Wednesday, April 02, 2008

God cannot be both all-powerful and all-loving

My argument is this: If god were all-loving, he would want to save us from needless suffering. If he were all-powerful, he would be able to save us from needless suffering. If needless suffering exists, either god is not all-loving or not all-powerful or not either. Said another way, if needless suffering exists, then god cannot be both all-loving and all-powerful.

It is beyond dispute that suffering does exist. What is in question is whether this suffering is needless. The standard apologetic argument is that we are not in a position to know whether suffering is needless or not; god could have a purpose for our suffering that we may not be able to comprehend. So, let us suppose that god does have a purpose for our suffering - if we suffer it accomplishes some end. Is there another way to accomplish that same end without our suffering? If god is all-powerful, he could accomplish that end without our suffering; if one suggests that he cannot, then one admits that he is not all-powerful and my point is proven. However, if one sticks with the idea that god is all-powerful, then he could accomplish the whatever end our suffering would serve, without us suffering. So, if the same end can be accomplished without suffering, then all suffering is indeed needless. Since we do suffer, we suffer needlessly if god is all-powerful, and if we suffer needlessly, then god is not both all-loving and all-powerful.

Suffering exists.

If god is all-powerful, then all suffering is needless, because he could accomplish whatever purpose suffering serves without our actually having to experience suffering.

If god is all-loving, he would have compassion on us and want to save us from needless suffering.

If god is all-powerful, he has the ability to save us from needless suffering.

Since we needlessly suffer, he either lacks the will or the ability to save us from needless suffering.

If he lacks the will, he is not all-loving.

If he lacks the ability, he is not all-powerful.

Therefore, the existence of needless suffering stands as a testament that god cannot be both all-loving and all-powerful.

Here are some responses I got and my replies:

What if suffering isn't neccessary and God is loving and doesn't prevent it?

I have considered this and reasoned through it, but I am open to revisiting it again.

In what sort of a situation can we consider a god all-loving if he does not save us from unnecessary suffering and is capable of doing it? I am sincerely asking that question. I presently think it is impossible short of changing the definition of all-loving so much so that it no longer means all-loving.

If there were a reason for him not saving us from unnecessary suffering, then the suffering would not be unnecessary. But, if were all-powerful, he would be able to accomplish the "reason for allowing the suffering" without us actually having to suffer.

You, see every mental exercise I try, keeps coming back to the same conclusion. You would do me a great favor if you can find a hole in my reasoning. Think through what I quoted of what you wrote and show me how that would be possible.

Love, however, is a human emotion and as we all know, emotion does not obey the rules of logic and defies the constraints of a single definition. I would agree with the statement that a loving father would not want his children to have to endure any needless suffering, but this is my definition of loving. The easy answer here for the apologists is to simply state that we, as simple mortal beings, are incapable of understanding love on the same level as God and are thus not well positioned to impose our definition of love upon him.

It is true that I am using the human conception of love in its perfect form which we can only imagine. God cannot be both all-loving (the concept humans represent by the words all-loving) and all-powerful (again, what humans mean by those words). I have demonstrated that. Mine was a conceptual argument. Regardless of the human language, I was reasoning with the human constructs that are best represented in English with the words "all-loving" and "all-powerful".

You are positing that the teaching that "god is all-loving" is actually trying to convey something humans wouldn't normally think of when they read those words. That humans don't have the capacity to understand what that teaching is about. So, the meaning humans get from that statement is not correct. Love no longer implies the desire to allieviate the needless suffering of others. I ask what kind of love is that? It is not love at all, so why use the word. When the meaning conveyed by a word is not the meaning one is trying to convey then you would be misusing the word.

For example, the word "translate" conveys a certain idea to humans who speak English. Yet, to hear the apologists speak, they suppose Joseph meant something very different by that word than what your typical English-speaker means by it. I can show that Joseph did not "translate" (meaning the normal human understanding of the word) the Book of Abraham. But, I make no claims about whether or not he "translated" when one is intending some other meaning for the word.

Similarly, I have shown that god cannot be both all-loving and all-powerful if we are talking about the normal ideas people think of when they hear those words. I have made no claims of what the results of reasoning would be when using an entirely different construct, that supposedly humans can't even understand. So, are you claiming then that preachers and Bibles don't make the claim that god is all-loving as humans would understand that statement? If so, publize that, that no one has ever meant to convey the human idea that god is all-loving, that everytime they said "god is all-loving" they meant something different that humans can't even understand. For, pity sake, they would do better to speak in tongues, at least then their words would not be misleading.

Now, lest you think I am getting hung up on the English word all-loving, the Hebrew and Greek scriptures also teach that god is all-loving, in their own way. It is the concept that is conveyed that is important, not the specifics of the language itself. But, evidently the human concept of all-loving isn't applicable when applied to god no matter what the language. Words are used to convey meaning, if the meaning that one is trying to convey is not represented by the word, then don't use the word, or say that it is close, but you humans couldn't really understand.

So, in a nutshell, most humans think all-loving includes a desire to end needless suffering of loved ones. That is the kind of all-loving that I have shown god cannot be if he is also all-powerful. I have no position on any other kind of "all-loving god" that isn't all-loving according to human meanings of that word.

A loving parent lets their children make their own mistakes and learn from them.

Whatever it is we could learn from suffering (i.e., knowledge, wisdom, compassion, etc), an all-powerful god could give to us without our ever having to suffer. Can he not? If he is unable to, he is not all-powerful.

An all-powerful god could even implant memories and program our minds with all the "growth and development" we could gain from 1,000 years in an instant without us ever having to actually experience any pain. That makes all pain unnecessary.


1) We are eternal beings in a temporary human form. We chose our lives and knew what it entailed. Thus the suffering may be pointless, but something we wished to experience. A loving God stays out of it as it was our choice.

An all-powerful god controls all the variables. He can set up whatever rules for learning or growth or knowledge acquisition that he wants. He doesn't have to build a reality where suffering exists. Anything that he could accomplish with suffering, he could acomplish without suffering, so there was just no need to create or permit a reality to continue to exist that he did not create (if one wants to go there) a reality that has suffering.

If he had created a reality without suffering (all of which is needless), the option would not have been available for us to choose. We could still do whatever we want without being placed in a situation in which we could choose suffering. Choices are always constrained by what is available or possible; we can only choose among possibilities that exist in reality and an all-powerful god could create any kind of reality he wanted to. So, why would an all-loving god want to create a reality with suffering when it is completely unnecessary?

2) Free agency. God believes in our right of choice and interfering to remove the consequences of actions would in a way limit our free agency. These actions of course may not have been your own, or may be indirect.

An all-powerful god can control not only whether or not we are spared consequences, but can determine what the consequences will be. So, he could still allow us to choose and experience consequences, while making sure that none of the consequences include suffering.

3) Suffering is only bad in our current perspective. If life is eternal, that makes this life very short compared to the expanse of eternity. Perhaps a miniscule amount of suffering doesn't amount to much compared to the expanse of our own eventual experience and just doesn't warrant interference.

Needless suffering is needless suffering, regardless of whether it lasts only ten seconds or ten years. Ten seconds isn't very long when viewed from the perspective of a lifetime. Imagine me attacking your young child with a taser for no reason. She'll only feel it for a few seconds, which "doesn't amount to much compared to the expanse of her own eventual lifetime of experience". Does it just not warrant interference? It is purposeless suffering, don't you love your daughter enough to want to spare her those ten seconds of unnecessary pain?

If god really loves us, he knows we care about the pain we are in even if it seems small to him, he would want to spare us from needless suffering, even if it is only momentary.


Hüffenhardt said...

Oh, I should add before I get several Mormons' comments, that Mormonism has an answer for this quandry and that is that their Heavenly Father is not all-powerful. He is bound by eternal laws that he does not have the power to change.

Anonymous said...

what is there Isn't any needless suffering, what if all suffering has a point? What if we just can't see the point in our finite perpectives. Because you can't tell me that you haven't had a bad experience of suffering that hasn't helped you in some way. Pain has a funny way reaching us in a way that nothing else can.

SkinnyFestite said...

Hello. I doubt you'll get this in time, but I was wondering if I could use a few of your quotes in a debate I'm in. Also, I was wondering if you had any "special" degrees or something of the sort that would prove you a reliable source. (Just so I'm not just using the opinion of some random person, which I kind of am O.o)

Thanks :)

SkinnyFestite said...

Oh, by the way, I'm arguing that God either does not exist or is either not all-loving or all-powerful...I would be for you, not against you...

Hüffenhardt said...


Feel free to quote me. I don't have any relevant degrees that would make me an authority on the subject.


Yours is the most common response I get from believers. OK, let's imagine all suffering has a purpose. Whatever purpose it has can be accomplished without the suffering by an all-powerful god. Whatever learning or growth that might come from suffering can be gained without suffering because an all-powerful god could make it that way. There is no good that can come from suffering that cannot also be achieved without suffering if an all-powerful god wanted to make it that way. Therefore, since growth (and anything else) could be accomplished without suffering, that makes all suffering unnecessary.

Kathy said...

This is my first response...I am not Mormon!
I am a believer(evangelic) As I read your story my heart cried were not looking for religion, you were searching for the Truth, for God.
I had this same search,not from mormanism, but from a sleeping christianity, and until my personal encounter with Spirit(true Holy Spirit ) not just what I was told. I would love to converse with you and Lilly, not to push or to tell you what I think is wrong. I believe God is a loving God and our sin has caused our suffering. I do believe in free will, because He wants us to love Him because we want to not because He has forced us to.
I also have seen the inconsistancies are man's not the Spirit. and I have met Him and Jesus Christ, I know he is real, He converses with me,gives me direction and has healed me many times. I am not a "blogger"per say but I was looking for something totally unrelated in a search and you came up. Looking forward to conversing with you. I am a missionary in Brazil, 20 years.
Bye for now.

Hüffenhardt said...


I appreciate your comment and interest in conversing. I do not desire to have any contact outside of this website.

Hüffenhardt said...

Here is a restatement:
1) If god is all-powerful, he could make it so that every single benefit we get from going through pain, we could get without going through pain. And I mean everything (from the strength and confidence we get from going through challenges, to the reasons to not believe or to believe in god, to being tested, I mean every possible benefit we get through pain, even the ones we don't know of or can't conceive of). If god is all-powerful, he could make it happen such that we can get all of the exact same benefits we now get through pain without actually having to go through pain.

2) If god is all-powerful, whatever reasons he has for our pain, he could satisfy perfectly in a world without pain. And I mean every reason (even the ones we have no clue about).

*IF steps 1 and 2 are both true, then 3 must be true. If 1 and 2 cannot both be true, proceed to step 4.

3) Therefore, if god is all-powerful, there would be absolutely no reason left for us to go through pain because ALL of God's reasons for pain and ALL of the benefits we get through pain, could be satisfied or acquired in a world designed by god without pain.

4) If god is unable to create a world without pain in which we cannot get the same benefits we now get through pain, OR god's reasons for our pain cannot be met without us experiencing pain, then god is not all-powerful. This is because there is some link between our experiencing pain and the benefit we get through experiencing pain that god cannot alter or replicate. (For example, god is unable to set up things such that the strength we could acquire by going through non-painful challenges is as strong the strength we can acquire by going through painful challenges). If that is true, who made god unable? Or, who established the relationship between these two concepts, in this case "strength" and "painful challenges", such that god could not establish the same relationship between "strength" and "non-painful challenges"? Who has that power if not god? And if you say god does have the power to establish the same relationship, then return to step 3.

In short, if god were all-powerful, there could be no reason for our pain (except the express purpose of making us suffer), because all other possible reasons and benefits for pain could be accomplished without pain, if god were all-powerful. If all other possible reasons and benefits for pain could not be accomplished without pain, then god is not all-powerful, because he is unable to assign the same benefits to some other variable that are attached to pain. And you have to wonder why is he unable. And here we are not talking about unwilling, we are talking about unable. The willingness has already been addressed in step 3.

If god is able to set things up such that all of his reasons for our pain can be satisfied without us experiencing pain, and we can acquire all of the same benefits of pain without experiencing pain, but he chose to have us suffer anyway, then he cannot be all-loving. Or, if his purpose was specifically to have us suffer (not just in the service of some other reason or for some other benefit), but for the specific purpose of having us suffer, then he cannot be all-loving.

Hüffenhardt said...

Here, all-powerful means that he can do anything that is not logically contradictory. A logical contradiction is the conjunction of a statement S and it's denial not-S. In logic, the law of non contradiction is that a statement and its denial can not both be true at the same time. That means that I would still consider him to be all-powerful even if he could not make us both able to experience pain and unable to experience pain at the same time, because that would be logically contradictory. (Now, some people are going to try to use that as a loop hole to pass mountains through, so let me be clear that when we talk about what god is able to do, we are not limited by the way things are now - just because there is a strong connection between two concepts (S & T) in the world where we currently reside that connection doesn't necessarily have to hold in all possible worlds god could create. So, my "logically consistent" language only refers to pairings such as S, not-S, and does not exclude pairings such as S, not-T, even though in our current world T might be part of S. My point is, if god is all-powerful, he can make S and not have T as part of it, and that is not a logical contradiction because S is not T, they just have a connection in our world. If the relationship between S & T truly is inseparably, then there is a part of my logical argument that covers that.)

All-loving can mean a lot of things but the only part that matters in my logical argument is that god does not want us to needlessly suffer.

I might as well define god here, while I am at it. For the purposes of my logical argument, "god" is a variable that can mean anything that people mean when they say "god".

Now, you may disagree with those definitions and that is fine, but what I am trying to prove through my logical proof is what those definitions are all about. So, instead of saying god cannot be both all-powerful and all-loving, I could say, god cannot be both able to do anything that is not logically contradictory and not want us to needlessly suffer.

Hüffenhardt said...

OK, so parents have a purpose for their child's suffering. Parents have learned over the years that in this world we live in, suffering can decrease the likelihood of people repeating the behavior that proceeded the suffering. So, if they want to decrease the likelihood of their child doing some people they consider bad, they do something to make the child suffer, and it works to some extent.

Yes, God could have a similar purpose for our suffering. But, this is where the analogy between god and human parents breaks down. Parents can't control the universe, they can't rewire their children's brains to accomplish the same results (namely, a decrease in the likelihood of a behavior being repeated) when exposing the children to the color purple. Parents have no choice but to go with what works in the current world they live in; not so with God. If god is all-powerful, he could create a world in which every benefit we/he now gets from suffering could be achieved through something other than suffering. So, we would not need suffering to learn not to do some behavior, because in this other world god could create, he would have created us and created that world such that parents could use a certain tone and it would work just as well to decrease the likelihood of a child repeating the behavior.

Now, I have used learning not to repeat a bad behavior as an example, but if god is all-powerful whatever purposes he may have for our suffering (even the purposes we don't know about and can't comprehend) he could design us and a world in which all of those purposes could be met without suffering. That then makes suffering needless. Yet, we suffer in this world, therefore if god is all-powerful, then he is not all-loving.

Now, if you claim that there are some purposes god just could not accomplish without having us suffer (I think one poster claims we could not learn to love if not for suffering), then god is powerless over that connection between love and suffering because he cannot separate them or replicate the connection and replace suffering with something else. If so, you have acknowledged god is not all-powerful, so my logical proof worked. Yet, naturally, one has to wonder who then created that connection between love and suffering such that not even god could make it such that we could learn to love without suffering. What thing has the power to make such universal laws about the nature of reality that god has to follow?