The Tale of the Twelve Officers

The problem of evil (see this post) can be briefly summed up as being the problem of why, if God is all-good and all-powerful, should evil exist. Theologians have come up with many ingenious ways to get around this problem (e.g. free will, needing evil to appreciate good, etc), which tend mostly to abstract evil as being a general concept, which can then be regarded dispassionately as a means to a greater end.

However, regardless of the plausibility or implausibility of these arguments, for me the problem comes in applying them to any specific instance of evil. If any of us had God's knowledge of an event, and his power to intervene, would we stand by and do nothing? An example could be the September 11th attack - if you personally knew such an event was going to happen, would you not do all that was in your power to prevent it? And if you did not do all you could, would you not be judged as guilty by your inaction? How much more so then God, whose knowledge is perfect and power is infinite?

I came across this article the other day: The Tale of the Twelve Officers, which takes all the arguments I have heard to try and justify God's apparent inaction in the face of evil, and places them in the setting of a particular evil act. I challenge anyone to accept any of the arguments given by the officers in the story as being remotely justifiable excuses for inaction in the face of a specific evil act.


  1. Stu said... <br>"...Well, let's start from one thi...

    by ANDY on 20 OCTOBER 2007 at 10:52PM
    Stu said...
    "...Well, let's start from one thing we know does exist: evil. "

    How do you know that evil exists?

    maybe you were taught it by your parents, teachers etc? but how can you trust them?

    or maybe you've experienced it, your concience 'knowing' good and evil? how do you explain that?
  2. After having gone back and read some of the other ...

    by JEFF HOUSER on 18 AUGUST 2007 at 1:47PM
    After having gone back and read some of the other posts, I apologize for mentioning what you've already considered - that not knowing the answer to this question does not preclude the existence of God. As you mention, considering this point in a vaccuum wouldn't help you answer the bigger question.

    Since that is the case, I suggest that you might more profitably concentrate on the other arguments for and against the existence of God,

    I'm sure you've already spent some time doing this. I'm suggesting you are better off setting aside this particular issue for the moment until (one may hope) you have a context to consider it in. Please notice I'm not implying it isn't a very important question.

    Because honestly, that is the approach I am able to take with this and other questions. I care very much about the answers.

    I actively and agressively search for answers, but do it within a framework of belief built on information I think I do have, and where I may reasonably suppose that there are things I don't understand at this moment. I use this approach in everyday life, and it doesn't seem irregular to me.

    Again, is in my opinion a good place to start.

    Best Regards,

  3. First, may I suggest checking out William Lane Cra...

    by JEFF HOUSER on 18 AUGUST 2007 at 5:10AM
    First, may I suggest checking out William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith site, if you haven't already done so? You could also pose your question to him - there is a link on the Q&A page for that purpose. I hope you may find something helpful and relevant there.

    I don't know why God allows evil (like many people I speculate), and I certainly do care about the answer. I truly do believe in God nonetheless, and believe that he is good. I can certainly understand why somebody without a belief in God and his goodness would find this a high hurdle to get over. I'm glad you have the desire to try.

    If you suppose for a moment that you had proof, of whatever sort that would satisfy you, that God (the being who created the universe), really exists - would you really expect to understand all of His actions, reasoning, moral standard etc., except as he communicated these things to you? And wouldn't there reasonably be limits to what we could understand?

    Obviously, I'm not just talking about somebody really smart and powerful here. I'm talking about a being who essentially defies description. I guess my point is - if we don't know the answer, how could we reasonably suppose there is none?

    At the same time, I believe he has communicated a fair amount - my belief is that my own sense of right and wrong, compassion, everything good thing, came from that being. I don't think I believe these things just because it is convenient to do so, but I understand it would be hard for me to convince you of that.

    Logic is a part of the reason I believe in God, but I don't discount my own personal experience either. I figure God didn't make exceptional intelligence a prerequisite for belief. Lots of people would get written off it that were the case.

    I do think that sincerity is a requirement. A truly sincere desire to find out the truth, using everything you've learned and experienced in your time here.

    Best regards,

  4. The Christian has no more of an answer to where go...

    by STU SHERWIN on 20 MARCH 2007 at 10:38PM
    The Christian has no more of an answer to where good comes from as does the atheist. Sure, the Christian has the stock reply that "good comes from God" - but what does this mean? That good is defined by what God just happens to prefer, or does God prefer what's good because it is good in itself? In the first case, we have an explanation for where good comes from, but it has no value - good is just what we call the things the most powerful being in the universe likes. But since when did might make right? What if the most powerful being liked rape and murder? Would those be good then?

    Alternatively, if God prefers what's good because it's good in itself, then we still have no answer to the origin of good. Why are the things good that God prefers? You see the question is not answered, only deferred.

    The reason I "harp on" about the origin of evil is that it seems to me to be something that Christianity is particularly unable to explain. OK, the existence of evil isn't going to disprove Christianity outright - when it comes to the crunch Christians can always fall back on the "there may be a reason for it we don't understand" argument. However, for someone who doesn't already believe in God, what's more likely, that this world with all its suffering and misery was created by an all-powerful, all-loving God who hates evil but allows it to happen for some reason which we don't understand, or that there is no such God?

    The part of the book I was referring to was pages 29 and 30, which compares Sept 11th to the tower falling in Jerusalem.
  5. You keep harping on about the origin of evil to pr...

    by ANONYMOUS on 20 MARCH 2007 at 1:54PM
    You keep harping on about the origin of evil to prove your point. But where did good come from? Your argument proves nothing.

    Furthermore you make a bold, uncharitable statement that the mentioned book has a conclusion that is "deliciously lame". Please explain this giving the page references so that I can follow this up.
  6. By the way I have a copy of the book you refer to....

    by STU SHERWIN on 26 FEBRUARY 2007 at 10:56PM
    By the way I have a copy of the book you refer to. It's basic conclusion is that we don't really know why God allows these things to happen, but "unless you repent, you too will perish"!

    I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one whom this strikes as being deliciously lame.
  7. The question is not why God allows evil to exist. ...

    by STU SHERWIN on 26 FEBRUARY 2007 at 10:41PM
    The question is not why God allows evil to exist. That is only a question you can ask once you already believe God exists. Once you make that assumption, you can then try to come up with reasons why God would allow evil, however implausible they sound. Or if you like, you can simply say we don't know the reason. It doesn't matter, because you've already decided God does exist despite what other people may see as evidence to the contrary. God exists. Therefore if evil exists there must be a reason for it, even if we don't know what it is.

    It is to the person who hasn't already decided whether God exists that evil is a problem. Does God exist or doesn't he? How can we know? Well, let's start from one thing we know does exist: evil. Now, is the fact that evil exists more compatible with the idea that God exists, or that he doesn't? To someone who doesn't already believe in the existence of God, evil fits much better with the idea that God doesn't exist. The idea of God poses more questions than it answers, with regard to the problem of evil - i.e. God is supposed to be all-good and all-powerful, how does this explain the presence of evil? It doesn't. More explanations are now needed to explain why an all-good and all-powerful God could allow evil to happen. Most of these explanations are unconvincing to an unbeliever - they lack the explanatory force necessary to do justice to the problem. Many apologists admit this, and simply retreat into the position that there must be a reason, we just don't know what it is. As I said, this is fine for the believer, who feels he doesn't have to worry about it. But it is no help to the non-believer, as it simply indicates that the God hypothesis does nothing further to explain the existence of evil.

    Therefore the non-believer who is searching for truth must disregard the God hypothesis with regard to the existence of evil, at least until such time as a better attempt is made to reconcile the two. However, given past history, he/she is probably justified in thinking that this is unlikely.
  8. You ask the question again as to why God allowed e...

    by TIM on 19 FEBRUARY 2007 at 5:53PM
    You ask the question again as to why God allowed evil to exist. Do we need to know the answer to this? The fact undisputedly is that it does. It reminds me of those that say “Seeing is Believing” and they refuse to move on from there. Like the Scribes and Pharisees that demanded a sign to enable them to believe. What God wants us to know has been given to us in the Bible. Are you saying then, that if the answer to your question is not provided, that God ceases to be God? That would surely be absurd.

    Moving on to the question of why God does not act, you point to The Tale of the Twelve Officers, the logic of which I find intriguing. A clever argument, but I feel that it misrepresents God (1 Corinthians 1 v 21 “…the world by wisdom knew not God…”). The position has been covered very well by John Blanchard in his book “Where was God on September 11?). If you want a copy then please let me know.

    God directly intervened in the past and left a record of what happened. The Bible makes it very clear that God will directly intervene in the future. However, it seems that in this present age, direct intervention has been put on hold since He spoke finally in His Son (Hebrews 1), but men rejected God’s answer and said “We will not have this Man….” and crucified Him. That is not to say that God cannot intervene. He does sometimes in ways that defy the ability of men to explain. The Christian though has direct representation at the throne of heaven in the person of the Lord Jesus Himself.

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