Welcome to a note specifically to my friend Dan, who often quotes others to make a point. Dan, I remember Epicurus from my days in college. In fact, I taught a Philosophy course at a community college many years ago.
Here is what I remember and what I found out about Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived 341-270 BC. He said the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life. This is a life characterized by (1) peace and freedom from fear, (2) the absence of pain, and (3) by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends.
He said pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and bad. He postulated that everything that happens is through the random collision of atoms, with no purpose or plan for the universe. He concluded that there is no afterlife. His moral distinction then is that we define good as anything that brings us pleasure, and bad is anything that brings us pain.
Here is your quote from Epicurus:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
OK, Dan, let's follow Epicurean thought and logic. Concerning peace and freedom from fear, those are Biblical and Jewish concepts from centuries before. Concerning the absence of pain equated with a happy life, that is rather rudimentary or childish, I'm not sure which. Concerning a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends, that is common sense as well. However, it assumes everyone can take care of their own matters and dealings in life. And we know that is not the case in humanity, as there are many who cannot be self-sustaining and need help and care and love.
Does anyone really believe that pleasure is the definition of good? If so, Hugh Hefner got it right! If pure pleasure is the absolute truth of good, then all of mankind is free to indulge in all pleasures to find the "good." Do you really believe that? Everyone has a different definition of their kind of pleasure, so there is inconsistency in the good that Epicurus proposes. In fact, your neighbor and your friends and your co-workers will disagree with you on what is good, because their thoughts are probably unique to them and their pursuits. So, there is nothing common about the "good" of the universe if that is true.
I started with all that introduction to come to the quote. If that is the background of Epicurus, then we see why he says what he does. If God allows pain, then the conclusion is that God is the author of "bad" (as pain is nearly synonymous with bad). How absurd.
This is very basic theology in the Christian realm. God is able to do anything and everything. That does not mean that he is the constant "interventionist" to cure all and fix all. By our beliefs from the Scripture and experience, God is always present as the Comforter in times of trouble to bring restoration to our soul. In some times of trouble, he is the Way of providence and redemption that we need. Only God, by definition, knows our every need. Merely mortal, we do not and cannot know our real needs, only our perceived needs. That is very basic. Only those who disagree with that, they cannot hold on to the thought of a holy God who allows pain and suffering when he is able at any time to abolish it.
The key to this whole matter is when Epicurus states that, if God is willing and able to contain bad and evil, then where does sin come from? Great question. Here's the answer:
God gives free choice to mankind, in the realm of his greatness and willingness and ability. He cannot and does not choose for us. We have free will. Therefore, in our disobedience we find evil and sin and wrong. That is God's love for us to allow us to roam in sin, as he has always had a divine plan to redeem and save and rescue us. This plan found its culmination in the death, burial and resurrection of a perfect redeemer and Savior called Jesus. We, as individual human beings, bring about sin and evil. God brings about wholeness and healing for eternity.
Here is an illustration from my life that parallels what God does. I, as a parent, had the ability and willingness to keep my children from harm. However, there was an instance years ago in which one of my kids snuck out of the house and went with friends to destroy some school property nearby. With my ability and willingness, was it my fault that it happened? Of course not, it was my child's decision. I was there, afterward, to help find a redemptive course for my kid.
In a small way of comparison, that is how God cares for his world. Ever the holy and loving Father in heaven, he calls us back to him when we falter and sin and fail.
Dan, that's an amazing love that cannot be denied, no matter what philosopher or professor or author of this world may say. You are the one who must choose. The choice is clear. Either Jesus and God are truly the way and the truth and the determination of what is good, or the world gets to make up its own definition.
What will you choose this day?