility that God is evil but just pretending for the moment to be good.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 26, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  16. One might consider that a powerful Eth could exist, but in the long run will be overcome due to the internal inconsistencies in his own power structure.

    This is a potential strength in Mormonism. In classical theism, everyone is hostage to the First Cause, and if He be evil, so much the worse.

    Where in Mormonism, we believe that the powers of heaven can only be handled upon the principles of righteousness, ergo in the long run Eth cannot dominate the powers of heaven. Amen to the priesthood of that man, I say.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 26, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

  17. Or in other words, you know he is omnibenevolent. The greek prefix “omni” means “all,” not “infinite.”

    Shuckee darns, you better quick get ahold of the editors of Oxford English Dictionary and tell them they got it all screwed up. I’m sure they’ll appreciate a call from you.

    As for that Descartes fella and his talk about brains in the fat, well he hit the nail plumb square on the head. As I see it, the vat is our skull, the life sustaining fluid is blood and cerebral fluid and the wires are those neuron things that plug into the brain from all parts of our body. He sure was a smart fella.

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — August 26, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

  18. From the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (1996):

    omni- comb. form of L. omnis all, as in omnipotent XIV (— (O)F. — L.), omnipresent XVII (— medL.), omniscience, omniscient XVII (— medL.), omnivorous XVII (f. L. omnivorus).

    Comment by Mark D. — August 26, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

  19. Well looka here. We got dueling dictionaries. Any of you guys got banjos?

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — August 26, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

  20. Perhaps, but some of us bother to quote ours. At this point I seriously doubt that the OED says what you say it does.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 26, 2009 @ 6:38 pm

  21. omni – a combining form meaning “all,” used in the formation of compound words: omnifarious; omnipotence; omniscient. (Random House Dictionary)

    omni- L. omni-, combining form of omnis “all, every,” of unknown origin, perhaps lit. “abundant,” from *op-ni-, from PIE base *op- “to work, produce in abundance” (see opus). (Online Etymology Dictionary)

    The thing is, this prefix is so common, that I find it surprising that any well read individual doesn’t know that it means “all”.

    Take a look at this.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 26, 2009 @ 6:51 pm

  22. Rich,

    Any of you guys got banjos?

    Nope, but I do have a moderation queue which your about to land in.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 26, 2009 @ 7:02 pm

  23. I think someone here is a secret observer of the cult of Eth.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — August 26, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

  24. Jacob, lighten up. It’s all just good natured fun.

    Here is where I got my information:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnibenevolence: Omnibenevolence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “unlimited or infinite benevolence”.

    As I see it ‘all’ means ‘unlimited’ which can be interpreted as ‘infinite’ which means they are all saying the same thing. And for this Mark D suggests I’m lying and then impugns my intelligence. Good grief, our immortal souls are not at issue here. Lighten up and uncross your eyes.

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — August 27, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  25. Rich K,

    Apparently your attempts at hillbilly humor mostly made you look like a douchebag. That is probably why you got the responses you got. No worries — we all swing and miss on occasion. As long as you keep the douchebaggery in check I’m sure you will have much better success eliciting more light, fluffy, uncrossed-eyes responses at blogs going forward.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 27, 2009 @ 10:52 am

  26. So what you’re saying is you hate Gomer Pyle. Why that un-American. [humor everyone, humor] Anyway, bless your little pea-picken heart. [Tennessee Ernie Ford]

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — August 27, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

  27. It’s not that I hate Gomer Pyle or Tennessee Ernie Ford so much as it is that I hate it when they comment at this blog.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 27, 2009 @ 2:28 pm

  28. OK, you don’t like my humor. I can live with that. I have a question, why use a Greek absolute to come to a knowledge of God?

    So, what has really stayed with me over the month or so since I read it was the issue of trust and faith in a God that we assume is omnibenevolent.

    I think your assumption may be wrong. I have no idea what omnibenevolent means. I have a dictionary definition: all benevolent. But what does that mean? This is the problem with Greek absolutes. The concepts were developed outside the understanding of the plan of salvation. So, how can I have trust in something that I don’t know anything about. I know what a father is because I am one. I know what it means to have Him love me because I have experienced love. Omnibenevolency? Nope I have never experienced that.

    It seems to me that our relationship with God is bounded by the plan of salvation. Thus if you want to use the ‘omnibenevolency’ it should be understood within the context of the plan of salvation. Trust then becomes trust in Him with regards to the plan of salvation. Given this perspective, I know of no reason not to trust Him.

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — August 27, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  29. Hi Jacob,

    Yep after I posted I noticed you were responding to Kent’s question. Unfortunately by that time it was to late :).

    I do want to pursue this idea of a brain in a vat a little further. I do agree to some extent if God is evil pretending to be good it order to further his dastardly schemes. It would be difficult to determine that God in fact is evil.

    However I am not sure I would go as far as the brain in a vat type scenario in the sense that we have no hope of determining such a thing.After all many theists would argue there are a number of good reasons to suppose God is good. That is they will point to personal spiritual experiences or examples of good in the world. In other words I doubt most theists would argue that the possibility of Gods “goodness” is inherently unknowable. Why is the possibility of God being evil fundamentally unknowable whereas the possibility of God being good is not? Could not the same type of arguments used to support Gods goodness also be used to support Gods “evilness” (i.e. appeal to personal experience and examples of evil in the world).

    All the Best,
    Uncertain

    Comment by Uncertain — August 27, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

  30. Rich,

    I think that omnibenevolence simply means that God is always good. In every moment God’s actions are motivated by goodness and good will. There is no evil in him. He never acts out of spite or hate. He takes no pleasure in the pain of others. Etc Etc. Almost every word we use to talk about God and the gospel was created before Joseph Smith restored the gospel and gave us our current understanding of the plan of salvation, so it seems impractical to disqualify a word based on its coming out of Greek philosophy. I can very easily say that I don’t believe in God’s omnipotence nor his omnipresence, but that I do believe in God’s omnibenevolence. This allows me to participate in the larger discussion about the nature of God that has been going on for thousands of years using words that have been part of that discussion for as long.

    I actually believe in his benevolence outside of the context of the plan of salvation. I believe that even should God have occasion to act in some way unrelated to the salvation of his children that he would be benevolent. I believe that have good motives is the quintessential characteristic of divinity. That said, I agree with your conclusion that we have no reason not to trust him.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 27, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

  31. Uncertain,

    I still think we might be having the same miscommunication as last time. I never suggested that God’s goodness is inherently unknowable, nor that the possibility of God being evil is fundamentally unknowable. However, IF God is fundamentally evil AND he has decided to fool us into thinking he is good THEN we would have no way of figuring out that he is actually evil. Do you disagree? If so, poke a hole and I’ll try to stand by that assertion.

    Given the world as it actually exists, it doesn’t seem likely that God is evil masquerading as good simply because I think he could do a much better job of convincing me he is good than he is currently doing. If God exists, it is perfectly obvious that he doesn’t much care about removing reasons for us to doubt his existence and his goodness.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 27, 2009 @ 6:04 pm

  32. Jacob,

    The problem, as I see it, is there is no boundary to that statement. You start to get all wrapped up into irrelevant issues. If God is all benevolent then why did He love me enough to let me win the lottery. Or if God loves us why didn’t He save those children in their burning home. Again, as I see it, Greek absolutes lead to endless bickering over irrelevant issues.

    Both those questions can be answered within the context of the plan of salvation. God pretty much lets natural law takes it course. He loves us to the point where he prepared this wonderful world for us. He loves us and shares our joys and our sorrows so we never have to be alone. He loves us and has prepared a place for us in his mansion. This is how I understand His benevolence, His love.

    It is for this reason that I believe that every act of God, every act relates solely to our progress within the plan of salvation. I think it is a mistake to talk of God’s love outside of the plan of salvation. I don’t believe that He has told us anything about Himself that does not relate to the plan of salvation.

    By the way, I don’t “disqualify a word based on its coming out of Greek philosophy.” Good grief, I don’t have that much hubris. My objection here is Greek absolutes. I don’t think the ancient Greeks have much to teach us about the nature of God.

    I know I’m also challenging you guys on concept of libertarian free will. And, I’ll admit that I believe Greek philosophy is grounded in an erroneous assumption about the nature of man. HOWEVER, without Greek philosophy we would not have the wonderful science that we have now. So I’m willing to cut them a little slack (non-hillbilly humor).

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — August 27, 2009 @ 9:11 pm

  33. Rich,

    Apparently (from your second paragraph) you believe the plan of salvation solves the problem of evil, but I flatly disagree. Saying that “God pretty much lets natural law take its course” fails to address any of the questions you raised about the lottery or burning children (which I consider to be real and important questions). The problem of evil is largely found in trying to explain why God lets natural law take its course when he could intervene on our behalf.

    Upon what basis do you conclude that every act of God is solely related to our progress within the plan of salvation? If he didn’t tell us anything about himself outside of the plan of salvation (your claim), it seems quite unfounded to simply assume that he never does anything unrelated to our salvation. Don’t we have a reasonably good basis for assuming he carries on celestial relationships with other divine beings, based on our belief in celestial families? It is not clear to me that such relationships would qualify as relating solely to our progress within the plan of salvation. So I think you are being too narrow in your assumptions about how God is and in what contexts he acts.

    I don’t “disqualify a word based on its coming out of Greek philosophy.”

    I was responding to this from your previous comment which seemed to say just that:

    This is the problem with Greek absolutes. The concepts were developed outside the understanding of the plan of salvation.

    From this I gathered that your problem with Greek absolutes was that they were developed outside the understanding of the plan of salvation (which would be true of everything from Greek philosophy).

    I know I’m also challenging you guys on concept of libertarian free will.

    Honestly (no offense intended), I hadn’t noticed. In what way have you challenged libertarianism? What is your objection? Incidentally, you should give libertarianism a fair chance; you’ll be happy to know this term did not originate with the Greeks, but rather during the Enlightenment.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 27, 2009 @ 9:36 pm

  34. In what way have you challenged libertarianism?

    In a rather weak and discombobulated way by my estimation. Perhaps Rich will respond to my last comment to him in that Mystery Vs. Nonsense thread though.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 27, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  35. I have known many Saints who use their assumptions as the proofs that we “know” that our reasoning is right. Circularity and all. Eg. “God is good because if he weren’t good he couldn’t be God because evil self-destructs and can’t ever become powerful in the long run.” In this case we are counting on unprovable assumptions and their logic to keep us safe from such a possibility. We are looking to place our faith in a force of nature, not in another person. I don’t think that this type of a worldview can truly develop the faith necessary to develop a relationship with God because it seeks to know God on its own terms with its demanding prerequisites, manipulating the relationship. I think this type of a worldview leads to fundamentalism and these people get set up for a fall.

    I absolutely believe that at the end of the day faith must be a choice and viewed as such (rather than as a series of proofs). Any knowledge we have about God must be viewed through that lens of freely choosing to enter a relationship with a mostly unknown being. Orson Scott Card wrote (in The Call of Earth):

    …”the story the Oversoul tells me fits all the facts that I see. Your story, in which I’m endlessly deceived, can also explain all those facts. I have no way of knowing that your story is not true-but you have no way of knowing that my story isn’t true. So I will choose the one that I love. I will choose the one that, if it’s true, makes this reality one worth living in. I’ll act as if the life I hope for is real life, and the life that disgusts me – your life, your view of life – is the lie.”

    Comment by Kent (MC) — August 28, 2009 @ 8:07 am

  36. To elucidate on my attempt at reductio ad absurdem in #2

    God’s told us he loves us. (1 John) God has told us he is good and all that comes from him is good. (Moroni 7) We have evidence from the life of Christ and the scriptural records that God is good. (Freeing Slaves, Healing the sick, admitting the children, Jesus weeping, God taking Lehi into his arms etc.) We have modern experience that God is good (Prophets provided, wellfare given, spiritual gifts, revelation) We have personal experience that God is good (personal revelation, comfort, personal miracles) and so based on our information and experience, we conclude God is good. If God is shamming us, like if my mother were shamming me, it would be devastating, but to live my life based on that assumption shows a lack of faith and trust on my part, and doesn’t actually speak about God at all.

    I am aware it could be argued that God is not good from the scriptural and historical record as well, but It could be argued that my Mom is not good either, and I am unwilling to accept either claim, and I have equally valid supporting evidence for my claim as others have for theirs.

    Apropos of nothing, here is a scripture I think captures what I am trying to say:

    11 And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

    Mosiah 4:11

    So I feel like I have tasted of his goodness and felt His love. Now I am trying to humble myself and remember how good he is to put up with me.

    Comment by Matt W. — August 28, 2009 @ 8:25 am

  37. Hi Jacob,

    “However, IF God is fundamentally evil AND he has decided to fool us into thinking he is good THEN we would have no way of figuring out that he is actually evil.”

    Well I see no flaw in this statement. For that matter if an omnipotent God wanted to hide anything from us I think we would be out of luck figuring out whatever he wanted to hide.

    I suppose my only disagreement would an evil God who is bound and determined to completely fool us into thinking he is good is only one possible formulation of an “evil God”. Maybe evil God just wants to make it really hard to figure out he is evil but not impossible. Again I think there is a connection with the idea of Gods goodness. If God was good and he wanted to prevent us from determining his “good” nature then we would have no way of figuring out his “good” nature. The issue of course is there are many possibilities for a good God besides the one in which he is bound and determined to completely hide his good nature. Similarly there are many possibilities for an “evil” God that do not require him being bound and determined to hide his evil nature. Maybe God is evil pretending to be good but he wants his disguise to be imperfect which is why there is so much evil in the world.

    Now personally I think the appeal to personal experience is the best answer to the question of Gods morality (i.e. Matt W’s post). It is true many arguments for Gods existence do not argue specifically for a good God. But the argument from spiritual experiences certainly does.

    Yes if God wanted to fool us into thinking he was benevolent he certainly could. But unless we have a good reason to believe otherwise we should trust the evidence provided by our experiences. Just like we would when interacting with any other intelligent agent (i.e. our friends and neighbors).I mean it is always possible our friend is really pretending to be good but assuming he is pretending is not the default position :).

    Now the potential downside of this is those whose experience of God is not necessarily positive. For example the person undergoing horrific torture who continuously prays for Gods comfort and feels nothing. If personal experience is paramount in determining Gods character is this person justified in believing God is evil or indifferent?

    Comment by Uncertain — August 28, 2009 @ 11:39 am

  38. Or in other words, you know he is omnibenevolent. The greek prefix “omni” means “all,” not “infinite.”

    Shuckee darns, you better quick get ahold of the editors of Oxford English Dictionary and tell them they got it all screwed up.

    Rich K, The problem is you made a claim that doesn’t stand up. Jacob made a statement about what the prefix “omni” means. You then implied that the OED states that is incorrect, which is obviously not the case.

    The fact that certain words that use the prefix have contemporary usage that goes beyond “all” doesn’t mean that “omni” has such a meaning in general. In fact, one could make the argument that the exceptions are only due to the long standing tradition of absolutist theism in Western culture. Why else would the meaning of those exceptions have departed from their etymological origin?

    In my opinion, theological absolutism is the highway to irrationality. Most absolutist theologies cannot avoid the most basic of contradictions. Even when they are not contradicting themselves, they turn God into a Greek statue, some sort of fixed point which everything revolves around, but which itself moves not a millimeter.

    And what is worse, many Mormons take this heritage of the apostasy and suppose that it can be multiply instantiated, as if two or more beings can have absolute power.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 29, 2009 @ 3:49 am

  39. BTW, Rich K, there is nothing wrong with Greek philosophy, per se. Every proposition has to be examined on a case by case basis, and most of the problems are a result of the widespread adoption of the Greek conception of God – absolute, timeless, immutable, immovable, and so on – a point of view which is a bit of a departure from the Hebrew perspective, to put it mildly.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 29, 2009 @ 4:01 am

  40. Eg. “God is good because if he weren’t good he couldn’t be God because evil self-destructs and can’t ever become powerful in the long run.” In this case we are counting on unprovable assumptions and their logic to keep us safe from such a possibility.

    And the alternative is what?

    (1) God is good because we define him to be good?
    (2) God is good because he is good?
    (3) We can’t tell whether God is good
    (4) His historical track record indicates that nine times out of ten, God is good

    Are those propositions any more likely to keep us “safe” from the God of Eth? And what is with the conceit that all theological propositions must be proved from deductive logic, when the first principle of rational thought is that *nothing* can be proved – nothing about the real world, at any rate. Deduction is nothing other than the fallout of unprovable propositions.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 29, 2009 @ 4:22 am

  41. Someone once asked me how I could know he was really there and wasn’t just a figment of my imagination. I said “All the evidence I have suggests that you are there, and I don’t have any evidence that implies you are not. So whatever the ultimate truth is, it’s probably best for me to go on acting as though you are there.”

    Obviously, people’s interpretations of the available “evidence” differ. A lot of people feel God is an omnicidal maniac, or at least has questionable taste. Philip Pullman wrote him as a clueless old fogey being manipulated by his angels, and reading the scene in The Amber Spyglass where his God dies made me squirm.

    It wasn’t because I somehow felt threatened by what he was saying, though. It was because it was more like if a friend I’d just met started telling me that my dad was an alien, and he hated me and everyone else on earth, and he’d abducted this guy’s sister and he was coming for their cats, too. I was squirming in my chair because of the way that he was accusing my dearest friend / benefactor, and while I knew other people had said such things before I actually prayed to God and apologized for him, and tried to explain that he didn’t know any better.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that I have a personal testimony that God lives and that he loves each one of us individually. And the thought that he would do something that would harm me in the long run is incompatible with that knowledge. And with the peace and the overwhelming, unconditional love that I’ve felt from him in some of my lowest times. I’ve questioned him before, and had mood swings that made it easy for me to forget his love. But when I was ready to receive it again, he was ready to give.

    If you want to play devil’s advocate, then go ahead. I just personally can’t play along, because I feel that it’d be betraying a real being that I have a close relationship with. And I think that would hurt his feelings.

    Comment by Jared Spurbeck — August 31, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  42. Jared, I really like your comments here. Reading Pullman’s 3rd installment didn’t make me squirm very much, mainly because it is like talking to a Calvinist about God; just because we both call someone “Mom” doesn’t mean we are talking about the same person. You needn’t worry about God getting his feeling hurt anyway, he understands my intentions perfectly and I’m not playing devil’s advocate here. Just so you know, my reasons for engaging in this discussion are spelled out in comment #35.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — August 31, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

  43. Wow, I actually hadn’t read that quote before I posted my comment. ^.^; I just did a full-page search for “testimony” to see if anyone else had mentioned theirs as a refutation, and when it came up with 0 hits I decided that I wouldn’t be rehashing anything.

    In the quote that I posted at the top of my comment, incidentally, the “he” that I mentioned was the other person — he was suggesting that he didn’t exist. But it’s the same line of reasoning.

    And I’m glad that we’re on the same page with this, but I’m really not sure what to call this post if not an attempt at playing devil’s advocate, at least without your conclusion in post #35 highlighted. I heard once that Church teachers aren’t supposed to do that kind of thing, but I’m not sure. At any rate, I hope things go well for you.

    Comment by Jared Spurbeck — August 31, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

  44. Thanks, I’m hoping things go well for me too!

    Comment by Kent (MC) — September 1, 2009 @ 7:46 am

  45. …word that the Greeks dreamed up: omnibenevolent. I looked up the word in the dictionary and it means: infinite benevolence. Infinity? What in the world is that?
    ======

    Reality check: INFINITY is /not in/ the world. It is an out-of-this-world context.

    God is benevolent. Period. I think we should take that as a premise and go from there.

    What I want to know is — will evil finally be vanquished, forever, as a result of the Atonement? Not just from individual lives, but vaporized, GONE! Seems that if evil were truly conquered, that would mean it could have no power, ever. That’s what I want God to do for us – to destroy evil. Out, out damn spot!
    Banana

    Comment by Banana — September 1, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  46. Banana: God won’t rid the world of evil until we refuse to give power to evil. God won’t do what is up to us to do. Even God cannot save an unrepentant sinner who refuses God’s grace. But you can be sure of this: His grace is sufficient and He’ll never give up on us.

    Comment by Blake — September 1, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  47. I’m only 3 1/2 years late to the party here, but I can’t help but comment.

    Best insight for me came from two thoughts, both from Kent:

    “…everyone eventually seems to give up on an all powerful God in order to defend his goodness. I don’t see the inverse as being required though and think that the idea that an all-powerful and all-evil God is compatible.”

    “We are looking to place our faith in a force of nature, not in another person. I don’t think that this type of a worldview can truly develop the faith necessary to develop a relationship with God…”

    I now have something more to consider in my interpretation of “God would cease to be God” doctrine. I’ve always interpreted as, if he lied, all his children would no longer honor Him, and if He wasn’t worthy of honor, he wasn’t worthy of being God. Meaning I have place my faith more in absolute truth, concluding that God has to obey the truths just like we do. Until now I have never contemplated that He has an eternity and being all powerful could realistically spend some of that eternity just messing with us. The new prospect in my mind that God has enough free agency and power to control us all just as Satan proposed is enlightening. The fact that he could be, but has chosen to do otherwise helps me shift my worship of Him from my worship of eternal principles.

    In short: God isn’t forced by eternal principles and law to grant our free agency. He gave up being all powerful for “all happiness.” In other words He chose to fight for our agency and protect it, and to live within the rules.

    This idea makes me want to worship him more

    Comment by John — February 21, 2013 @ 6:55 pm

  48. Last thought

    God of Eth = Satan

    Isn’t Satan all powerful and all evil within his own realm? Hasn’t he described himself as the God of this World? And interestingly can appear as an “angel of light.”

    So the paradigm is:
    1) There are two “gods”: Satan and God
    2) We choose which “god” to obey

    The question then becomes – Why has God allowed the “God of Eth” to reign?

    Maybe I’m too simple minded, but I’m plenty satisfied with the explanation given by the Plan of Happiness and scriptural doctrine. There must be opposites, etc.

    It also helps me to remember that this life is not reality. We are for a very, very short time living in a bubble (literally floating in space) of suspended reality. This is why it is so much work to make things make sense here. Consequences, justice, fairness, pure joy, are all fleeting and delayed. This won’t be the case in eternity, which is the true reality. This is just a temporary space to prove us.

    Comment by John — February 21, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

  49. I had forgotten this post completely. I’m glad I could read it again and remember that faith is a choice.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — February 21, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

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