Good Question--Would the culpability of human non-intervention in violent crime imply that God's non-intervention (due to theodicy reasons) was proof that God was either malevolent or impotent?


Draft: March 19, 2003


Someone sent this question/objection in (five years ago, literally--I told you the backlog was bad…)



"I recently got this email from an atheist:


Suppose there is a young man, fairly strong and able who takes a stroll

to the local market.  Along the way, he witnesses a rape in progress.

The rapist is smaller than he and clearly unarmed, so there is no

question that the young man is able to intervene and stop the event from

transpiring any further.  But suppose the man watched, observed, yet let

the rapist finish his act and then go about his merry way.  What can we

say about the young man who watched and yet did nothing?


With God, s/he observes all acts of evil and  certainly has the power to

stop all of them...  But s/he does not.


Apply theodicy like answers to the example above and see how absurd the

situation can get...


Well, the young man who watched didn't want to interfere with the free

will of the rapist....


Well, the rape victim will experience a development of her soul and

character as a result of the rape.  The young man knew this, so he just

watched and let it happen.  It was the course of action that was best

for the woman...



So, why does god sit back and watch these evils, with the ability to

prevent them and the desire that they not occur?  It seems as though

s/he is either malevolent or impotent.


"I have seen the arguments against the Problem of Evil before, but these seems to give them a real 'punch in the stomach' so to speak.  What's your perspective?




My first observation is that you should feel the 'punch' of this, but the force of the punch is related to the abhorrence of rape--not from the force of the argument. Had the argument been about cheating on taxes, or shoplifting, or eating unhealthy foods, the 'punch' would be gone (or at least minimal), but the argument force would still be the same.


Indeed, the very emotional abhorrence of rape to 'normal' humans is a preventative measure by God, designed (a) to create internal/psychological and social barriers to the act, and (b) to create community and judicial actions toward prevention and containment of the act. The abhorrence is itself an 'override of free-will', in some sense.



But let's get on with the analysis…


There are several good questions embedded in this question, and the objector's logic would often be accepted as correct in moral opinion, in such a situation. His/her moral intuitions about what should be done in this case are commendable--to care enough about potential victims of such atrocities to the point of intervention is a  noble and good trait.


[This assumes, of course, that there were no overriding or competing claims upon the spectator: no tradeoff decisions to make between competing crimes at the same time, no constraints on his action (e.g., to attempt to intervene would jeopardize his family with him), and/or no constraints on his movement (e.g., legal restrictions on leaving a specified geographical area).]


We should note, however, that the legal statutes of the USA and Canada do NOT create an obligation on a bystander to intervene.  Although there are "Good Samaritan" laws in existence, existing jurisdictions overwhelmingly enforce the contrary  no-liability Bystander code. These Bystander laws, for example, do not place any liability on a bystander who does not intervene in such cases (unless they have an official 'duty' to do so--parent, security guard, property owner, etc). So, whereas we would certainly agree that there is some level of moral 'imperative' to intervene in this case (and we should note that the ancient Hebrew law codes in the bible DID require intervention--even for enemies), the 'reluctance' of Western law to legislate against 'sins of omission' in this area should give us caution about how we use this moral notion. On the other hand, many European nations do have statutes requiring bystander intervention.


The objection itself attempts to overthrow theodicy arguments in the whole, by showing that they cannot stand ("how absurd") in a particular case. We will see that this objection is more 'confused' or mis-constructed than simply 'wrong'--it mixes several different spheres of responsibility and sovereignty, and by doing so, gets itself in 'logical trouble'.



Let's look at the basic argument -- that two of the 'reasons' given for God allowing evil are incompatible with what we would expect a 'good' human moral agent to do in such settings.


The major problem with the argument is that it seems to misunderstand the scale, arena/theatre, and dimensionality of the case [as it is treated in standard theodicies].



1. Scale. Theodicy deals with universal wholes (e.g., why God allows any/some evil to occur), not with specific incidences (e.g., why God allowed this particular evil to occur).


Theodicy may specify many different 'reasons' that might apply in a given case, and some of these reasons can appear in hindsight (e.g., character development, community response), but it is rare to know with any certainty how some specific atrocity was 'used' (loosely speaking) for value creation in the universe [assuming it was--theodicies often 'allow' cases of gratuitous evil to exist, without any 'justification' of their existence…see the discussion and references in gr5part1.html]  Accordingly, to apply some global 'rationale' (e.g., free will, soul-making) to individual instances may be akin to various fallacies of distribution (e.g. "This machine is heavy; this is a part of that machine; therefore this part is heavy"), and may even hide a mixed fallacy of equivocation-and-distribution, like the humorous: "Native Americans are disappearing; this man is a Native American; therefore this man is disappearing").


This scale problem can also be seen in the actual theodicy terms: free-will applies only in a limited-authority sense (i.e., humans have derivative autonomy and derivative authority to self-govern), and only to the system as a whole (e.g., the community is supposed to use its free-will to put rapists behind bars, circumscribing their free-will), and 'soul making' has normally been expanded to the community level (e.g., the community response to such a particular atrocity will galvanize judicial, preventative, and educational efforts, which will reduce incidences of rape by 50% over the next X years). To apply these principles to micro-cases is not the normal way the arguments are used by philosophers. It's somewhere between a distributive fallacy and a (probably unintentional) Straw Man to advance the objection in this way.


And related somewhat to scale is the factor of non-substitutability of human decision for divine decisions. The human in our case (the Strong Spectator) simply does not have adequate epistemic resources to judge that some atrocity is to be 'allowed' at any given time. The clear directives of God that (a) atrocity is not God's 'first choice'!; and that (b) bystander-obligation-to-intervene can only be 'over-ridden' by additional, privileged [God-level] knowledge of the future and/or knowledge of the 'whole cloth' of human history/present/future.


It may well be that this specific incident is one that God "must allow" to avoid the moral criticism of 'puppeteering', but only God would know such a thing--our spectator cannot presume to use that as a 'reason' to not intervene. In contrast, the fact that such crimes are minority experiences in human experience (life more 'good-than-bad'…see gr5part1.html), would provide prima facie evidence to our spectator that God doesn't NEED a whole lot of these types of 'free-will' events to satisfy the requirements of moral governance. God may 'need' some experiences like these in the overall 'whole cloth' of history, but since they are observably in the minority, the spectator's reasoning would be a case of flawed induction.


Or, it may well be that this specific incident will somehow create exceptional character benefits in the long-run for the victim and the circles she will influence, but only God would know such a thing--our spectator cannot presume to use that as a 'reason' to not intervene. In contrast, the data that such crimes frequently have long-term negative effects should indicate to our spectator that God doesn't invoke that theodicy rule very often either. Our spectator should first learn from the lessons and consequences that God does allow to be seen in history, and then accordingly 'act authoritatively' to intervene and preclude such consequences. God shows via the traumatic effects of such crimes that these He wants people to prevent, preclude, and minimize these human atrocities. For a spectator to reason against all this "God-allowed" evidence would be case of flawed induction as well.


To put this non-substitutability in other terms, look at it from the standpoint of the following argument:


P1: God allows some cases of evil to occur -- for some 'greater grand scheme of things'

P2: (God is my moral exemplar)

PX: Therefore, I should let this specific case of  evil occur (via non-intervention) -- for the same 'greater grand scheme of things'.


The astute reader will notice the disconnect of terms between P1 ("some case") and PX ("this specific case").  For the argument to be even structurally sound, we would need to add at least one transitional step PT:


P1: God allows some cases of evil to occur -- for some 'greater grand scheme of things'

P2: (God is my moral exemplar)

PT: (The specific case of evil in am involved in currently is one of those 'some cases' God will allow).

PX: Therefore, I should let this specific case of  evil occur (via non-intervention) -- for the same 'greater grand scheme of things'.


Not only would divine knowledge (on the part of the human) be required to assert PT, and not only do the actual patterns of crime preclude using them as predictive devices (i.e., not all attempted rapes are completed, and there are no doubt many, many 'intentions to rape' that are providentially 'thwarted' by circumstances--people coming by, presence of police, adequate protective measures taken, unexpected logistic problems, etc.), but the very presence of the Strong Spectator inside that specific case --as a potential source of intervention--would argue that God did NOT want that specific case to be one of the "some cases" of P1.


So, not only would the 'scope/scale' of actual theodicy arguments render their application to a specific case to be 'incoherent' (or probably more accurately, "a category mistake"), but also the logical application of general theodicy principles to any specific case requires knowledge that a human simply cannot have (and therefore would be unwarranted in claiming as a reason for non-intervention).





2. Arena/theatre. This factor has to do with recognition of different arenas or spheres of authority and responsibility.


For example, if I reworded the argument--using theatres of responsibility instead of members of the same theatre--it would likely have a different outcome:


"Suppose there is a Big Nation, fairly strong and powerful,  and who keeps aware of the internal affairs of other nations. It becomes aware that another nation systematically tortures its internal people/dissidents, confiscates the citizens' property for random reasons, and routinely allows rape to occur 'unnoticed' by government officials and the populace at large. This nation  is smaller/weaker than the big one, so there is no question that the Big Nation is able to intervene and stop these atrocities from transpiring any further in the Evil Little Nation.  But suppose the powerful Big Nation watched, observed, yet let the Evil Nation consistently perpetrate such atrocities on its people, and consistently fail to provide adequate police protection among the citizenry.  What can we say about the powerful nation who watches and yet does nothing?"


Notice that this is NOT a case of 'international security'--the evil nation is not threatening other countries with weapons of mass destruction (at least at the moment--there is a legitimate question about trend-lines, etc, but they are not germane to the argument here). And notice that this evil nation has two faults which could be 'corrected' in a military overthrow by force, and establishment of a 'martial law colony' of the Big Nation: (1) true humanitarian abuses--atrocities done by the government itself; and (2) failure of the internal police to prevent and thwart 'regular' non-political atrocities among the people (common thievery, murders, rapes, extortion, abuse of women and children, etc.).


In other words, the Big Nation could prevent many, many wrongs by conquering the Evil Little Nation with military force (since diplomatic/peaceful means would obviously not work with such an evil and self-centered regime, and/or economic sanctions would allow too many atrocities to accumulate while the 'hunger built'--assuming the elite-in-power EVER felt the hunger, of course) and establishing a better internal military-police force. Rapes, thefts, and murders would obviously decline, and even borderline genocides could be curtailed.


Now, from the form of the objection, we should almost demand that the Big Nation invade the Evil Little one, right? And--by the same logic--every other similarly 'evil' nation, right? … Doesn’t seem as obvious, does it…?


And, when the objector  slides the theodicy-sounding statement in--"Well, the BIG NATION who watched didn't want to interfere with the free will of the Evil Nation...."--it doesn't actually sound as clearly wrong to our ears, as it did in the case of individuals, does it? Why not?


Because this version of 'non-interference' ("free will"!) is accepted as international law today. It is known as the principle of "Non-intervention". Basically, the principle states that sovereign states should not interfere with other sovereign states, in matters of purely domestic behavior.


This principle is an old, traditional one, which is embedded in much of international law:


"The principle is of Western origin, arising out of the Westphalia agreement in 1648, which laid the foundation for the European order of sovereign states. Non-intervention, sovereignty and the legal equality of states, have traditionally been regarded as the three basic rules specifying “the accepted and expected forms of behavior in relations between states”. They are at the centre of several United Nations doctrines, which were also largely prepared by Western nations...What non-intervention has traditionally meant, is that “governments can attempt to influence each other’s behaviour only through established diplomatic channels”. Governments cannot seek to expand influence by a direct appeal to citizens of another country, by occupation, or by using home territory as a base for opposing another regime."  ["ASEAN and the Principle of Non-Intervention– Practice and Prospects", by John Funston, Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, March 2000, Number 5]


"Under customary international law, sovereign states are protected by the rule of noninterference or nonintervention: states must refrain from interfering in the domestic affairs of other states. Treaty obligations, such as the United Nations Charter (ratified by the U.S. Senate as a treaty and implemented via the UN Participation Act of 1945) also provide some guidance. Specifically, Article 2(4) of the Charter restrains members "from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state…" " ["Humanitarian Intervention: The Case for Legitimacy" by Charles B. Shotwell and Kimberley Thachuk; Strategic Forum, Number 166, July 1999]


This sounds very much like a 'free will' position…but isn't intervention for humanitarian reasons legal today? Against genocide and extreme oppression? The answer is "a little bit…"


There have been exceptions (e.g., notable apartheid) but


1. There is no international consensus on this issue


"Despite ample treaties and conventions purporting to guarantee human rights and prevent genocide, there exists no explicit authority for humanitarian intervention. Notions of emerging international morality have provided the strongest justification for military intervention. The United Nations Charter (Article 42, Chapter VII) provides that the Security Council may authorize intervention of armed forces to "maintain or restore international peace and security." Though it addresses "threats to the peace" and "acts of aggression" rather than humanitarian disasters per se, Chapter VII powers were used by the UN Security Council to authorize interventions in Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, and Bosnia." [Shotwell/Thachuk, op. cit.]



2. Forceful intervention is argued/used in cases of extreme situations only (not 'ordinary' rapes and other violent crimes)


"The right of intervention must be restricted to the most egregious violations of human rights, such as genocide and violent mass ethnic expulsions" [Shotwell/Thachuk, op. cit.]




3. Humanitarian arguments apply ONLY to atrocities by the government--NOT to crimes within the populace (our example of 'ordinary' violent crimes)


"Secondly, human rights work does not address crime per se, but usually only that crime committed or permitted by governments. For example, if a paramilitary group commits an atrocity, that act would fall under the purview of human rights work only if they were ordered to perform the atrocity, or if the government fails to prosecute the perpetrators or does not take steps to prevent the crime from being committed again. " ["Human Rights and Humanitarian Intervention in Kosovo", By Bruce Kochis, University of Washington Reecas Center Newsletter, Spring 99]



Without going into all the subtleties of this highly-complex area of international law and 'morality', it will suffice to notice that in the arena of separate theatres of authority (e.g., nations), the principle that one is obliged to intervene (with force) to prevent a specific non-political violent crime in another theatre of authority is (a) contradicted by international law; and (b) not even argued this way by strong advocates of humanitarian intervention.


This overall perspective is shifting ever-so-slightly, as the international matrix of power shifts between countries and within countries, but the principle of non-intervention must be 'honored enough' to allow community identify and solidarity to develop (for any number of reasons):


"Such complexities and exceptions (e.g. sporadic humanitarian interventions) do not, however, detract from the importance of the basic principle. As K.J. Holsti observes, if non-intervention, sovereignty and the legal equality of states “were not observed with reasonable consistency, the structure of the system and the nature of interstate relations would change radically”." [Funston, op.cit.]


What this means for our study is that it is not at all apparent that God should 'cross the border', invade the human sphere ("The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings." Ps 115.16) and intervene in every matter within our jurisdiction and responsibility.  These are typically (not always) matters of human 'derivative and domestic sovereignty' (for good or ill). The person within the same sphere of authority (in our case, the stronger man who merely watched the rape) would sometimes be culpable for not helping (assuming complete practical freedom to do so), but the same argument would not generally transfer to "cross-border" or "cross-theatre" cases (e.g., God and humanity).




3. Dimensionality. By this I refer to the transcendental aspect of the divine-human relationships, versus human-human relationships, and the use of secondary causes.


This 'dimensional' element might best be seen in an imaginary interchange between the Strong Spectator and God.


Strong Spectator: "God, I didn't intervene between I know you believe in free will."


God: "(Shaking His head) Yeah…that's why I placed you there at the crime scene and why I gave you free will, so you could intervene and stop the perp's freewill!…why didn’t you follow your heart to do so--I built this moral impulse in you SPECIFICALLY to counter such treachery?!"


To put it another way, it is entirely possible, in this hypothetical case, that the Strong Spectator WAS  the intervention by God…but one that 'chose' to fail, introducing the human element into this discussion.


This human element of responsibility is actually the dominant 'preventative' measure created by God. God set up all the infrastructure for crime prevention/intervention: moral notions, conscience development, moral education by exemplar, social cohesion mechanisms, social control mechanisms, governmental functions in a culture, legal impulses, social contract substrates, emotional responses to taboo and the community-destructive, etc.


There is no telling how many violent crimes are prevented by these ubiquitous structures every single day--and without 'miraculous intervention' or 'abnormal' restriction of 'free will' (but not without a 'non-animal ethical and community' infrastructure). God does work on evil, but more by "pre-vening", so to speak,  and through 'human' intervention (our Strong Spectator), than by bizarre acts of miraculous force.


Most of the 'evil' we blame on God are failures of humans to behave in even the most basic, and un-taxing ways--simple respect for the value of others.


"Thousands of Third World children die daily from largely preventable diseases: out of laziness or complacency, certain grownups fail to prevent them. Thousands of First World children are born drug addicts: their mothers have hooked them in the womb. Some people with sexually transmitted diseases knowingly put new partners at a terrible risk. It happens every day." (Cornelius Plantinga, cited in [PH:CGBT:66])


And the case of the rapist is itself a human failure: the rapist himself, who is called and authorized--as a fellow human--to uphold the dignity and welfare of others, even by intervention in crime prevention (!), instead abandons that responsibility and becomes a traitor…Is this a failure of God to intervene, or a failure of the perp to 'self-intervene' and 'self-prevent'?! Evil often has a face, but it is our face, not God's.


Believe me, God bleeds with every drop of innocent blood, weeps with every tear of the violated, grieves on the mourner's bench with every suddenly-bereaved parent, sibling, or spouse, and is numbed with every shock of the traumatized. [I shudder to think of His emotional response to the case under discussion--where a spectator didn't intervene because of some theodicy argument--! It is difficult for me to imagine many things more heart-breaking to Him than such a travesty of free will and moral orientation.] But it is we who are to blame for this--not God. This world, with all its powerful creative forces and this community, with its powerful value creation abilities, were given to us. It is our responsibility to prevent violent crime. It is our responsibility to create "stronger attractions" to good. It is our responsibility to accept this authority and quit shifting the blame to God, our histories, our tendencies, our pathologies, our situations, our nature.


Stackhouse cites Plantinga again (op.cit.):


"Nobody is more insistent than A.A. [Alcoholics Anonymous] that alcoholism is a disease; nobody is more insistent than A.A. on the need for the alcoholic to take full responsibility for his disease and to deal with it in brutal candour."



When we fail to prevent these, we should double our efforts--because we see the terrific consequences of our failure. If every time we tried-and-failed, or didn’t-try, God 'bailed us out' with a miracle, how long do you suppose it would take before we stopped 'trying to intervene' (knowing God would invade our space again) and/or before we stopped taking preventative measures such as moral education and common-sense? How long before we 'forgot' the lesson of the horror of such treachery, and the affirmation of a community response of caring to such victims?   As when the Big Nation always 'invaded' the Little One-- with police actions to stop crime--how long would it be before the Little Nation stopped even attempting self-governance and self-regulation?…


Even in the sphere of human responsibility, this last factor shows up (e.g., in defenses of Bystander Non-Intervention):


"The rule encourages people to take steps to avoid dangers. Knowing there is no legal duty to help, or be helped, people are more likely to take care of themselves. If there were some duty to help, it is possible that people would be less concerned about potential hazards because they know that as long as someone is around, they are required to help. Those who support the no duty to rescue rule see it as being an efficient rule which encourages self-reliance  and only makes a person responsible for the harm she caused through her actions, as opposed to harm she could have prevented by acting." ["A Psychological Approach to Understanding the Legal Basis of the No Duty to Rescue Rule", by David N. Kelly, BYU Journal of Public Law, Volume 14]



Questions of God's non-intervention are simply 'out of scope' with the situation. The issue is one of human responsibility, prevention, intervention, and correction. God is generally committed to working through humans to accomplish His good. And our sub-authority is very, very real. Mother Teresa has a famous quote, which should remind us to start 'housecleaning with ourselves':


A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, "Where is God?" when a baby dies alone in a Calcuttan alley."  In reply she said, "God is there, suffering with that baby. The question really is, where are you?"


The objection seems to misunderstand this dimensionality aspect: God's use of secondary causes, and human authority and accountability for these situations (both rapist and Strong Spectator are violators of His trust).



So, all things considered, the objection cannot stand, since the argument it uses ("the moral inappropriateness of applying theodicy 'rules' by humans to specific cases, would also apply to God") is flawed by a very similar problem--the logical inappropriateness of applying theodicy 'rules' by humans to specific cases! The Strong Spectator would be incorrect in arguing thus--for logical reasons alone.


Thus, the objection cannot actually 'work' against philosophical theodicy itself, since its criticism 'misconstrues' (probably unintentionally) what the theodicy position actually says about scale/scope, theatre/spheres of authority, and dimensions of causality/influence.




Additional notes:


1. The dichotomy presented by the objection--"God is either malevolent or impotent"--is a false dichotomy, since it omits many other possible positions: God is 'restricted', God is 'detached', God is sometimes good and sometimes bad, God has some power but not all power, etc. That's the formal problem with the dichotomy.


But a more serious problem is that it is oversimplified to the point of irrelevance.


God can be 'restricted from acting' in some situation without in any way implying either some type of 'impotence' (strong claim) or even something less than omnipotence (weak claim)--as long as the "restriction" is a free-choice of God to begin with.


For example, God can make a covenant to send a Rescuer/Lover/Healer to the world in the person of His Son. God has bound himself to His agreement. He is NOT 'free' to violate His commitment (unless it were a conditional covenant, of course). This is a 'restriction', but such a 'self-restriction' would not be considered 'impotence' or 'non-omnipotence' by most folks/philosophers.


And, just as notions of omnipotence do not contradict such self-restrictions, so too theodicy trade-off decisions are not contradictory to omnipotence per se. If, for example, God has to choose between creating "more-good-than-bad World A" or "more-good-than-bad World B"--but cannot eventuate both at the same time due to the nature of the situation (e.g., only one world is going to be created)--this is not considered in any way a case of 'impotence' or 'sub-omnipotence' in proper philosophical theology. It would be considered fallacious to argue that God's 'failure' to create World B, because He created World A, would be due to  'impotence'. Likewise, failure to intervene in a specific situation, because He had pre-committed to an alternative action in that situation, cannot be ascribed to 'impotence' in any meaningful sense of the word.


On a smaller scale, a quick example from business might illustrate this:


It is common for very large organizations to borrow money from financing sources, in order to build plants, buy inventory, acquire resources, and to expand the business. Often these borrowing/debt agreements have 'debt covenants' in them, in which the company agrees not to borrow additional money from a different source (and thereby becoming deeper in debt and therefore more 'risky' as a debtor to the first lender) until the current debt is paid off. This is a self-restriction which the firm 'covenants' with its lender, and it is not 'free' to violate these covenants. But it was free to enter such a covenant, and this would not be considered (in any arena) to be a case of 'impotence' or even an indication of 'weakness' on the part of a multi-billion dollar corporation. [Self-restrictions are actually expression of 'power', and not expressions of some kind of 'weakness'.]


I just wanted to point this false dichotomy out, since I see it used quite often in these types of arguments. More sophisticated and more powerful anti-theodicy arguments understand the greater complexity of the 'situation' and accordingly, modify their arguments to reflect this greater subtlety.


2. There is always the additional difficulty of "what exactly are we suggesting, as an alternative?" in all such this-is-a-bad-world objections. As I mentioned/discussed in natevl.html, most/all suggested 'alternatives' are either worse than the original or virtually inconceivable. In the case of rape, for example, where in the causal chain (in a fallen world, that is) is God supposed to miraculously 'block something'? At the biological level (muscles freeze up without an underlying causal mechanism, but only in a case of rape)? At the physical level (an invisible barrier is created between the victim and the would-be rapist as he gets close to her)? At the logistics level (all rapists' cars fail to function during transport--but only when travelling to these events)? At the volitional level (the rapist can visualize/wish to do such an act, but is always miraculously prevented from deciding to try it)? At the conceptual level (the rapist can visualize sex with his wife, but is miraculously prevented from ever visualizing or having the idea of sex with a non-spouse--this wouldn’t solve marital rape, though)? At the social level (any bystanders will be overcome with irrational rage/frenzy/power and 'forced' to intervene)? At the geographical level (selected people will be forced to travel or be transported to within intervention range of the event--whenever one occurs)? And, since rape (in our case) is considered to be more about power, than about sex, we would have to create a similar set of questions about the chain leading to acts of force or violence.


Each of the above questions are problematic for an "easy solution". Unless we are willing to submit (given our fallen hearts) to a world of radical inconsistency (i.e., zero predictability of nature, due to miraculous interventions at the vast majority of personal actions (e.g., tax evasion, deceit, traffic laws), interpersonal volitional choices (e.g., betrayal, apathy, oppression)--and all the physical and biological substrates that are required to be able to act in those arenas--then I suggest we quit asking to be 'miraculously over-ridden' when we manifest our malice and coldness to others, and I suggest we get busy with the task of self-intervention and pleas to God for self-change in our own hearts.  Christian 'crime prevention' starts with "Change ME, Lord" and "Change US, Lord"--not with "Change THEM, Lord"…  I submit that it is not at all easy or obvious as to what alternative is better (or even conceivable), given our need for causally predictable physics and biology, "causally" predictable thinking/choosing, and "causally" predictable human behavior and interaction.


3. We should also note that the normal patterns of divine intervention in such cases actually approximate the 'humanitarian' hierarchy of intervention in international arenas. Those who take strong positions of intervention always are careful to insist that intervention methods of non-force are to be the first and major types of interventions. According to this view, nations are supposed to appeal to the Evil nation, are supposed to enlist significant  international opinion toward 'influencing it', are supposed to speak out in protest against such terror, etc., and are supposed to construct "inducements" for behavior change (e.g., promises of foreign aid or preferred trade relations). We should note that these types of non-force interventions are the 'normal' interventions God would use in cases of evil/violence against/among ourselves (at most/all levels of severity, including the all important first-steps down the path of 'ethical numbness and reversal'). Not only would the perp's conscience be a constant 'appeal' and 'protest' from idea-inception through act-completion  (not to mention the woman's pleading and protest), but the social mechanisms of anticipated public/legal opinion and social 'reprisals' are similar. Standard 'inducements' to good behavior are built into conscience, historical memory of past rewards, and into our view of anticipated social response. So,  it is clear that God does intervene 'cross border' in most cases, in a way similar to what we hold up for ourselves to be a 'moral' model in cross-border interventions.


4. Needless to say, though, there are circumstances in which God has intervened miraculously to stop inter-human oppression/violence (e.g., Exodus from slavery in Ancient Egypt for the Jews) , but these are very, very rare--due to some of the factors we have already discussed. [The few miracles done in biblical texts are more often done for reasons of authentication or revelation.] But I suspect that many 'statistically odd' circumstances fall into the category of 'semi-miraculous' interventions. People who say things like  "God helped me, by sending the taxi at that very moment" or "God rescued me, but distracting my assailant with something in his eye" or "I worry about what would have happened with that guy following me, if the sudden shower didn't make the situation so miserable". Whether they are correct in their assessment of God's involvement or not, their comments at least show that many people DO believe that God 'semi-miraculously' intervenes in some/many cases (but not in all--standard theodicy does not maintain that 'causally disruptive' activity by God is present in all cases of evil), but that these interventions do not seem to involve serious 'disruptions' of the natural order.  [Why some events seem to be interrupted and some not, concerns a level of detail human analysts/theodicists simply cannot work in/through. The variables are just too many, too complex, and too large for us to be even marginally confident in our assessment and analysis of specific cases.]


5. This article deals with preventative intervention, since that is what the stated objection is about, but we should also note the reality of post-event interventions as well. Caregivers in social and human services refer to post-trauma care as 'interventions' and it is this type of intervention that I want to simply note here. A violent (non-capital) crime or tragedy does not end with the end of the event--the destructive/negative consequences which flow from such an event continue on into the future. This event-then-consequences sequence is supposed to be for good; we are supposed to 'use this leverage' to generate streams of beautiful consequences from single events of goodness (e.g., an act of generosity should engender fond memories in the recipient, bonds between the giver/recipient and also should engender similar behavior on their part toward others--when the shoe is on the other foot). Post-trauma interventions are often matters of the heart--comfort, solidarity, support, well-being care, etc. And positive interventions of warmth and empathy can create 'counter-ripples' of good, to interweave with the negative stream from the event itself.


I personally have known the assault of overwhelming grief, the acid-cancer of being intimately betrayed, the anguish of parental helplessness, the paralysis of oppressive fear, the hurt of being maligned, accused, and vilified--God could have prevented these but He didn't. But I have also known that God offers a 'special place of grace' to those so distressed (even me). There is room in His arms for the hurting, there is warmth and comfort and healing and strength (the warm kind of strength, not the 'cold' kind) available from Him in honest interaction in prayer, there is help to found in the love of the Man of Sorrows, the nail-pierced One, the Betrayed and Rejected Innocent One, the Suffering Servant.  Some aspects of this grace are manifested through people, and some are mediated solely in honest and open prayer. My good-hearted Lord may not have intervened 'forcefully' in preventing these terrible times/things in my life [although His non-force interventions were obvious in many cases], but He certainly has intervened efficaciously, sweetly, and continually in the aftermath of these, actually unleashing 'unexpected' constructive streams from many of them.


In short, our Lord seems intimately involved in such events, with preventative 'creation infrastructure', with non-force preventative interventions, and with post-event healing interventions, and occasionally, with providential interventions. But His general 'contract' of providing a predictable world (not often disrupted by miracle) and a special sphere of authority for our self-management and self-care (not often over-ridden by miracle) would imply that miraculous intervention in cases of our own internal, domestic treachery would be minimized and limited. But in matters of the spirit and heart, His interventions are always available, accessible, and free to the weary






So it seems to me that  "the culpability of human non-intervention in violent crime WOULD NOT imply that God's non-intervention (due to theodicy reasons) was proof that God was either malevolent or impotent?" The two agents (human and God) are simply not in the same 'category' for this objection to work.


Hope this helps,

Glenn Miller

March 17, 2003



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