Since the world in which we live clearly has much unmitigated suffering, Epicurus contended that God must either not care – in which case he cannot be good; or else he is unable to stop the suffering – in which case he cannot be all powerful. In either case, Epicurus rationalized, such a being would not be God as we envision him, and such a being could not logically exist.
But there is a fatal flaw with this argument that Epicurus and many who have followed him did not take into account. Although God has revealed himself as being all-powerful (Jeremiah 32:17, etc.), he has also revealed that he chooses to limit his power as he sees fit. Put another way, God limits the application of his supreme power by the exercise of his other attributes. The Bible unequivocally tells us that, despite his ultimate power, there are things God cannot do.
For example, the apostle James tells us that “God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13). Because evil is contrary to God’s nature, he will not allow himself to be tempted to do that which is not right. The apostle Paul also tells us that “God cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). This does not mean God cannot deny his own existence, but that he cannot deny what he states – in other words, he will always fulfill his promises (see, for example, Titus 1:2). Finally, the author of the book of Hebrews confirms that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). Because truth is just as much an attribute of God’s nature as his goodness and power, he will not allow himself to lie.
We cannot isolate one of God’s attributes from the others which are equally true. The Bible itself gives us frequent confirmation of this fact. When Job 37:23 states “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress” we have direct confirmation that God is all-powerful, but he limits the use of that power for the purposes of good. God balances his power with his goodness.
Epicurus’ argument also fails to take into account the fact that suffering and goodness are not always antithetical. Because God is good, he grants us the freedom to make choices – and to suffer the inevitable consequences of those choices (1 Peter 2:20). He also allows us to live in a world where suffering can sometimes occur accidentally (Luke 13:4–5). This suffering does not contradict the goodness of God if there is a purpose for it and good will eventually come from it – as we see in the fact that God allowed his own Son to suffer for a great purpose (Hebrews 5:8). While we may not know what good will come from a specific cause of suffering that we endure, God does promise us that there is a purpose for all of the suffering in the training ground we call life (Romans 5:3-4; 8:28; etc.). Eventually we will see that our temporary suffering was a small price to pay for eternal happiness (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Revelation 21:4; etc.).
Epicurus and those who have followed his argument did not take these things into account – even as possibilities to be considered. This is why, although he did not condemn philosophy per se, the apostle Paul does warn against the kind of argumentation that is “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Colossians 2:8). Philosophy and physical science are alike in that they can only reach accurate conclusions regarding those things for which they have all the necessary propositions or data. That is why Epicurus was wrong, and why he did not prove that an all-powerful God cannot also be perfectly good.
* Also see our article “Does the Existence of Evil Prove There Is No God?”