The Problem of Evil: A Simple Solution for Children

Son: Dad? God is totally good, right?

Father: Yup.

Son: And he is super-powerful. He can make anything happen that he wants to have happen, right?

Father: Pretty much. Only he can’t make things happen that just don’t make sense. Like, he couldn’t make a circle that was square, right? He can’t make a true thing false, either. Like, he couldn’t make 2 + 2 = 5, you know?

Son: Yeah, that’s a silly idea.

Father: Why do you ask, kiddo?

Son: Well, I’ve been scared ever since Jade died. Why did God make her die? Why did he let that happen?

Father: It’s for the same reason he can’t make a square circle.

Son: What do you mean?

Father: Well, God is all good, so we have to think that he would have liked it better if Jade had had lots of kittens, lived to a ripe old age, and then gone right to Heaven, without suffering any pain, to be with Joffer, and to run and play with him forever, or sleep with him in the sun on the rug. And we have to think that God would like to have been able to arrange things so that you never had to say goodbye to Jade. So we have to think that even though he has all the power there is, still there is some reason why he just couldn’t make those things happen.

Son: I guess.

Father: Let me ask you something: if God were to make things so that they could only do what he wanted them to do, would they really be doing anything, or would it really be God that was doing everything?

Son: What do you mean?

Father: Well, think of your baseball bat. Until you come along and do something with it, it just sits there, right? It doesn’t do anything on its own. It can only do what you want it to do, or what I want it to do, or Mummy. It can’t make its own way over to the park and hit some balls. It needs you and me for that.

Son: Right.

Father: Well, if the only thing that you could do is what God wanted you to do, you would be just like the baseball bat, wouldn’t you?

Son: Yes. I guess I would.

Father: If you were nothing but God’s baseball bat, how would you feel?

Son: I guess I wouldn’t feel anything.

Father: Do you think your bat loves you?

Son: No.

Father: Do you think your bat enjoys you? Do you think it likes its life? Do you think it even has a life?

Son: No. Sometimes I think it hates me, though. [chuckles]

Father: [snorts appreciatively] Yeah, I know just what you mean!

Son: So to have a life, you have to be able to do things on your own?

Father: Yeah. I mean, it gets more complicated when you start looking at it carefully, but basically it boils down to that. To have a life, you have to be able to do something other than what God wants. He could not have made you the sort of thing that has a life without making you the sort of thing that has that freedom, any more than he could make a square circle.

Son: So that’s why I can mess up. That’s why I can swing my bat and miss.

Father: Yes. To have a life, you have to have the power to do something other than the best thing, that God wants you to do. You have to have the power to disobey God, or just to make a simple mistake.

Son: So when bad things happen, it’s because we swing and miss?

Father: Yeah. Or it’s because someone else misses, and they hit you in the knee. Or it’s because they get angry at being hit in the knee, and so they swing wildly and hit someone else. Pretty soon you’ve no longer got a ball game, you’ve got a brawl. Happens all the time. The faster the game, the more often it happens.

Son: Yeah. Hockey seems like it’s mostly fighting.

Father: True. So does politics. Like hockey, it’s mostly a way to fight, with a few rules.

Son: What does this have to do with Jade?

Father: Son, the world – the whole world, not just humans and cats – is like a hockey game. Anyone can see that it is perfectly possible to have a really exciting, fun game of hockey without any fighting, right? And when hockey teams are practicing, they do that all the time. Everyone has seen how things can go right. But things do tend to go wrong. Hockey games, and even some hockey practices, can get out of control, rules can be broken, and the whole thing can dissolve into a fight. And that is what is going on with our world. It is like a hockey game with millions and millions of players, most of whom are playing by the rules, all the time, in a beautiful dance. But there are always little pockets of fighting going on here and there.

Son: So why didn’t God make a world that was more like a nicer game, like chess?

Father: He did. And it was way more complicated than chess. Only it wasn’t so much a game, as a dance. The most beautiful games of all are when both teams are playing perfectly with each other, right? Those sorts of games are like dances, made up as they go. They make everyone involved in the game feel grand, and happy. That’s what the world was like when God first made it. It was perfect, and beautiful, and everyone was having a great time. But remember, it wasn’t a dance of baseball bats, right? It was a dance of beings that could do things on their own, and that meant that it was a dance of beings that could step on each others’ toes without even meaning to.

Son: So pretty soon some toes got stepped on.

Father: Right. And to make things even trickier, it was a dance of beings who could not see everything that was going on, right? God could see everything, and understand why and how everything should happen, because he was like the guy at the square dance that stands up on the hill next to the field and calls out the order of the dance. He could see the whole field, and always had a good idea where he wanted the dance to go. But none of the dancers could ever see anything more than a few dancers close to them. So a little group of dancers might drift off course a little bit, and then push another group off course, and then the mess would spread through the larger dance, which would get more and more messed up, even though each little group of dancers might be doing pretty well dancing together.

Son: So pretty soon people were tripping and falling, and then getting trampled. I get it.

Father: Right. And to protect themselves, some of the fallen dancers would kick out at the dancers around them, to keep from being trampled. So other dancers would fall.

Son: And dancers would get back to their feet, and try to get back in the dance, but they’d be hurt, and limping, so without meaning to they would mess up the dance a bit, even if they managed not to fall again, or to trip anyone else.

Father: You’ve got it.

Son: So Jade died because our world got messed up a long time ago, and it is still a mess, even though the dance is still going OK most of the time.

Father: Right.

Son: But why doesn’t God just blow a whistle or something, and start the dance over?

Father: That’s just what he is doing, son. The dance is already ending. It is already beginning again. God is calling us all to turn and face the mountain where he is standing, directing the dance. He wants us to dance a new dance, right on up the mountain towards him. Some of us don’t want to, so the old dance keeps going – it has a momentum of its own. This dance of ours is a mess, but it’s fun, and often I don’t want to turn and face the mountain, because I like dancing with you and Mummy. That’s not a bad thing, exactly, because we are dancing along pretty well. But it’s not the best thing. The best thing would be for us all to turn and face the mountain, and then join hands and dance in the new order he is calling out. And sooner or later, the new dance will get going.

Son: Will the new dance bring Jade back?

Father: Yes, I think it will. Not right away, I guess. Not in just the same way as in the old days when you were her little kitten, I guess. It is sad that those good days with her are over. But when you see Jade again, it will be like those good old days, but even better. I don’t know how, because I can’t see over that mountain. But I have seen the glow coming from the great country beyond the mountain. We see each other now by that same glow. It is that glow that lit those early years with Jade, when you were both very young together. When the new dance finally starts up, it will be even more like the good old days with Jade than it was during the good old days with Jade. Perhaps in the new dance, Jade will be able to talk like you. Or perhaps you will be able to leap like she did. Perhaps it will be both. We’ll see. Are you content to wait, and see?

Son: Yes. I will wait. Thanks, Dad.

Father: Want to go play catch?

9 thoughts on “The Problem of Evil: A Simple Solution for Children

      • Almost all of a kid’s quiet, important, questions are theological in nature. This is why kids are famous for asking “why” over and over until you fall back to metaphysical territory. They really want to know the ultimate “why,” and only rarely do it just to annoy the hell out of you.

  1. Pingback: What Good is Pain? | The Orthosphere

  2. I was reminded of this article and a question I have about it thanks to the new article “What Good is Pain?” I understand fully how much of the evil in the world arises from fallen human free will. But solutions like these don’t address another part of the problem of evil, i.e., that suffering which is (in insurance terminology) an Act of God. God’s desire for human free will allows for a universe where humans hurt each other, but what about one where people are hurt for no discernible reason by diseases and natural disasters?

    • Satan fell before we did; our fall was part of the general ruin inflicted upon creation by his fall.

      Creatures – not just humans and angels, but all creatures – are prone to err, and to come therefore into conflict with each other, and with God. Satan’s fall affected all subsequent creaturely events whatsoever; because they had to take some causal account of his wicked acts, those acts deformed their own. Thanks to the causal coherence of things, Satan’s injury to any part of creation – i.e., even to himself alone – was an injury to the whole.

  3. Pingback: Theodicy | The Orthosphere

  4. Pingback: The Etiology of Evil | The Orthosphere

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