"Why does evil exist?" is the first question anyone will ask about God and whether He exists. More specifically: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" This isn't a new issue, but it's one of the most persistent ones.
You could ask not only "Why is there evil?", but "Why so much evil?" I'll note some common and traditional reactions by theists and then my own ideas.
I. Some Answers to the Problem of Evil Considered
So, why do bad things happen to good people? A much more pressing issue than its inverse, "Why do good things happen to bad people?" Yet it is exactly this fact of unequal attention to these logically equal injustices that provides the answer as we shall see.
That God loves even the unrighteous is plainly stated in Scripture (Matt. 5:43-47; Acts 14:17). This "unfairness," aka mercy, puts the correct perspective in view, when we remember we're all sinners (Rom. 3:23): not "Why is there so much evil?" but "Why is there any good to sinners at all?"
The immediate objection to this is that we're human and we're punished quite disproportionately if we're to equate ourselves morally to God. However, this is untrue, because each individual is judged according to his conscience (Rom. 14:5, 23-25). If a drunk driver can be held guilty of the consequences of an accident he didn't intend, but violated other drivers' safety willingly by drinking and driving, then so can a person who willingly violates what he thinks is good be held accountable of higher crimes than he anticipated. Of course, if a drunk driver kills someone it's involuntary manslaughter, not cold-blooded murder, but that goes beyond the point. A man who is presented with heavier circumstances will respond in a heavier way, one way or another. If a person had to choose between executing an innocent man or losing their own life, many who would otherwise be good citizens, would understandably succumb to the first choice.
This of course doesn't mean that everyone is either Hitler or Mother Theresa ultimately, which would imply no degree of good or evil or the choice to make them (which is plainly untrue as we know that idolatry was much worse than theft in the Old Testament). However, ultimately, an unrepentant man would by definition succumb to sin of varying degrees - permanently.
Now if we look at it from God's point of view, how can anyone redeem themselves from even a "medium" crime/sin? If I offend a friend, I can apologize. Maybe I can take him somewhere I know he'd like and he might forgive me. If I offend a coworker, the consequences might be more severe: suspension, termination. Now what could I do to make up the smallest offense against God?
Five objections immediately come to mind: we're assuming God has the right to judge us; we are being biased in that the friend and employer have different rules (social vs professional/business/legal) and we just use God's status (like favoritism) to have this heavy judgment; we haven't solved the "medium" vs "low/high" sin, but same punishment issue; how do we know this person will sin forever (and don't the elect make mistakes (=sins) too anyway? Wouldn't they for infinity?); and how can these infinite punishments be handed out if say it was a victimless crime?
I'll turn to the last first. This depends entirely upon the validity of the argument just made: if the smallest offense against God is incorrigible, then "medium/high" sins have no meaning other than "more than infinite," and God is actually merciful in sending someone like Hitler to the same Hell as an unrepentant thief! In that sense, the fifth objection is also resolved by answering the first two.
These two are easily answered: how can God judge? Well, how can justice judge? If God is perfectly holy, then He is the definition of what is good, and what is good always contrasts with what is evil. In that sense, the action that should be taken by an all-powerful+knowledgeable good would be to punish evil accordingly. This would not be for correction as our current justice system is based, because this is not out of circumstance but out of the pure motivation/intent of the individual - like Satan, he chose evil.
Nor is this bias because, while the friend-employer escalation example does have different rules for each, the consequences are more strict in one than the other for a good, real-world reason, and that is the parallel with God, whom by definition we see as all-good justice as we mentioned. This then eliminates the need to explain how or why an unrepentant thief (e.g. someone who stole pennies from millionaires) should be punished with Hell: the situation does not dictate the penalty, any more than result dictates intent: it's exactly the opposite: the situation is a reflection of the crime that would've been bigger depending on the individual's circumstances: he was a thief of pennies because it suited him in that circumstance. If he needed dollars the same way he needed pennies, he'd steal those. This again seems to assume that one would always jump to the worst version of their type of crime, but it doesn't, because we're speaking from the point of view of the needs of the individual given his choices. If he only stole pennies for all eternity, he is by definition offending what he believes to have been wrong for a good reason (I mean he believed it, and we assume he's sane). As such, a person who does what he believes is wrong, even if he believed in no God, and it was a victimless crime, he still places this choice above what he believes he should've chosen instead. In that case, we can always construct the perfect "unfair" situation, but ultimately if we believe that God would not send such a person to Hell if it isn't fair, then we are constructing purposely contradictory scenarios. So the elect who are in fact sinners, are an example that God would not do this, nor make moral laws like this. The question of why this person is stealing pennies from billionaires will always be asked: it's either a bad, immoral reason that leads to selfishness, or not. If he says, "for fun," but we suppose he'd never go any further, then he's pitting himself against himself by saying "This isn't right, but I'll do it anyway." That doesn't solve the problem, but perhaps he thinks it's funny for a millionaire to have $9,999,999.99 instead of $10 million.
The problem with the above scenario is twofold: first we're assuming such a man would exist that would fall in the beaurocratic cracks of God's laws, where he was just an innocent prankster who would've never harmed a soul and now is going to Hitler's pad in Hell. God would've made the laws subtle enough to cover everyone: from man to angel.
Secondly, I will prove that this is a contradiction and such a man cannot exist. If he is consistently doing something he believes is fundamentally wrong, but not that much, then he even if it is victimless, he is going against everything he believes: constantly and continuously. This is because, as the given necessitates (or otherwise he's blameless and is as Hebrews 10:26a says, "unwillingly in sin"), he is violating what he believes to be good - i.e. just and right. This could be some vague degree of "it's doing just a little bit of (insignificant) financial harm," but if he genuinely believed all forms of theft, even a penny once in every 5 years, is fundamentally wrong, then by definition he is disrespecting something that he holds immutably true (and good). By doing this, he is crossing a line for no reason (because on the one hand he believes it's good, on the other he doesn't care (the definition of free will)), and so he no longer believes in any justice or good, if he doesn't believe in even one shred of it and is this contradictory. Because if I say to myself that I don't need to prove one small math theorem (or, as it boils down to it: assumption), then do I believe in math at all? In that sense, he cannot differentiate between one penny and two pennies stolen, because he has no basis to start differentiating from between zero pennies and one being stolen. Therefore, it is impossible that this individual can exist any more than someone who is morally immoral. Otherwise, his rule would be, it's not ok to steal anything, but only one penny once very five years is ok: a contradiction. So clearly it's the second rule that he holds dear, and he is no longer condemned. One cannot make a murderer go free because of UC (socially!). This is the same reasoning as why the Ends don't justify the Means.
Therefore, God's justice depends on His omniscience, or He could never punish anyone without guessing to some degree. There is either perfect justice this way or none at all (possibly this realization is related to the above proofs (in absolutism terms; maybe rel to VacTruth, batch-holy, etc)).
The question of infinite sins for righteous vs unrighteous is resolved by Cantor (BT? ST? VacTruth?). Similar to the math disproof of an infinite universe (rel-to-rel/Euthyphro and other such (RockHeavy, ST and here)?)? Thomson's lamp (and pars/solutions it relates to? Trinity? Zeno and rels?)? 0.999..=1 (=ST?)? PoV?
Nor does this imply that under different circumstances a person wouldn't do something bad: this violates and presumes no free will, and 1 Cor. 10:13 plainly states God doesn't test beyond one's physical endurance - e.g. you won't fail a test on a technicality like not having a pen.
But first, I'd like to point out arguments and defenses I will not be making and why. These include:
- The Problem of Evil doesn't negate God's existence
- Evil doesn't actually exist
- In the end there's more good than evil in the world
- Ultimately there's a purpose for every evil
Non-Negation of God's Existence
That the Problem of Evil does not directly disprove a God's or gods' existence is easy enough to understand. After all, a king isn't always just and if we assume that there is no justification for the calamities of the world, then this could just mean that the deity/deities aren't concerned with it. At least not with respect to us.
But since the idea behind this article is to reconcile what we know and observe with the Christian God, this response is not much help. Moreover, if one were to suppose that a deity that could do these things wasn't at least a little concerned with mankind's welfare, we'd have a heckuva lot more problems than we do. Why would we even be given a moment of respite for too long (as we understand it since we enjoy it, even if one says 1000 years are like a day for a deity)? One could suppose a semi-malevolent, or perhaps semi-deistic God who is unconcerned most of the time with our well-being or otherwise (but certainly not all of the time as the Enlightenment Deists supposed).
But one thing speaks against these two interchangeable ideas. If God was malign enough to play around with our lives and suffering, I don't think we'd see the complexity of the world we do today. If we disregard the biological, ecological, and so on complexity (perhaps it's simple engineering for the deity, who built this world like a personal playground), there are quite a lot of developed things we enjoy: general order, technology, art, so on. It's a bit absurd to suppose that a God would allow these things to be created and not do quite a bit more "damage" to it, even taking in mind catastrophes in relatively recent times like world wars, persecutions, and the like. After all, plenty of individuals can say throughout history that they lived in relative harmony, and I think a deity that could allow WWII or the Holocaust to happen without any or much of a justification, wouldn't have really let things be this way. Also, no matter how simple all the complexity in our reality could be to Him, He made our understanding to be the way it is, so He knew what He was doing (with respect to us), and therefore we again fall back to either non-omnipotent, non-omniscient, non-omnipresent, or non-benevolent.
The same sort of goes for Deism. If God was as unconcerned with the world He created in the distant past and just left it to its own machinery and devices, why bother making: a) this world in the first place; b) allow so many things to be of beneficial use to us, both natural and man-made? It's a bit incredulous that God would be completely unconcerned with the world as the 18th century Deists maintained.
Also, if the deity created the world, then He took a direct interest in us by creating our situations (the natural laws), so no matter how far He removes Himself, it can never be far enough. This can be answered in three ways: 1) The deity lost interest; 2) The deity was never omnipotent/omnipresent/omniscient and did the best He could and similar such variations; 3) The deity's perception of fair is different. To comment on these, I want to point out that the first one can only work if the deity wasn't omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent in addition to non-omnibenevolent. Because otherwise He would've known what He was doing and also would've never been able to change His mind (due to knowing everything and having considered everything). The second option is valid: the order and good we see in the world is His work and the rest is the chaos of "primordial existence" that He failed to improve (or perhaps vice versa!). The third option is also possible only without omniscience and the rest.
So this is one possible way of interpreting what we see: God could be less than omnipotent/omniscient/omnipresent/omnibenevolent (aside from not existing). So let's see other options.
Evil Doesn't Actually Exist
St. Augustine made a good observation: nothing in the world is evil in its physical nature. That is, evil doesn't actually exist in and of itself, but is a relationship between the actions of individuals and the meaning they have for God. Or in this case, natural events and us. This is unlike the Gnostics who considered all physical matter evil right from the start. Thinking from this angle, one realizes that, for exmaple, an earthquake or a tornado isn't evil in its own physical composition; it's just elements of the Earth.
But this doesn't resolve the actual question. True, a calamity might be just "good" matter in a "bad" combination, but the actual "evil" still exists, whether as a relationship only or not. Information is also "non-corporeal" in this way, yet it does exist in a very real way. Certainly a murder isn't just an "innocent" rearrangement of molecules.
So our problem remains, if at the very least in a better understood light.
In the End There's More Good than Evil in the World
"Yes, bad things happen, but for all the bad things, there's even more good that we do not realize!" True, we tend to turn a blind eye to the good and focus on the bad in the short-term and only see the cumulative benefit after some time and usually through incidental reflection. It's part of our upbringing and nature to recognize problems and solve them, whereas something that "works" isn't as important in the immediate at first glance. But despite the fact that many would argue that good does not outweigh bad significantly, or even at all, this doesn't really address the question of why there is evil, why so much of it, or even why there's anything (such as good) achieved or deduced by unfortunate events.
One might say that the amount of evil magnifies and pays homage to the amount of good (compare with Romans 5:20-21). But does this mean that we should have more evil then? Why not go all the way and have "infinite" evil to have an even bigger (?) infinity of good? Clearly that doesn't work and since we shouldn't want more evil (!), why do we have this "medium" amount at all? If it's not necessary or useful to have good (or God?) glorified this way with "infinite" evil, clearly we can have less than we do - zero! (compare the answer Paul gives in Romans 6:1-2). If anything, to assume this type of logic is to bring up another objection to God's existence due to the Problem of Evil!
Ultimately There's a Purpose for Every Evil
We'd often like to believe that there's order in the universe. Purpose. That things eventually fit. Even if we can't see how or why. After all, if suffering and death are the worst things in the world, Socrates wouldn't have drunk the hemlock which resulted in his own demise and the mourning of his students. One of the most common ways to answer why there's evil is to point out that in many situations that seemed hopeless and as if God had outright abandoned the person, in the end it turned out for the best. After all, an insect needs to struggle by flapping its wings in order to emerge from its ignoble cocoon to the marvelous butterfly it is! For example, when Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he turned ended up being Pharaoh's right-hand man! And got his family land in Egypt. And after all, the crucifixion of Jesus was a shock to everyone, and even he felt this depressing atmosphere of sadness by exclaiming, "Lord, Lord, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). All the disciples were in deep despair and didn't understand what was going on or why these things happened (John 20:9-11) - until the Resurrection!
But true as this all is, one thing remains a fact: quite a bit of suffering remains unexplained to the victims. One could object that someone's unfamiliarity with the true reason for a seemingly pointless pain does not preclude the situation from having one. But this only brings us back to the original question, but in a new way, which applies even to those who can claim to see what this purpose might be or suppose that there is one (if it isn't a personally derived rationalization or the like, of course!): "Why does God have to do it this way, and so painfully too, at all?" Why did people have to suffer, and suffer so much? Why does the butterfly have to struggle at all? God's omniscience and this question simply remain unanswered given these observations.
II. The Biblical Answer
So what can be the traditional Christian answer here? If you notice, above we've been only talking about the situation as revolving around man. It's an exploration of a man-centered universe. Everything is "with respect to us" and our "interest." The writing above is rife with the word "we" and "our" - it's our happiness and catastrophes that are in the balance. We are the offended ones. But what about God's point of view and offenses against Him? But, without forgetting to assign Him as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent, what if we looked at things from God's point of view? Then we see a whole different story, and the actual biblical answer to this question. I want to clarify that I'm not arguing that "we're not as important as God, and therefore do not matter as much," or that "He gave us all these things, made us, etc, has the power and authority and so on (like the owner of a house in which you reside. And for free too!), and many other such attributes, variations, and reasons. And like a potter is free to do as He pleases without someone absurdly protesting or asking 'Why?'" What I want to point out is that God's unwillingness has nothing to do with the attributes of power/knowledge and benevolence. The reason all this suffering exists is because of our sins.
What Jesus Said
The Bible doesn't directly deal with the question of why there's any evil. Most of the time a problematic situation is presented as having a solution due to fidelity to God and His Covenant. This resolution can be physical (the Exodus; Joseph's plight; Ruth and her mother-in-law's situation), metaphorical (Samson's redemption through death in a much more brute version of Socrates'; Jeremiah's suffering; Stephen's death in Acts 7), or spiritual (Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus). These are all for general instruction as memorable illustrations (1 Corinthians 10:6).
However, there are a few references to what we understand as highly disproportionate misfortune to people. In Luke 13:1-3 Jesus is asked about some Galileans who apparently had a very painful (or shameful; suffering) death/mutilation under Pilate's instigation. Perhaps these were well-known, eminent, and righteous men and people were baffled by this situation that reminds one of Job's position. Jesus brings up in addition eighteen people who died when a tower collapsed on them and responds by saying, "'do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'" (Luke 13:4b-5, NIV).
It's very easy to misunderstand why Jesus responds in this way. The first thought that comes into your head is that Jesus is basically saying, "There's more important things that all of you need to worry about. Like them, you've all sinned, so don't worry about what happened to their (or your) physical status/well-being. This world doesn't matter."
But this is not why Jesus said what he said or phrased it the way he did. We can understand things as they are if we start with a basic premise from Scripture: that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23; Psalm 14:2-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Since God is perfect, any blemish, no matter how small, falls short of that perfection. If a piece of blank and completely white paper gets a black dot, no matter how small, it is no longer completely white (or blank).
Now, why does this matter and how does this relate to our main topic? To answer this more directly, I'll bring up another place where Jesus talks about man's woes and misfortune. In Luke 4:24-27 Jesus says:
And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (NIV)
Luke doesn't fully give us the reason Jesus said this. He only mentions that people marvelled at him and wondered, "Is this not Joseph's son?" (v.22). In Matthew and Mark, the people take offense at Jesus due to his origins:
and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:54-58, NIV)
As Adam Clarke explains (commentary on Matthew 13:54-58):
They were astonished - It appears, hence, that our blessed Lord had lived in obscurity all the time above specified; for his countrymen appear not to have heard his doctrines, nor seen his miracles, until now. It is a melancholy truth, that those who should know Christ best are often the most ignorant of himself, the doctrines of his word, and the operations of his Spirit.
Is not his mother - Mary, and his brethren, James, etc. - This insulting question seems to intimate that our Lord's family was a very obscure one; and that they were of small repute among their neighbors, except for their piety.
And they were offended in him - They took offense at him, eskandalizonto en auto, making the meanness of his family the reason why they would not receive him as a prophet, though they were astonished at his wisdom, and at his miracles, Matthew 13:54. So their pride and their envy were the causes of their destruction.
A prophet is not without honor - This seems to have been a proverbial mode of speech, generally true, but not without some exceptions. The apparent meanness of our Lord was one pretense why they rejected him; and yet, God manifested in the flesh, humbling himself to the condition of a servant, and to the death of the cross, is the only foundation for the salvation of a lost world. Perhaps our Lord means, by prophet, in this place, himself alone, as if he had said, My ministry is more generally reputed, and my doctrine better received, in any other part of the land than in my own country, among my own relatives; because, knowing the obscurity of my birth, they can scarcely suppose that I have these things from heaven.
Unbelief and contempt drive Christ out of the heart, as they did out of his own country. Faith seems to put the almighty power of God into the hands of men; whereas unbelief appears to tie up even the hands of the Almighty. A man, generally speaking, can do but little good among his relatives, because it is difficult for them to look with the eyes of faith upon one whom they have been accustomed to behold with the eyes of the flesh. - Quesnel.
As Matthew 13:58 puts it bluntly: "And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief." This is the reason why in Elisha's day in the 9th century BC, only one leper was healed who wasn't even from Israel: Naaman the Syrian. This is why only one widow's dead boy was raised by the same prophet, and why not many of the afflictions and physical ailments of the Nazarenes were healed by Jesus that day as well as why they occurred to them and to others (down to our present day) at all. God loves the unrighteous as much as the righteous. He sends rain and good things to both the good and the wicked (Matthew 5:43-48; cf.Acts 14:16-17), just as we are exhorted to love our enemies. Jesus healed many who weren't religiously inclined. In Luke 17:11-19 he heals ten lepers, only one of whom comes back to thank him at all. In John 6 the crowd becomes disillusioned with Jesus after they were fed because he didn't want to become a physical king and pretty much lead a revolt as countless other false prophets did in his day. They refuse to believe he's anything other than the Nazarene they've known, echoing the rejection at Nazareth we discussed (John 6:41-42). Knowing and seeing all this, Jesus aptly told them, "'Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.'" (John 6:26-27). All this naturally leads one not to "throw pearls before dogs" (Matthew 7:6), not to waste his time suffering the fool, whom Christ loves and does things for nonetheless, and so that plus the justified refusal to humor someone who wouldn't return the appropriate gesture and also severs the relationship, leads him to deny miracles on the physical or even metaphorical and intellectural scale, such as when he denies proof and assurance/satisfaction and the like to the Pharisees except the "Sign of Jonah" (his Resurrection - Matthew 12:38-42). All of this explains how God can "create evil" (Isaiah 45:7), how he allowed what happened to Job to happen, and various other activities that seem to incline on borderline wrongdoing (e.g. placing lying spirits in the mouths of false prophets - 1 Kings 22:20-23.
Christians are not immune to this wrath. If anything, they're held to a higher standard due to better knowledge (Acts 17:30; Romans 2:12-16). In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul admonishes and exhorts the Corinthian Christians not to eat the Eucharist in an unworthy manner, noting that this was the origin of some of their illnesses and even deaths (1 Cor. 11:30)! In 1 Cor. 10:5-13 Paul warns of the physical as well as spiritual dangers of disobedience such as idolatry or fornication. The reminder that God killed 23,000 immoral Israelites in one day is clearly applicable to Christians (1 Cor. 11:7-10).
A minor point I'd like to mention is regarding the cryptic way in which this answer is given, at least in Luke 13:1-5 we discussed above. Jesus isn't negating the issue or giving a provisional, make-shift answer. His answer is fully legitimate, but his focus is on what's more important: repentance. This is a key concept that's never forgotten in the Bible, arguably to a very superhuman degree. It's easy to deviate to interesting but non-essential side-topics. But just like the Bible isn't interested in proving God's existence intellectually, which with respect to the conscience is neither necessary nor relevant, but rather spiritually (hence why something clearly supernatural for all to see like the Ten Commandments being written on the Moon to be found doesn't exist, at least not in our generation), so also we don't find mathematical or philosophical or scientific wonders explicitly stated, but only in a cryptic form here and there, possibly waiting to be uncovered.
In a way, I think this is what Alvin Plantinga meant with his idea of "best possible world," where free will isn't violated, although I personally don't think this is necessary or possible. Because the magnitude of a difference between sinful and sinless is so vast that only infinite mercy can withhold infinite punishment for even a short while, even for the repentant. And then how can one talk about "best" in such a situation: best dirtiness and the best scolding? However, we have more questions, arising especially out of current answer, and we're not done yet. We can't ignore the question of justice and the suffering of innocent people disproportionately.
The Suffering of the Righteous, Children, and the Mentally Infirm
I don't think that it occurs to critics of religion that atheism isn't a more appealing philosophy than theism because of the Problem of Evil. Think about it. What's better: "People, including children suffer in misery and die and then nothing. Or suffering, torture, pain and then eternal bliss?
At any rate, in the previous section we established that no one is "truly" innocent. But this doesn't fully answer or issue for two reasons. First, the amount of suffering a righteous or any person can receive can be disproportionately high. It is true that we are all sinners, but with respect to our understanding and knowledge, sometimes we can be crushed by the circumstances. Not only that, but Jesus himself was sinless and various such situations can be brought up, so what gives? Secondly, and I'm sure this was seen coming: children, babies, mentally infirm, and such can still receive the brutal side of life. And so the questions about the relationships to justice and such and with respect to God and so on will be examined.
With respect to the first question, that of righteous suffering, a quote by Bertrand Russell best summarizes and illustrates the problem. I can't remember exactly from where, but it went something along the lines of: "When bad things happen to the righteous it's a trial from God. When it happens to the unrighteous, it's punishment." The cynicism is apparent: bad things happen to everyone, seemingly at random, and the only explanation is an ad hoc justification. This makes for the worst of excuses that someone would give. It's tantamount to a parent asking his child why he didn't do his homework but played video games all day and getting the answer, "My eyes hurt a lot and couldn't do the homework, but they didn't hurt that much when I played video games (all day)." We can already smell the balogna.
But this objection only relies on superficial assumptions about a situation due to common sense and knowledge. So, while the student who didn't do his homework is most certainly full of rubbish excuses, there are many examples of the opposite. Simply put, Bertrand Russell's objection is a critique of a tautology, however naive or simplistic and artificial it may seem. For example, if I say, "HE who laughs last, laughs best," that doesn't mean the other people's reason for laughing arbitrarily disappeared, or weren't as funny to begin with. Or: "Tactless jokes aren't funny, but others are," I'm not trying to cover up the fact that all the jokes are equally (or randomly) and indiscriminately funny. The difference here is that the definition of funny is subjective, unlike physical calamities. However, the point remains, because in a proper context, a tactless joke (no longer being tactless), would be funny.
With respect to the repentant, we already established that their sins make them far from (technically) innocent. Therefore, if God had a greater purpose for some of them than a comfortable life, it would be understood by the righteous and without a doubt carried out willingly, as is the case with martyrs. And this wouldn't be a moral dilemma of the ends justifying the means either. All the Psalms and other Scripture that talk about the safety and prosperity of the follower of God's commands does not mean it must always be physical, just like the true winner of a fight or argument isn't necessarily the one that bests the other with arguments (or fists). For example, the British technically controlled India, but Gandhi's peaceful protest got independence from them. It's the person with the correct cause that others recognize as such that counts. Others, such as countless scientists, mathematicians, and so on gave their lives dedicated to discovery and benefit to society. In a sort of reverse situation, the medieval theologian, Peter Abelard, was unbeatable in his philosophical debates with every one of his vastly more famous and tenured opponents, yet in the end, because of his method, he was the one censured and his works consigned to the flames.
Yet one has to wonder, assuming a certain righteous person is to remain so for the rest of his life, why does he get afflicted by so much sometimes, even if he is willing, when he'd be spared from Final Judgment. True, even the righteous man will make an error once in a while (Ecclesiastes 7:20; cf. with Paul - Acts 23:1). But clearly with respect to our situation some errors are more offensive than others. This is why Agrippa was killed within a week after his tacit approval of the crowd's blasphemy, or at least lack of reasonable rebuke (Acts 12:20-23; also Josephus).
This question is closely tied up with Jesus' own suffering and death and their meaning. After all, he was truly sinless and innocent, not just in the colloquial and commonly used figurative sense, but as the Bible tells us, completely without blemish. Yet he wasn't immune to pain or the sting of death. He was indeed willing to go through these ordeals (Mark 10:14), despite fear (Matthew 26:39; but not doubt or discouragement! - Matthew 26:42). All these things, his suffering and death, were meant as a symbol to illustrate how offensive our sins are to God. A physical manifestation of a metaphorical, but very real truth - an expression so frequently found in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, it's basically a trademark of God's character.
But while we can maybe understand how these things are justifiable in Jesus' case, what about for others such as children, babies, or people with mental disorders (autism, crazy people)? Jesus, being God, wanted to illustrate what man's sin does to him in a way for us to understand as well as follow as an example (Philippians 2:5-8). This is what our sins do to him due to his benevolence and love for us, placed in a context to illustrate how repulsive they are and what they actually do to us - a promise of retribution that God shows how He'll carry out for the unrepentant of us. But how does this square with children and the mentally challenged, who also don't have personal sins? They don't have these motivations. To provide a ratione technica, Church authorities since at least St. Augustine (✝430), have explained the need for Christ for anyone, from an infant to an old man, due to Original Sin. Augustine's reasoning was based on Romans 5:12, whether this was a misinterpretation or not (Hauer, Christian E. and William A. Young, An Introduction to the Bible: A Journey into Three Worlds (Prentice Hall, 2008; 7th ed.), p.322).
Yet without personal culpability, how do we understand this? Every year millions of such innocent people suffer trauma, mutilation, or death. Here we have to understand a fundamental concept in this framework of metaphysical justice. In ordinary law, a person is (or at least should be) innocent until proven guilty. And he's certainly not guilty if he hasn't committed any wrongdoing! But let us suppose the following situation. A thief genuinely plans to carry out a theft. He has doesn't need a weapon since he plans to do it at night. He only has an alarm disabler and his bag. But he's prevented from doing this because he couldn't find his electronic alarm defuser. Is he guilty of any crime, just by thinking this? No. Is he ethically and morally culpable because he had genuine intent and only the circumstances prevented him from carrying out his plan? Without a doubt (Romans 14). As the (atheist) philosopher, logician, and ethicist, John Dewey put it, the intent is in no way differentiated from the action except by space and time (the circumstances), and these do not have a role in ethics because they are outside of one's control and he can't be culpable (or excused) because of them.
Now, since God is omniscient, He knows what sins these children or mentally infirm individuals would have committed - in their future or in the present under better abilities for their inexpressible or perhaps even suppressed intent. This is by no means a demonization of innocent victims, since one can hardly suppose that all those people, or any of them, would have been perfect. Their crimes are nonexistent not because they wouldn't have committed them, but because they weren't given the opportunity to physically express them. Otherwise, God would have never suffered to make them human in the first place, but would've made them like the elect angels. When we take a look at elect angels, they're never faced with such a dilemma (suffering), because they're sinless and, unlike God, their relationship to humans is a bit more indirect (e.g. the "older brother" in the Parable of the Prodigal Son - Luke 15:25-32; God doesn't forget the angels either. Also Luke 15:7,10 and the cryptic references to them in Hebrews 1-5). Imagine two brothers marry two girls who happen to be sisters themselves. They are double brother/sister-in-laws. One man is a brother-in-law to one of the girls for two different reasons, but it's still the same relationship: brother-in-law. It's still the same result. In the same way, two different reasons can be expressed by the same physical result here.
Yet, certainly none of these people are condemned. The opposite. The medieval opinion that unbaptized infants and people were undisputedly hellbound isn't shared by the Bible or even common sense (Matthew 18:1-6, 19:13-15; Romans 2:12-16). The demoniacs who had no willpower over their own actions are never rebuked (Matthew 8:28-34). Just like a person with a disease, it's not the person's fault if he can't overthrow the disease on his own (though he might be responsible for it because of his sins - Matthew 9:2). Just as God knows what errors they would've made, He knows what good choices they would've done.
I'd like to invite the reader to look at this from another angle. I want to show that the death of children does not prove God isn't loving or that He doesn't exist at all. That it's simply bias. This is because children are innocent in many ways: they're defenseless and they don't know right from wrong. They don't know any better, even if that 8 year old purposefully tripped his classmate for the fun of it, or something more primitive, unplanned, or an instinct, or just plain lack of knowledge and more and such related (which kind of proves the point(s)). So all their mistakes are forgiven and any malice they might exhibit isn't their fault. Their death always affects the parents infinitely more than it does them. This is why David's firstborn to Bathsheeba, whose husband he indirectly murdered so he could have her, was killed. Gandhi also attributes the death of a child to punishment, whether justified or not (The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Part I, "My Father's Death and My Double Shame"). This is also why the Psalmist, perhaps a bit figuratively, can say that he who bashes the Babylonians' "little ones" is blessed.
In addition to this, we already showed above how this can be justified by God, and by God only. None of us are innocent with respect to Him, but that's not excuse to go around murdering "guilty" people because the offense is with respect to Him only and unless He asks someone to be the intermediate cause of death, as in the case with the Israelites and the Canaanites and other such, one cannot assume otherwise. In fact, the opposite is stated: you shall not murder - you will love your neighbor as yourself. If one hasn't committed a crime against someone else, then one can't pretend to act on behalf of another agent without their permission. Even if the offense occurred to that person he is still not free to take revenge because it's hatred.
And so children are innocent, but just because we should hold them dearly both morally and physically, doesn't mean we have to or even can impute these restrictions on God, as we just established. Aren't the children of one man more valuable to him than someone else's? Of course. Does that make the other children any less valuable? Of course not! In the same way, as we see a child progress into an adult, we no longer have the bias of physical defenselessness (which if accompanied by moral culpability means nothing - e.g. a very scrawny killer; or someone who wishes bad things upon others but simply can't enforce his will). The bias of moral purity is removed now that the child, who has become an adult, knows what he/she is doing and makes the wrongful choices and we're at the situation discussed above.
Also, consider the following. Let's take an adult. He was once a child as we all were. Where is that child now? It's no longer there in the same physical state. But we don't mourn it; that's ridiculous of course: the adult and the child are/were the same person. Let's look at it from another angle. If a couple plans on having only two children, are they in any way killing/destroying children? Surely not, you might say? That's not what some Mormons believe. Also, preventing pregnancy through forms of birth control is against Catholic belief on similar grounds. After all, you're planning the nonexistence of someone by unnatural means, even if it's not direct, technical death. This isn't an anti-contraceptive argument, it's to point out the bias in ascribing moral culpability or guilt to God for the death of children.
Animals and Suffering
Some like Descartes considered animals to be complex machines - one of the reasons that technology was sort of conceived of. But animals do experience pain, like us, even if they are simply biological material. One can wonder whether one day a machine that was made with similar pain receptors could fall under the Problem of Evil! God isn't unmerciful to animals. When Balaam was abusing the donkey that was actually preventing both of them from being slain by an angel invisible to Balaam, God gave it speech and reproved him! Yet animals do suffer. There isn't some sort of excruciating pain that they experience that needs to be explained, since they are after all, complex machines if we are to assume that only humans have a spirit (and therefore intrinsic value in a way), but other than that, the explanation wouldn't be anything different from the one above - if that makes sense for humans, how much more so for animals which God certainly does not value as much as us (Matthew 10:31).
Basically, bad things happen because of man's sin. The one case where a man was sinless, Jesus Christ, he voluntarily accepted punishment, as a martyr, to prove a point about the repulsion of sin. Those who never committed personal sins, children, mentally handicapped, and such, are exempt from guilt, but an absence of physical expressions of errors, does not make one immune to divine (fore)knowledge of what they would have done otherwise (unlike if perhaps, say, an elect angel had been incarnated). This would have made them either willing martyrs, but in the form of seemingly unwilling ones to us. A (righteous) man who is unwilling to do God's will because of something like pain is in error for this very reason - God being the Creator and knowing better and our sins. This is why the Bible is replete with references to questioning God being as futile as a pot asking the potter, "Why have you made me thus?" (Romans 9:20-21). It's not because God is an authoritarian bully and His might makes it right, but because of the very fact that we are neither omniscient, nor perfect, and power has nothing to do with it other than setting the balance of right vs wrong correctly (i.e. justice cannot exist without power enforcing it).
The pain of animals is either an illusion (much like a robot's), or it's simply not as excessive as it certainly could be to merit the label of sadism. As we pointed out, physical expression of even intent isn't necessary to warrant punishment of "what could've been," provided this alternative is known, and this makes an unwilling person or thing in the wrong. But I feel this is irrelevant with respect to animals. And with respect to humans, it's more often than not pointed out rather personally in the test of this world and their sins - which, on a good note, for the repentant eventually becomes salvation. Animals don't go to Hell at any rate, even the ones that have mauled and killed innocent people including children. That's something that our bias wouldn't permit us to accept, normally, and is another example of how easily our sense of justice can be marred by our interests. A man who would have repented if he had been born in a religious family would be condemned by society for his evil, but not by God who would set Him straight. If Hitler genuinely repented on his deathbed, how many of us would call God unjust for allowing him to go to Heaven, while all the Jews that died such as being burnt alive, now get to go to a fire again? Would an animal with a choice be perfect? Perhaps a misnomer of a question (such as, "Would a chair with free will be perfect?" - it's simply illogical with respect to the soul and "would/what if" questions [cardinality of the number of souls//angels]). And finally those who justly deserve punishment - the unrepentant - sometimes get it, sometimes don't due to love, like all living things (remember, God defended Balaam's donkey from the blows he was undeservingly receiving). But ultimately, all of it is to prove a point, whether small (local justice) or big (a symbol like the Incarnation and the Cross). This is why Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake," (Matthew 5:10) but those who are prosecuted for a wrongdoing, are shamefully getting what they deserve (1 Peter 5:12-19).