Why God 'allowed' deadly tsunami to strike

Why God 'allowed' deadly tsunami to strike
By Edmond Eh
Straits Times Forum, Jan 29, 2005

RECENT attempts at philosophical/theological reflection on the tsunami disaster by Mr Tan Tarn How ('Evil? No way, come hell or high water'; The Sunday Times, Jan 9), Ms Chua Mui Hoong ('Where was God when the tsunamis hit?'; Jan 16) and Dr Andy Ho ('Where God was when the tsunami struck'; ST, Jan 22) raise interesting points, but contain important mistakes.

In the great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God is believed to be (1) existing, (2) omnipresent (all present), (3) omniscient (all knowing), (4) omnipotent (all powerful) and (5) omnibenevolent (all good).

However, the challenge from the problem of evil is this: given the presence of suffering in this world, it is not possible to affirm all the five properties of God stated. Accordingly, Mr Tan denies (1), Ms Chua denies (4) and Dr Ho denies (5).

Firstly, Mr Tan states that the problem of evil provides evidence that God does not exist. This is based on a wrong conception of evil. Evil is not a substance or a thing; it is a state of lack of something good. So, the concept of evil is parasitic on the concept of good. This being so, the existence of evil does not disprove God. Rather, the reverse is true.

As St Thomas Aquinas (1224-74) teaches:
Boethius introduces a philosopher asking the question: 'If there is a God, how come there is evil?'. The argument should be turned the other way: 'If there is evil, there is a God.' For there would be no evil, if the order of goodness were taken away...

Next, Ms Chua believes that God is not omnipotent because He created people with free will and cannot force them against their freedom. This is based on another conceptual misunderstanding.
Freedom is part of the essence of a human being. Someone without free will is not a human, but an animal or a robot.

To say that God is not omnipotent because He cannot stop humans from being free is like saying that God is not all-powerful because He cannot make pigs fly.
To blame God for not being able to go against human freedom is to accuse God of an inability to perform a meaningless contradiction.

Lastly, Dr Ho believes that God is not benevolent to all His creatures but 'only some whom he chooses so his will is worked out'. He comes close to the view of John Calvin (1509-64) who taught double predestination in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Calvin held that God only chooses to save some people (the elect) because He predestines some to heaven and others to hell. Unfortunately for Dr Ho, very few modern Calvinists still uphold this doctrine because it creates a wholly inaccurate and cruel image of God. Actually, the simple reason why God allows evil is that if He did not, then a lot of good would be lost. To quote St Thomas again:
Hence many good things would be taken away if God permitted no evil to exist; for fire would not be generated if air was not corrupted, nor would the life of a lion be preserved unless the ass were killed...

Also, contrary to Ms Chua and Dr Ho's opinions, evil does not show the limits of God's omnipotence or omnibenevolence. Again, the reverse is true. As St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) explains, God is 'so omnipotent and good that he can bring good even out of evil'.

Edmond Eh Kim Chew
click on 'permanent link' to read the full article...


ChrisYeo said...


About time a Christian philosopher responded to those articles!

If I may just pick on one small issue, I think the example of the "rock so heavy nobody can lift" more clearly brings out the point than flying pigs.

Well done, Edmond! *big clap*

irene said...

ok, let me try to comment on this. i admit, i didn't read the newspaper articles so i don't really know the background. hope i don't sound too confusing. i apologise if i do.

addressing mr tan: i think whether or not god exists depends on an individual's opinion and faith. i've been through times where i really feel like there is no god. "Evil is not a substance or a thing; it is a state of lack of something good". to have a lack of something, there has to be a something in the first place. but if "evil provides evidence that God does not exist", then doesn't goodness provide evidence that god does exist? the world isn't totally evil. if there is originally goodness present, then isn't there a god?

countering ms chua: god IS omnipotent. the free will thing is just something he allows. he can just take it away anytime he wants. it's kinda like parents giving children freedom and independence. while the child may be free to do what he wants most of the time, the parents still can revoke this with punishments or grounding. god can do the same. he just chooses not to. so maybe he chooses to let the tsunami happen to see how we can handle it. possible there's a higher plan in it. see the result of the tsunami. maybe god believes that if things like this happen, we can become better people. like parents allow bad things to happen to their kids sometimes,hoping that they will learn from it and become better.

addressing the issue dr ho said: yes, i've heard of that thing where you're destined to go to either hell or heaven and no matter what happens in your life and you can't change your destiny. unfortunately this seems like a crazy idea cos none of us knows exactly where we'll turn up after we die so how can we charge god with being un-benevolent in this sense? yes i agree with this quote "Actually, the simple reason why God allows evil is that if He did not, then a lot of good would be lost...Hence many good things would be taken away if God permitted no evil to exist" without a 'yardstick' to measure good and evil, how would we know what is good and what is evil?

mochi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mochi said...

you know in the first place, i don't know if a tsunami should be equated to evil per se. it's definitely a horrible event but to call it evil in itself?

i read c.s. lewis' "the problem of pain" and to summarize very simplistically, bad events like earthquakes, car accidents etc happen because of free will. our lives are affected by the choices of those around us. plus, in order for us to have free will, the universe has set rules and regulations for our free will to function by. there would be no free will if choices did not have set consequences.

if you want a smarter, more complete explanation, the book does a better job!


ChrisYeo said...

Hi Mo,

You've brought up a very interesting question: can nature be evil? Can we really say that something like the tsunami was an instance of evil occuring?

Some would say that it was an entirely natural event, with no one to blame.

However, others could say that any instance of human suffering that could have been avoided is an evil. Killing someone without reason for example certainly seems to be an evil. Human death and suffering was caused by the tsunami, and tsunami did'nt have to occur, so the event was an instance of evil.

I feel that Lewis is wrong to say that bad events like earthquakes happen because of free will. Car accidents yes, but earthquakes seem beyond the power of humans to cause, so what does free will have to do with it?

Still, it is very interesting to consider if nature can be evil!

Tom said...

Interesting arguements, especially the "can nature be evil?" question. If there was no suffering in the world, (I refer to suffering as a result of evil, free-will, or nature etc), then would any of us believe in God? Suffering is often the thing that leads us to put our faith in God. As my parish priest said in a homily recently: He who tries to find God without carrying a cross usually ends up with a cross without God.

Conversely - would we not already be in paradise if there was no suffering in the world?