“What does it mean when we say that God is all-powerful?” Peter Kreeft asked, and then he answered his own question: “That means he can do everything that is meaningful, everything that is possible, everything that makes any sense at all. God cannot make himself to cease to exist. He cannot make good evil.”
I like to refer to Kreeft as “the un-philosopher.” Not that he isn’t a philosopher; in fact, he’s a first-rate philosophical thinker, with a doctorate from Fordham University, postgraduate study at Yale University, and thirty-eight years of experience as a philosophy professor at Villanova University and (since 1965) Boston College. He has taught such courses as metaphysics, ethics, mysticism, sexuality, and Oriental, Greek, medieval, and contemporary philosophy, earning such honors as the Woodrow Wilson and Yale-Sterling fellowships.
“So,” I said, “there are some things he can’t do even though he’s all-powerful.”
“Precisely because he is all powerful, he can’t do some things. He can’t make mistakes. Only weak and stupid beings make mistakes. One such mistake would be to try to create a self-contradiction, like two plus two equals five or a round square.
“Now, the classic defense of God against the problem of evil is that it’s not logically possible to have free will and no possibility of moral evil. In other words, once God chose to create human beings with free will, then it was up to them, rather than to God, as to whether there was sin or not. That’s what free will means. Built into the situation of God deciding to create human beings is the chance of evil and, consequently, the suffering that results.”
“Then God is the creator of evil.”
“No, he created the possibility of evil; people actualized that potentiality. The source of evil is not God’s power but mankind’s freedom. Even an all-powerful God could not have created a world in which people had genuine freedom and yet there was no potentiality for sin, because our freedom includes the possibility of sin within its own meaning. It’s a self-contradiction — a meaningless nothing — to have a world where there’s real choice while at the same time no possibility of choosing evil. To ask why God didn’t create such a world is like asking why God didn’t create colorless color or round squares.”
“Then why didn’t God create a world without human freedom?”
“Because that would have been a world without humans. Would it have been a place without hate? Yes. A place without suffering? Yes. But it also would have been a world without love, which is the highest value in the universe. That highest good never could have been experienced. Real love — our love of God and our love of each other — must involve a choice. But with the granting of that choice comes the possibility that people would choose instead to hate.”
“But look at Genesis,” I said. “God did create a world where people were free and yet there was no sin.”
“That’s precisely what he did,” Kreeft said. “After creation, he declared that the world was ‘good.’ People were free to choose to love God or turn away from him. However, such a world is necessarily a place where sin is freely possible — and, indeed, that potentiality for sin was actualized not by God, but by people. The blame, ultimately, lies with us. He did his part perfectly; we’re the ones who messed up.”
“Rabbi Harold Kushner reaches a different conclusion in his bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” I pointed out. “He says God isn’t all-powerful after all — that he would like to help, but he just isn’t capable of solving all the problems in the world. He said, ‘Even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check.’”
Kreeft raised an eyebrow. “For a rabbi, that’s hard to understand, because the distinctively Jewish notion of God is the opposite of that,” he said. “Surprisingly — against the evidence, it seems — the Jews insisted that there is a God who is all-powerful and nevertheless all good.
“Now, that doesn’t seem as reasonable as paganism, which says if there is evil in the world, then there must be many gods, each of them less than all-powerful, some of them good, some of them evil, or if there’s one God, then he’s facing forces he can’t quite control. Until Judaism’s revelation of the true God, that was a very popular philosophy.”
“You don’t think much of Kushner’s God,” I said, more as a statement than a question.
“Frankly, that God is hardly worth believing in. Do I have a big brother who’s doing what he can but it’s not very much? Well, who cares?” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “Practically speaking, that’s the same as atheism. Rely on yourself first and then maybe God, maybe not.
“No, the evidence is that God is all-powerful. The point to remember is that creating a world where there’s free will and no possibility of sin is a self-contradiction — and that opens the door to people choosing evil over God, with suffering being the result. The overwhelming majority of the pain in the world is caused by our choices to kill, to slander, to be selfish, to stray sexually, to break our promises, to be reckless.”