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Why should one thank God for good things but not blame God for bad things? Why is it common for theists to do so? Rationally speaking, it seems one should both thank and blame, or do neither; this is what we do with other willful beings.

One problem with thanking God for good things but not blaming him for bad things, besides being inconsistent with regard to responsibility, is that it infantilizes God, which can be considered a sin. It’s treating God the way an overly fawning mother would treat her toddler or infant, which entails not taking what he says or does seriously because her state of mind is determined before her child says or does anything. Everything little Johnny does is great to her. She’s just encouraging her child for its own sake, independent of him saying something incorrect or doing something immoral.

If everyone approved of everything I did and said, I would be disappointed and think little of them because it means they have not processed the meaning of what I have said (applauding me for asserting 1 + 1 = 7) or done (applauding me for punching a child for no reason).

It may also imply God can do no wrong, which places a limitation on God, which may conflict with his omnipotence. This is similar to “Can God create a rock so heavy even he cannot lift it?”, or the superior “Can God microwave a burrito so hot even he cannot eat it?”. (Related Does God have the power to make identical universes through different means?). However, notice in this case it’s not a logical contradiction.

I welcome answers from any religious tradition or philosophical background.

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  • This is a theology question. Different religious communities will give you different answers according to their own belief. – armand Jun 11 at 0:03
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    To blame god means that god made a mistake. Is there any religious tradition that has a god that makes mistakes? Would that even be a god? – Ameet Sharma Jun 11 at 0:59
  • The simplest answer is: "we do not know God's "reasons" (if any)". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jun 11 at 8:19
  • Your statements all presume a dualistic theism, an extra-cosmic Being separate from the universe. These tautologies exist only in those traditions. In monistic traditions, these arguments are sophistry. – Swami Vishwananda Jun 12 at 5:19
  • @SwamiVishwananda I wrote “I welcome answers from any religious tradition or philosophical background”. My question is open-ended and exploratory. – Just Some Old Man Jun 12 at 7:21
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From one old man to another:

The essential fact of christianity is that we must simultaneously love and fear god as the most powerful and perfect entity in the universe. This necessarily takes any form of criticism of god off the table... By definition, god can do no bad, and entitles himself to take credit for anything good that might happen in an apparently random universe. The master speaks, the slave obeys and that's it.

The christian god is self-infantilizing in this other respect: why would the most powerful and most perfect being in the universe require under threat of eternal torture the worms under his feet to slavishly worship him at all times and in all places? Is he so insecure in his own omnipotence that he'll burn in hell for all eternity any worm who does not profess his absolute and eternal love for him?

While we are on this subject, consider for a moment the demonstrable existence of unspeakable evil in a universe supposedly under the absolute and eternal rule of an omniscient, omnipotent, merciful, and good god. Whole generations of humans have struggled with varying levels of rhetorical cleverness and guile to invent get-out-of-jail-free cards for this lapse on behalf of that same god who, if he really was omnipotent, would either have created a universe free of evil or would have created his own excuses for not doing so, rather than rely upon the worms in the dirt to do it for him.

Quote me freely.

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This is a version of the "problem of evil" which is one of the oldest and most difficult problems facing any believer in a God who is both benevolent and powerful.

One of the oldest defenses comes from the Platonic/Neoplatonic tradition, to the effect that God is the source of all-and-only good things, and that those things are the only things that truly exist. What seems like "evil" is just a "deprivation" or absence. Just as dark is the absence of light, and cold is the absence of heat, evil does not exist in itself, it is just the absence of good.

What becomes difficult then, is to explain why evil would even seem to exist. Lines of argument from there usually go into questions of free will, and the idea that independent existence isn't possible in a world completely filled up with good.

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  • +1 Nice answer. Other form: is God antagonist or sympathetic to evil? If God is antagonist to evil, it's not omnipotent, therefore it's not God. Otherwise, God is evil. – RodolfoAP Jul 12 at 17:12
  • @RodolfoAP I don't know what argument you're trying to make there, but I can't see any logical connection between God being antagonist to evil and therefore not being omnipotent. – curiousdannii Jul 13 at 1:50
  • @curiousdannii - Rodolfo is correct, that's a classic form of the argument, he just elided a key step --to the effect that if God can do anything, and God hates evil, then God will eliminate evil. Since God hasn't eliminated evil, does that mean God doesn't hate evil, or that God can't do everything? And the standard answer --and I say this as a theist --really just boils down to "Neither, but we don't/can't know why God doesn't just eliminate evil." – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jul 13 at 13:14
  • @ChrisSunami The Bible at least is pretty clear: God is patient in order to give more people time to repent. But not infinitely patient. – curiousdannii Jul 13 at 13:54
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These vexed questions of theodicy have a long history dating back to Job at least and have troubled many great minds, producing many answers, including extravagant rationalizations like those of Leibniz or rejection of the idea of God, in the manner of Voltaire writing on the Lisbon earthquake.

Obviously, we would not thank anyone, let alone God, for evils that befall us, unless we are an overzealous penitent. But since an omnipotent God is presumed by believers to be the creator of the world, it would make sense to thank the deity for our own lives and whatever sustains us.

The question then is what are we to make of manifest evils? A rational approach might suggest Manicheanism, but I think the effort to reconcile the changing particulars of the world with a unitary power or "universe" has probably been a powerful impetus to many Christian thinkers like, possibly, Newton and certainly an Augustine or Hegel.

I doubt any serious Christian thinker imagines God finds it necessary to be complimented or propitiated by literal thanks, promises,or offerings, but only by an existential stance of recognition and awareness. It is both moral and rational to recognize that which you depend upon, be it God or science or the global proletariate that supplies your daily necessities.

Why not blame God for evils? People have and do. Probably the best answer is Kantian. We simply don't know enough. We don't have enough evidence to bring such charges against the infinite. We are well aware of our own limited grasp of outcomes. Our good intentions constantly go off the rails. All of human history is a tiny fragment of the universe. There may be, for all we know, justice and reason in some beyond that transforms present evils into greater goods, as Leibniz argued, sort of.

I don't tend to feel that way, but I don't see it as so irrational to thank a creator God for blessings among the creation and accept the limits of understanding when suffering evils, if only in a sort of Pascal's wager. What would seem irrational is to accept an omnipotent deity and then curse that deity, as Job's friends urged him to do. Doesn't seem like a smart move.

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One day the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?”

“From roaming through the earth,” Satan answered him, “and walking around on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.”

Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t you placed a hedge around him, his household, and everything he owns? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

“Very well,” the Lord told Satan, “everything he owns is in your power. However, do not lay a hand on Job himself.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.

One day when Job’s sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and reported, “While the oxen were plowing and the donkeys grazing nearby, the Sabeans swooped down and took them away. They struck down the servants with the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you!”

He was still speaking when another messenger came and reported, “God’s fire fell from heaven. It burned the sheep and the servants and devoured them, and I alone have escaped to tell you!”

That messenger was still speaking when yet another came and reported, “The Chaldeans formed three bands, made a raid on the camels, and took them away. They struck down the servants with the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you!”

He was still speaking when another messenger came and reported, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house. Suddenly a powerful wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on the young people so that they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you!”

Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying:

  Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
  and naked I will leave this life.
  The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.
  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything.

From chapter 1 of the ancient Book of Job (CSB translation), regarded as scripture by Jews and Christians, and thought by many to be one of the greatest texts on inexplicable suffering. When all these things happened to Job his very first thought was to acknowledge God's hand in it.

So no, it's not common for theists to not see God as responsible for the bad things that happen to them; they've been doing that for thousands of years. However, as the final verse there says, Job did not blame God. There could be a long debate over what "blame" means, and how what Job says and does can be distinguished from blaming God, but I think Job's short verse there gets at the heart of it: God gives us all life, and God brings us all to the grave, and when we die we leave this world naked as the day we entered it. It's God's prerogative to decide when and how he'll do that.

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First and foremost, we must draw a distinction between moral evil and natural evil. As defined by the IEP:

Moral evil = evil or suffering that results from the immoral choices of free creatures.
Natural evil = evil or suffering that results from the operations of nature or nature gone awry.

Moral Evil
Blaming G-d for moral evil doesn't make sense because every act of moral evil is, by definition, caused by a human acting with free will. To blame G-d for the actions of humanity is to blame G-d for giving humans free will. Although that is an interesting idea you may feel is worth exploring, I would suggest opening a second question to do so since it is fairly divergent from the original question.

Natural Evil as "nature gone awry"
If natural evil is the result of natural processes occurring differently than how G-d designed, then the responsibility of natural evil rests on whoever caused the natural processes to deviate from their designed path. Assuming humans are the only creatures with free will, then humans must be the only creatures capable for doing this. Therefore, natural evils are just another type of moral evil, and I have already argued that moral evils cannot be blamed on G-d.

Natural Evil as "operations of nature"
The key to solving this is in the fact that 'evil' is taken as a synonym for suffering. To claim that a morally perfect being, such as G-d, would act to minimize suffering implies the claim that an action is immoral in proportion to the degree in which it causes suffering i.e. utilitarianism. However, almost any utilitarian will admit that suffering in the short-term can be justified by pleasure in the long-term. In order for a problem to still exist, someone would have to claim:

  1. Their particular form of utilitarianism is the correct moral philosophy.
  2. They know every cause of event X, which is a natural evil.
  3. They determined that no human actions caused X (otherwise, it would be a natural evil of the first type).
  4. They know every effect of event X.
  5. They actually did the moral calculus necessary and determined that event X caused more short-term suffering than the long-term pleasure.

If someone actually came up to me and made these claims, I would probably just given them a copy of Oedipus Rex or some other classic Greek play on the vice of hubris. If after reading it they still asserted these claims, I would probably give them a book on chaos theory as applied to meteorology, which pretty much proves that they must claim omniscience or retract claims 2 and 4.

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    No way. G-d creating a creature capable of doing evil and then standing by while that creature does evil in no way gets g-d off the hook. That’s like shooting somebody and saying that it’s the bullet’s fault. – Frog Jul 11 at 11:01
  • @Frog I agree, but I think to many theists God is simply, by definition, off the hook. – Just Some Old Man Jul 13 at 19:41
  • From that point of view it’s valid to say that everything G-d does is good by definition, although it creates a paradox for the individual when the outcome is clearly a negative one, at which point confirmation bias comes into play, I suspect. – Frog Jul 13 at 20:20
  • To say that G-d is responsible for moral evil it to say that G-d should prevent moral evil from happening. Since moral evil is defined as suffering that results from free will, the only way G-d could prevent moral evil is to remove free will from all of humanity. Although there have been plenty of philosophers that argue that humans do not have free will, I know of no one who argues that humans have free will and it should be taken away. If you know of someone who does, can you please provide a link. That sounds like an interesting read to me. – E Tam Jul 14 at 23:50

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