With the most morally praiseworthy people among us, when they acquire more knowledge or more power, their highest priority is to alleviate suffering in the world. Consider Jonas Salk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Martin Luther King, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Bono. In these cases, as soon as they were able, when they become more influential in the world, accumulated more money, or learned more about the world, they dedicated their lives to employing that expanse of power and knowledge to achieve good in the world. They devoted themselves, sometimes with a great deal of associated personal risk and sacrifice, to eliminating any human suffering they could find. They worked tirelessly to learn more about the world, discover an AIDS vaccine, or find a cheap and efficient way to distribute necessary food to starving people, or achieve social justice against racism.
And we recognize their sacrifices. We praise them. We give them Nobel Prizes. We create awards and honors to acknowledge the great things they have done.
But with God, who has limitless power and knowledge, suddenly our sense of moral responsibility vanishes. Our recognition of human suffering evaporates. Our sense of right and wrong lapses. With God, we make excuses. Somehow, inexplicably, the moral sense that led us in the case of a multi-billionaire who donated hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent the spread of disease in Africa disappears. It would appear that it is a priori that God can do no wrong; he can fail no moral duty; he can be held responsible for nothing awful that happens; he cannot be criticized for not doing those very same things that we would give a human the highest praise for; he cannot be faulted in any way for failing to prevent the same moral atrocities that we would imprison or execute a human for committed or allowing.
Our perverse double standard leads us to blame the victim when some horrible suffering happens. “It must be God’s will that that hurricane killed hundreds and made thousands more homeless.” “There must be some divine plan for all of this.” “It is human arrogance and sin that leads to human suffering—God is infinitely loving and just.”
How can we simultaneously praise the humanitarian efforts of selfless, hard-working rescue workers and philanthropists, while completely absolving a being with more power, more knowledge, and more goodness of any responsibility? How can a person praise God and be thankful to him for sparing them from death from a tsunami while simultaneously refusing to assign any blame to him for causing or allowing the disaster that killed thousands others? How can we imprison or execute child molesters and genocidal dictators for their crimes while simultaneously insisting that there is an infinitely powerful, good, and knowing being who was present but did nothing to prevent those same crimes?
Many people have argued that from the highest vantage of knowledge and power, God would have objectives that could not be clear from down in the trenches. They justify the double moral standard by arguing that God’s infinite capacities will fundamentally change God’s relationship to the world. So God could be infinitely good in light of the full span of history.
Perhaps an infinitely good being would wish that suffering unfold in the world exactly as it does in ours. But the double standard argument above should raise some substantial defeaters. It is profoundly difficult to see how it could be that God’s goodness resembles in any respect the real, concrete, and best examples of goodness that we see among human beings. It is so difficult, in fact, that there is an enormous burden of proof upon the believer to explain how it is that “divine goodness” that in every regard resembles what we would ordinarily call neglect, indifference, criminal culpability, cruelty, hatred, and evil can be goodness at all. It is also obvious that the confidence that believers frequently have about God’s goodness is completely unwarranted. At the very best, the reasonable believer ought to have a great deal of skepticism and caution about the claim that God is good.