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Problem of Evil: The Devil?

By Paul So ~

In the documentary from PBS Frontline called Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, there were varying religious and non-religious perspectives about the tragic event. One of them was from a fundamentalist Christian whose occupation is that of a fireman. From his perspective he saw the whole tragedy as an example of the supernatural conflict of Good vs. Evil, and the fireman feels that it is his duty to fight against it. This sounded very odd to me, because in the philosophical and theological topic called Problem of Evil, very few thinkers would bring up the supernatural evil the Devil as the culprit for all the human suffering. But aside from this curious fact, but what are the implications if one brings up the devil as an answer to the problem of evil?

From what we know about from traditional Christianity, many Christians believe that the devil is a fallen angel who enslaves humanity by tempting them into sin. This enslavement, however, does not merely consist of tempting human beings but also keeping them spiritually disconnected from God in order to deprive them of salvation. This is a fairly common and orthodox view among many traditional Christians, but does it help solve the problem of Evil as the fireman believes?

The devil as a solution to the problem of evil is far from being acknowledged by philosophers and theologians, but the reasons for this isn’t very clear. What I suspect is that if one brings the devil into the problem of evil, it only begs the question. By begging the question, I don’t mean it brings more questions, but rather it seems make the very assumption that is being questioned: Why does God permit evil in the world? Such question applies to both the actions of human beings and the devil, since God presumably permits their actions, thus in regards to the devil the question would be “Why did God permit evil from the devil?” The traditional theist can insist that just as God respects human free-will He also respects the free-will of the devil. However this seems rather very peculiar: God respects the free-will of human beings so they can make a decision between good and evil, however it is unclear whether the same reason applies to the devil since the consensus is not clear among Christians. While some Christians committed to Universalist salvation believes that everyone, including the Devil, would be saved, there are substantial opposition to this position from many other Christians and theologians alike, since many of them believe that the devil is categorically evil.

There is also another common questions that both skeptics and doubtful believers would ask: Why does God create the devil if he knew the consequences. When I was a young child, I asked this question to a pastor who cleverly came up with an argument. The pastor argued that God initially wanted Satan to remain a good person, but if Satan does not remain a good person God would already have a back-up plan, etc. As a child who was still developing intellectually, I simply accepted that answer. Right now, I obviously know what the problem with this argument is. To say that God has a back-up plan is to indicate that God simply isn’t perfect: it already admits that God’s previous plan did not succeed, thus has flaws. This obviously implies that God is not perfect.

One of the ways to be an accomplice is to be in a position to prevent consequences that can inflict suffering on people, but deliberately failing to do so. If God foresaw the consequences of his actions that could ultimately bring suffering upon many, but performed the action in spite of this knowledge, then there seems to be something very disturbing about that decision. One of the common arguments that many conventional theists would make is that God loves the devil as much as he loves anyone else, and would not destroy him, hence Go is merciful. Also, if God did destroy the devil it would only prove that God is not as merciful as he claims to be. But this argument already doesn’t make any sense in the first place. In the old-testament God has already punished or destroyed many human beings for disobedience and other sins, but somehow God doesn’t apply this same standard of punishment on the devil. Also, the argument that God did not destroy to devil to be merciful is self-refuting, because by not destroying the devil the lives of other human beings are in spiritual crisis. Also, isn’t Justice another virtue of God? If God destroyed the devil, wouldn’t God already proven that He is Just? The believer will insist that God reserved this punishment at the Day of Judgment, but this is obviously not satisfying: why not now? Why later? Doesn’t this sound like God is procrastinating?

There is another troubling or disturbing implication about God foreseeing the consequences of his actions, but performing it in spite of it. Such an action seems irresponsible, imprudent, or to make matters worse it would make God an accomplice. One of the ways to be an accomplice is to be in a position to prevent consequences that can inflict suffering on people, but deliberately failing to do so. If God foresaw the consequences of his actions that could ultimately bring suffering upon many, but performed the action in spite of this knowledge, then there seems to be something very disturbing about that decision. It would seem that such a decision is not consistent with our moral intuitions. Of course, anyone can argue that our moral intuitions/judgment are not only fallible but completely unreliable, but I do not thing such an argument is acceptable. Even if it is the case that our moral judgments are unreliable, there seems to be a resemblance between the kinds of decision-making that God makes an that of the human beings: to make a decision in spite of knowing beforehand what the risks and consequences would be.

Even if we grant the assumption that the Devil exist as a solution to the problem of evil, and took that position seriously, there would seem to be another troubling implication. We often blame people because we assume that they are moral agents who are capable of performing actions which makes them responsible. Blameworthiness, then, seems to presuppose moral agency. But if traditional theists want to blame the devil for the problem of evil among human beings, then this would imply that the devil himself would be a moral agent who is responsible for his actions. This seems very odd, since we do not see the devil as either the moral being or moral agent. It also seems predetermined or established that such a being is bound to be punished anyways. Also, if the blame is attributed to the devil, then how much blame is left to be attributed to human beings? Were the terrorist in 9/11 also at fault? It would not be inconsistent to argue that both of them are at fault, but to do this is to concede that both terrorists (who are humans) and the devil are both moral agents responsible for any actions.

Finally, If God is a moral being as theists might have pointed out, then wouldn’t God, like any other moral beings, consider consequences and risks of his actions? A theist can point out that God does not need to consider consequences and risks of his actions because God is perfect and omnipotent. This may sound like a stopper, but quite to the contrary. If God is perfect, then considering consequences and risks of any actions is not incompatible with perfection. It may be true that an omnipotent being may not have to consider risks since such a being cannot get hurt (since God is invulnerable), but God could at least consider the risks that involves the lives of other persons (which is consistent with his benevolence).

In conclusion, positing the devil as a solution to the problem of evil would either be just as problematic as any other solution, or probably more problematic than other solutions. Ironically, positing the existence of the Devil as a solution brings more doubt about God than without the Devil since God’s judgment to assess consequences and risks would seem questionable.