If God is omnipotent, why is there such evil and horrific suffering in the world?
This question is known in the world of theology as The Problem of Evil. Apologists for God have tried for centuries to come up with an answer that will protect God’s reputation as good and merciful.
But wait: why is this Problem of Evil a problem at all? Why does it warrant such endless handwringing and embarrassingly unsatisfying “answers”? Where did the question come from, anyhow?
Consider the difference between God’s being an inscrutable First Mover responsible for launching and spiritually inhabiting all that we conceive of as “Creation” (a pretty praiseworthy accomplishment), versus God’s being “omnipotent”—which simply means “God can do anything and everything”.
Anything? Everything? Really? Just because you can hatch a Big Bang doesn’t mean you can do a bang-up pedicure or write a symphony or—more to the point—prevent a psychopath from gunning down schoolchildren or get people to stop incinerating the earth or stop ruthless wars of choice or see to it that the thousands of people who die of starvation every single night get three square meals each day instead.
The Problem of Evil is a self-inflicted wound. Whoever started calling this impressive Creator “omnipotent” put a curse on God’s “brand”. Once you decide to say that God can do anything and everything, might do anything and everything, could do anything and everything, should do anything and everything that we think would make life more livable—well, you’ve doomed God to be a disappointment to us. Over the centuries, scores of God’s PR agents have conjured up tortured theological rationalizations to explain the problem of evil, but they just flat out don’t work. There is simply no satisfying explanation for an omnipotent God’s obvious refusal to remove evil and suffering from the world.
Given the ubiquity of evil in our world, we are left to consider two alternatives. One is that God is not capable of removing it—that is to say, God lacks real-world omnipotence as we think of it. The other is that creating such evil is also at the very heart of God’s intent for Creation. Not a heartwarming notion.
So I'm all for realizing that it’s not imperative to call God omnipotent. We aren’t somehow obligated to imagine or claim such an attribute. “Omnipotent” is arbitrary, and it doesn’t fly.
I'd rather just thank God for creating this unimaginably vast do-it-yourself kit we inhabit and for somehow being present to us, and then get on with it. No more blame-shifting, as though the evil in the world is part of God’s mysterious grand plan. Such an insupportable narrative just enables those of us not currently suffering to blithely offer our “thoughts and prayers” to those who are, and then press on with our personal quest for more security and pleasure.
It's time instead to reaffirm our calling to tikkun olam--the healing of creation--because we are the ones who have screwed it up and we are the only ones--the only ones--with the power to heal it.