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I've made a fantasy world with its own nations, a magic system, and in-world politics. Leading this world is a benevolent god that has been nurturing humanity for roughly a thousand years. Long enough that they have seen humans go from cave-dwellers to castle-builders. Society is supposed to be pretty paradisical with this god going out of their way to solve problems such as famines, natural disasters, diseases, etc. But now I've run into a few bigger problems.

  1. Without pressure from nature, the argument could be made that humanity wouldn't progress intellectually into the medieval culture that is central to the plot. Potentially I could say this god allowed minimal suffering in order for humans to evolve. Or potentially this god learned along with the early humans. I'm not certain.

  2. If this god is so powerful why wouldn't they simply stop a famine before it ever happened? Or prevent that volcano from erupting, or stop that flood from happening? I've toyed with the idea that this god can't predict the future and isn't quite all-knowing. I've also considered that they're a very 'young' god and are still learning about the kind of changes they can impart upon reality, but I feel that this lacks substance.

I want this god to be a likeable character. They do not demand worship nor enforce a strict set of morals, but rather prefer to lead by example. They don't even preach. Their very existence did unfortunately spawn a world-religion that they at first discouraged, but have now embraced. Not out of vanity, but because they are a pushover and didn't want to upset anyone over something as trivial as a prayers. (This WILL come back to bite them, the plot demands it). They're very fond of humanity as a whole and have definitely made strong friends among the human populace. Some have even been granted immortality and a degree of power.

So... title, I guess. With a god this invested in the well-being of an entire world, can there still be problems without making the deity 'evil' for not solving them unseen?

EDIT:

I am baffled by some of the comments I've gotten one this question, so I thought I'd add some clarifications.

  1. I am not talking about a real-world god from any kind of earthly religion, nor am I trying to make a 'realistic' god. I'm talking about a high fantasy setting where one being, the creator of this world and master of its universe, has an active involvement in the setting's development.
  2. This god is intended as a background character, but holds weight with the main plot. Specifically because, by the time of my actual narrative, this god is dead. They will die. By the time my main character rolls around, it's been roughly a thousand years since the god's death.

I asked this question because I wanted some advice on how to build an incredibly powerful (but compelling) character that can navigate around some of the issues that real-world religions have. My character is of course fictional, has their own character flaws, and is not a representation of any real-world god.

To the rest of you who provided insight, thank you.

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    $\begingroup$ Wellcome to philosophical enquiry! The problem of evil has been debated and analyzed for thousands of years. I for one would have but very little hope that a satisfactory answer will be offered on a web site dedicated to the construction of fictional worlds... After all, all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. God moves in mysterious ways. Everything is done to God's plan, which we mortal creatures cannot comprehend. Etc. etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 4 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ If they are building castles then that suggests that warfare between humans is alive and well in the "present". What level of intervention in human interactions does the god undertake? Do humans have real free will, including the ability to hurt each other (intentionally or otherwise), or are they shielded from the "natural" consequences of their actions? If a famine results from none of the farmers bothering to grow food because they know that "god will feed us if it gets bad", then... $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 2:48
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    $\begingroup$ Consider imagining what the god would do and how he would do it if you gave him blue spandex, a red cape, and a stylized S on his chest - and then take away the spandex, the cape, and the S. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Apr 4 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ As in Christianity, draw your god that he's benevolent, but requires people to do their mundane tasks themselves instead of providing existential utopia by divine power. Just to not make them decay in boredom, as this would be detrimental long-term, for their own good which they might not understand (c). Same with minor issues, or even major like crime and wars; people have to be able to negotiate, and have to learn this art the harder way without someone else saying "now kiss" XD $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Apr 4 at 6:26
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    $\begingroup$ @GiantSpaceHamster, I don't actually see "all knowing" in the Question. Did I miss it? Although, that in itself suggests an Answer; a deity that isn't all-knowing can make mistakes, or just fail through not being able to know about every problem. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Apr 4 at 14:42

16 Answers 16

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A God Who Struggles with Interpersonal Conflicts

Other answers have suggested a popular explanation: suffering is necessary for growth. There's a problem with this though... Despite being an explanation used by real-world religions to address the "Problem of Evil", it doesn't quite mesh with how you've characterized this deity.

In particular, several comments from your question suggests that the deity in your fictional world would have a hard time with "tough love":

...they are a pushover and didn't want to upset anyone over something as trivial as a prayers.

They're very fond of humanity as a whole and have definitely made strong friends among the human populace.

Instead, the deity gives deference to the autonomy of individuals and actively seeks their love and approval. They strive to create a paradise, but because they are reluctant to make anyone mad, they struggle to address problems that are caused - directly or indirectly - by interpersonal conflict.

No One Wins with a Love Triangle

To illustrate, let's explore everyone's favorite literary device: the love triangle!

Imagine there's a woman named Alice who's equally attracted to two men: Bob and Carl. All three are monogamous so there's no arrangement they can make that would be mutually satisfactory.

How would the deity resolve this conflict without violating free will or playing favorites? Even creative solutions would cause potential issues and lead to some level of unhappiness. For example, the deity could create two versions of Alice. However, Bob is a simple man and would get confused by the twins while Carl is the jealous type and wanted Alice all to himself. Meanwhile, both versions of Alice are distraught at having been pressured into a choice and ruminate over what like would have been like with the other man.

Scenarios like these would be things the deity of your fictional world struggles with because the crux of the issue is a matter of human motivations and desires.

Worldbuilding Opportunities

This explanation provides potential for some interesting world building and plot hooks.

  • What happens when the boons provided by this deity are abused? Will their personal fondness for the recipient make them slow to act?
  • Children can sometimes be petty and fight over their parent's affection... can you imagine what this would be like if the argument was over a god's favor?
  • What kind of crazy things might mortals attempt if they think they trick or pressure the deity into doing what they (the mortals) want?
  • The more the deity helps people survive and thrive, the larger the population grows and the harder it becomes for the deity to balance everyone's needs and desires. They are probably starting to struggle with millions of people... what will happen when there's billions?
  • What kind of impact will this deity have on history and culture if they are is hands-on in the world and makes personal connections with mortals?

There's much more I could write, but hopefully this provides a starting point to explore the full potential of my suggestion.

Conclusion

In summary, the deity in your fictional world is powerful and knowledgeable - perhaps even omnipotent and omniscient - but they are too emotionally invested to think clearly and impartially. Suffering occasionally occurs either due to poor judgement when intervening in the world or due to lack of action caused by crippling indecision.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this answer the most. It aligns with a few vague ideas that I've been struggling to actually articulate. You did so beautifully. I did mention that things will come back to bite my god character eventually, and I believe that will be in large part due to them not quite understanding humanity, and humanity vastly misunderstanding them. I'm a 100k words into my first draft and this issue brought me to a standstill. Thank you so much for your answer! $\endgroup$
    – Sairei
    Apr 6 at 5:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Sairei, you're welcome! I'm glad to be of help. I do plan to tweak this answer, but it sounds like it has already provided the inspiration you needed. $\endgroup$
    – Ohndei
    Apr 7 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ The Futurama episode Godfellas does quite a good job describing the problem. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 8 at 13:58
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I am going to answer this as a Parent/Father:

I love my Children, more than anything... I, as an Adult, can do many things - I may not quite be an all-powerful diety, but I am pretty close.

However... despite this... I let my children suffer, in some instances - I am even the direct cause of their suffering.

Because the reality is I want my children to grow, not just physically, but Mentally. They are going to experience hardships in their lives and they are going to need the tools and skills to deal with it.

There is a balance - I don't want them to suffer so much that they develop trauma and life-long scarring, but also I don't want them to be so unprepared that when Life happens, they are lost.

It is a difficult balance - and Parents don't always get it right. Sometimes telling a kid to 'Walk it off' is 100% the right call. Sometimes it isn't.

The Deity understands this - and so allows the population to suffer, just enough, that they grow and develop as a people.

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    $\begingroup$ Just need to look at the type of monsters that a large percentage of wealthy children end up to know that is true. If actions don't have negative consequences than there is no growth/learning. $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Apr 4 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ This has an issue, however - you as a parent has no control over the world your children live. The all-powerful entity does, and as such can create a world where this isn't an issue to begin with. If you're truly all-powerful, the only hardships your children have to deal with is those that you yourself decided that they should undertake. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Apr 4 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Mermaker As a parent, I have significant control over the world my children live in. Maybe not complete omnipotence, but I can control where they go, who they interact with, what they encounter (at least at a young age). I can choose to keep a baby surrounded by mounds of pillows so that they never fall over and bump their head, but those pillows will make it a lot harder for them to explore their surroundings, or start to learn to walk. Life is always a tradeoff between safety and growth; you have to find the proper balance. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Mermaker how benevolent is "benevolent"? Is it "constant, overbearing nanny that won't let you have any fun, because you might catch a little cold" or is it "won't send destructive natural disasters; otherwise, you're on your own"? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 4 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ When your children are adults, they'll be on their own and have to push through life's suffering alone. That's why you need to train them in a controlled environment to be independant. So maybe that's what God is doing. The world these people live in is only a preparation for a next step where their God won't be able to interveine. He has to let some suffering in. $\endgroup$
    – Jemox
    Apr 5 at 8:44
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The zeroth law of robotics

“A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

The god's view must always be to consider humanity, not the individual human, that means that often humans will suffer and die in ways that humans could have prevented for humanity to grow as a whole.

Humans must be allowed to hurt themselves and learn the lesson that the actions taken will cause hurt. Which means they must be allowed to have wars, to cause famines, and get burnt by volcanoes, otherwise they will not learn, if they don't learn they won't grow.

The god has only been around for a thousand years, to excessively coddle the humans would make them weak and dependent, they must ultimately be strong and independent to survive whatever the future might bring. Guidance (and leadership) but not cotton wool wrapping.

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Your god is all-powerful but not all-seeing or all-knowing. If this god doesn't know of the problem then they can't fix it.

A lot of your society's/world's problems will be out of sight of your god, either underground villains that cause complex problems that your god can fix the visible symptoms of but not the hidden cause, or will be problems outside of the city/country/area that your god resides in.

Not being all-seeing nor all-knowing will mean that your god won't know of famines etc. until they are told about the issue or see it themself. Thus, disasters that start outside of the area that your god can see will be left happening for a while until those disasters affect the place where the god lives or a messenger informs them of the problem.

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    $\begingroup$ More than just that. Not being all-knowing is a big problem for an all-powerful being. Even we mere mortals very often run into serious problems that are directly caused by our attempts to solve the previous set of problems. Fix a famine, cause a war. Fix the war, enslave half the population. Free the slaves, cause a crime wave. "Screw this! I'm done! You guys are on your own about the big stuff." $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Apr 4 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Well if the god is "all-powerful" it can grant itself all-knowingness and the all-seeing eye. Otherwise it would not be all-powerful since we just established a limit to their power. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Apr 5 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ @datacube Yes, the god could do that… if they knew how. An all-seeing eye? Great! You now see everything… but you still have to know what to look for. (Not to mention the boredom of poring over all that information: how much subjective time would it take to process each second?) All-knowing? The Library of Babel isn't a particularly good source of knowledge. Okay, so… just enumerate true things? Cool, and how do you do that? $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Apr 6 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4 the god could literally create a rock that tells him the solution to a given problem. That is the level of googleing something. Just better and easier (and you actually get the result you want), so I don't think that is a huge entry barrier.... On the other hand I find the concept of an all powerful but really really really dumb god interesting. Like "RPG barbarian stereotype" dumb. So dumb they don't even realize the concept of "being smart". Would read. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Apr 8 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @datacube I'm imagining that the god can do anything they can describe the process of, and you're imagining they can do anything they can describe the outcome of. These are equivalent, if you know the trick (define a space of possibilities, and search for one that fits the requirements). But you've convinced me that this isn't where the story lies. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Apr 8 at 17:15
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Free Will

To take a page from Christianity: God values free will. If people choose to rebel against Him, that is their choice; He will respect it so long as direct interference is not necessary to bring about His goals.

Of course, since God is the creator of everything, He is good by definition (and, furthermore, the source and template of all good). Therefore, rebellion against Him is bad/evil, and results in suboptimal outcomes as it disrupts His perfect order. A few examples:

  • Gluttony may be pleasant in the short term, but the resulting obesity causes health and self-esteem issues.
  • Theft may artificially increase your wealth, but at the cost of ruining the life of whoever you stole from (at a minimum).
  • Rape may bring you carnal pleasure, but it emotionally scars the victim (and potentially forces an unwanted pregnancy upon her).
  • Abortion may allow a woman to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy, but at the cost of murdering the baby, who has done nothing to deserve his or her fate.
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    $\begingroup$ I get where you come from but for theft you make a bit of an exaggeration. The usual theft doesn't ruin anyones life. It will probably ruin the day or the week. It might even ruin the month or the year in case of something really valuable, like lets say a car. But to ruin someones life you would need to steal something like someones child or that order of magnitude. Also there are a lot of cases where the person stolen from wouldn't even notice it. I think you answer would stand way better without the "theft" bulletpoint $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Apr 5 at 12:32
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Im gonna do a little frame challenge, and call your society a post-scarcity society with a benevolent, omnipotent AI. And declare the topic thus explored: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_series

And the answer is: People can do things for sport that are dangerous and choose the danger and death out of there own free will. Meaning is what you make of it, its no longer derived from competition, because all that competition boils down to is who can call the (AI/God) faster on a terminal.

I recommend reading the player of games, as its a nice contrast between the post-scarcity society and the classic society model.

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This problem was very well analyzed by real life theologians, for at least the last 2000 years.

The crux of the problem is Free Will.

If an omniscient, omnipotent god controlled every aspect of the universe to protect the humans, the humans would effectively be just puppets with no ability to chose their fate. Arguably, they would not only not have Free Will, but not even true sapience, and would be just NPCs for god to play with.

But a God that is actually Good, would likely prefer to create sapient and free beings who can think for themselves, because Sapience is more Good than mindlessness, and Free Will is more Good than automatism.

Therefore, your God created free willed people, and only protects them from some of the dangers that come directly from the nature he designed, but NOT from dangers the people themselves created out of their own bad choices. He also cannot protect them so well as to turn the world into danger-free utopia, because without any challenges to face, humans cannot exercise Free Will; they would have it, but it would be pointless.

In other words: The God makes sure the humans do not go extinct, or suffer from a major disaster, but otherwise lets them make their own choices, even very dangerous ones, and lets them face challenges and fail. Bad choices and failures are fundamental parts of Freedom, after all.

In a way, the God is kinda like a good Dad, he protects his children but understands that sometimes Dad needs to let his children make the wrong choice and get hurt, or even get hurt through no fault of their own, or they will not grow up and become wise.

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Frame challenge(?): Your "god" is not a god. They are a very strong alien. It's easy enough to create limitations that mean that your character would act just as you want your character to. But those limitations all mean that your "god" is simply not a god.

I mean, it's ancient. Omnipotence + Omnibenevolence = No Evil.

"God wouldn't want to eliminate evil!" → That god is simply not Omnibenevolent: they are partly evil. No amount of sophistry can eliminate the fact that when we, humans, use these words, this is what we mean.
"Good requires evil!" → "The power to enable good to exist without evil" is a power posessed by the omnipotent. They have all powers.
"Goodness only has meaning when it's chosen by free will, and they could've chosen evil!" → "The power to create those who have free will and could've chosen evil, but always choose good, and it has the same meaning as the previous idea" is a power possessed by the omnipotent. They have all powers.
"God may have the ability to stop all evil, but not be aware of all of it, or know the future!" → "The power to be aware of all evil and know the future" is a power possessed by the omnipotent. They have all powers.

This can go on forever. Like, it's comical. You want your god to be limited. This means they are not god. They may be "a god" in the Greek pantheon sense of things, and that's fine! (But those are just really-powerful-aliens, too). But don't try to pretend that Omnipotence and Omnibenevolence can be combined whilst evil, disaster, suffering continue to exist. The only way you can do that is by going transcendental and denying the existence of good and evil themselves. Which is fine, but very far from what you're aiming at.

To sum:
Your "god" is not a god. You want him to have limits. So use whatever limits you want; just don't pretend that he's both Omnipotent and Omnibenevolent.

Think of him as a nice, well meaning alien. A human who can talk to ants, and does want to do right by them. He can do a lot! The ants would almost certainly declare him a god, and attribute omnipotence and omnibenevolence to him. But that wouldn't make it so.

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  • $\begingroup$ That last example with the ants Is a really good analogy of what should work for OPs setting. A being that is so powerful, that humans declare it all-powerful because the things that are outside its power are incoprehensible for the everyday human. Philosophers and Theologists might still theorize about stuff and will probably come to the two possible answers you also lined out, but for the normal people who do not think about the concepts of omnipotence it would seem like it is an actual benevolent GOD. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Apr 5 at 12:54
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The way i see it is that there are 2. Ways we can make your world possible. Either we make him unwilling to always help or we make him not all powerful. Though a combination of both is also possible.

He is not all powerful:

There are many ways to go about and the way i always use is to make all powerful beings intervene more indirectly.

For this to work your God cannot be all powerful so no snapping his fingers and simply wishing a volcano away.

Your god instead intervenes indirectly he can foresee certain events like an volcanic eruption and warns your worlds people about it. But he is unable to directly stop the eruption itself.

There can be many layers to it and you can make your god as powerful as you want him to be. But remember that he would in such a scenario always stop certain events from happening. And i think it's in your best interests to minimize such a use of Deus Ex Macina.

Additionally he can help human development by nudging your people in the right direction. Thus leading to development of more advanced technology without hardship.

Good is not an universal concept:

Additionally we could make your God unwilling to intervene without making him seem evil.

Good in itself lies primarily in the of the beholder and is in itself a subjective concept. Meaning what one person sees as good another might see as bad. So your god has to have his own concept of what is good and bad.

Let me give you an example for clarification. Imagine a war between to factions in your world over a strip of land. Both factions hate each other and both have ancestral claim to this land.

So what is your god going to do? Intervention in either sides favor will make the other side hate him. Of course he may try to get them to negotiate but both sides hate each other and don't want to negotiate. So is he going to intervene and force them to spilt the land in two? Is such a forced settlement just or good? Or might he simply not intervene as there is no good solution?

So what i am getting at is that no matter what your god does he won't look good and it might be better to just let things play out till a settlement can reached. Thus this would make strive still possible in your world.

Alternative Solution:

I don't recommend this one but I'll let you be the judge of this one. You could just say your god is all powerful so he can literally provide any solution you want in your setting. So if you want your world to have advanced technology your god will make it happen as her is after omnipotent.

Though you should use this one SPARINGLY otherwise your world would be a boring one with absolutely no Stakes and that is just boring.

Note: English is not my primary language so please excuse any grammar or spelling errors.

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    $\begingroup$ I was going to write a "not all powerful" response as well, but I feel that you did a good job. I think that this is a much better solution as it allows for problems that the deity can't solve for humanity, as well as challenges from other super-powerful beings. Even with a really, really powerful deity, one that stops short of omnipotence is far more interesting than one that goes all the way. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Jason Patterson that is what i had in mind. In my opinion at least omnipotence is horrible for writing stories as you can just change everything you want to. And no one can seriously take stuff seriously as it can change at a moments notice. So you always need your characters to have flaws or you might as well not bother writing anything at all or world build in this case. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ For your example with the war: an omnipotent god could just "make more land". For an omnipotent god there is ALWAYS a "good solution" aka "a solution that is viewed by every party as good". If in doubt a omnipotent god can just create alternate universes for each party where they have their "good solution". Omnipotence is just such a bad concept when one starts to think "outside the box". $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Apr 5 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ @datacube after thinking a little i do think my example still holds up. I mean the piece of land they are fighting for is important for cultural reason. While an omnipotent being might be able to create a new patch of land it would not be the same. Additionally changing people perspective about the land would probably count as immoral. So no omnipotence can be used but only if your are willing to make conssesions on the moral front. Though i can definitely agree that omnipotence is generally a boring concepts for most stories. $\endgroup$ Apr 5 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock the "alternate universe" solution still stands. Both sides would live on the same sacred patch of land and be happy. omnipotence means there is a solution to every problem. Omnipotent would even mean that you can change what is "moral" and "immoral". Even what those mean to you. Otherwise you lack some power and aren't truly omnipotent $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Apr 8 at 16:45
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Limit the omniscience aspect of the deity. And their ability to change themselves. They cannot give themselves omniscience. While they can affect world in myriad of ways, they can only do it in single area at time.

Think of yourself as a god in god simulator computer game. Only so much can fit in your vision or attention at one time. Maybe you look at things for high level and notice volcano acting up. Or you might miss it. Your attention is somewhere else than area with volcano. Maybe you are divinely inspiring someone with the idea of building those cool castles. Or controlling flooding in some other area.

The god is trying to do their best, but world is simply a big place and they are just single very powerful being.

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Your benevolent deity is not out to stop all suffering, because they want humans to be able to adapt and grow and learn. Instead, they have put a safety net under the suffering.

There will never be a genocide in your world, because people will be divinely inspired to speak out to stop it, but that won't stop garden variety racism, common xenophobia, and garden variety murder.

There will never be an Irish Potato Famine (*) in your world, because people will be divinely inspired to treat neighboring countries better, but that won't stop one nation from taking advantage of another.

There will never be a Lisbon earthquake or Indonesian tsunami, but plate tectonics are important and will happen. Maybe the slides will be gentler, maybe psychics will warn everyone to go camping in the hills on a certain night. Your deity is omnipotent and will make the right choice.

(In some ways this duplicates other answers, but I'm explicitly calling out the safety net aspect as the key.)

Added: user76284 asked where I draw the line, and in hindsight, I see that I've drawn the line at things that have historically made large numbers of people doubt the existence of God.

(*) During the Irish Potato Famine, Ireland was a net exporter of food. While the failure of the potato crop was a natural disaster, both the deep reliance of the Irish people on potatoes as their staple crop, and the response of the British government that exacerbated the problem, were human constructs.

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    $\begingroup$ Where do you draw the line, and why at that particular place? $\endgroup$
    – user76284
    Apr 5 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ I'm drawing the line at things that, historically, have driven people here on Earth to doubt the existence of God. That's a good question, though. $\endgroup$
    – arp
    Apr 5 at 17:41
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Can you understand a god?

To underline a flaw in humans we can first look at how we perceive the animal kingdom. How often do we attribute human behaviour to animals, and how often is that correct? A woman was once assaulted by a zoo gorilla, as she was smiling and the gorilla smiled back. But she was happy showing her teeth, while the gorilla showed agression showing his teeth. Cats, dogs, the fish in the aquarium, we see human behaviour everywhere, even if it's far from the truth.

We do the same with gods. We make them human. With this question you try to understand the god in human terms.

It is an all powerful deity that might not even have a (permanent) corporeal form. It's thoughts and emotions are be far beyond our understanding. How do you understand the way such a being perceives or acts in the world?

It might be benevolent to our understanding, but we simply do not understand the true nature of this being. It is like understanding the weight of the Earth, and the Sun afterwards as if you've lifted them as a human, much like you understand the weight between a tennis ball and a bowling ball. We cannot understand the former, simply because it is too big.

Gods cannot be understood, which is a fine way to explain the gaps.

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Interestingly, I have a story in works in which the god similar to what you described is the main character. So I put a lot of thoughts myself into the matter of how a believable likeable powerful deity would set things up in their domain.

Note: since you want your god to be likeable by the readers, I will omit any ideas of making they not human in behavior ("incomprehensible", "enigmatic", etc).

1. An ancient oath

The god has to stick to the words they said in ancient times. Such promise limits their possibility space. The words might me something like "I wont babysit you, mortals" (but worded appropriately).

2. "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."

I am not talking about making your god a ruthless dictator (however see 3), but about giving/retaining them a human psychology along with its flaws. I am talking about a cognitive bias called identifiable victim effect. The god will, for example, actively act to save a particular child who fell into a well, but remain rather passive and reserved in case of famine, flood or war with many people suffering. Technically those victims will not be unidentifiable for the all-knowing god, but for the readers they will be, so you may slip with it here.

3. The god is actually evil; make reader to like them anyways

The god does some good things and almost never goes bad things to humanity, but there is no systematic goodness. I call it "flower garden approach".

4. God cannot save humans from themselves

As long as humans posses free will they will create day-to-day issues for themselves. War, economic crises, harmful substances, settling in areas which weren't meant to be habitable by the god.

5. God is already shielding from way worse things.

Meteor strikes, earth crust cracking, incurable virulent diseases, demonic invasions — all those are natural, but their observable absence is supernatural, a literal god's miracle. It is wrong to expect even more.

6. Heresy

Some people decline to live according to god's rules and intentionally do the things opposite to what they think god wants they to do.

7. Actual rival being

Invent Satan, demons or something who spoils things.

P.S. I also find it amusing how you expect progress to stall in a protected society. For my story I try to find ways for my deity-character to slow down progress without resorting to pure evil ways like killing with lightning whoever appears too smart.

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There are two issues here

Free will deals with problems arising from interaction between people. If the Deity intervened he would be taking sides. If he designed people so they never created such issues in the first place, they would be eusocial insects not people. (And inter-hive issies would still arise!)

But Omnipotent benevolence and natural disasters are not compatible. The way to resolve this is to limit on the deity's potency and/or omniscience. For all we know, the deity is doing the best it can to reduce the quantity and size of the worst disasters, but cannot eliminate them altogether.

A dualistic or polytheistic setup may be a lot easier to write. There's a limited, well-meaning deity. There's also a similar malevolent or trickster one causing bad stuff. There's a quote from Faust which I can't exactly remember, but something like "... the power I serve. Which seeks forever evil, and works forever good". (Consider also the order/chaos axis of alignment).

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The Pet and its Caregiver

Since gods are far beyond human comprehension, let me use a pet and a caregiver as a model.


Suppose you have a pet. Or, better, an indoor plant, to better visualize the power and intelligence difference between a human and a god.

The plant is completely dependent on you. You water it, you fertilize it, you repot it when it doesn't fit the pot anymore... Without any of these actions, the plant would die, so from its perspective you are an omnipotent god. You love it and care for it.

But do you always do so?

Unless the plant is in the central place of your home, and you never leave home for longer periods, you'll eventually forget to water it. And later water it too much to "compensate" that. Or place the plant on the window sill and open the window to air the apartment in winter. Or leave the plant in direct sunlight in the summer, either because you forgot about it or didn't know what conditions it requires. Of course, you wouldn't intentionally murder your beloved plant. Those are ordinary human errors that can hardly be avoided.

Now, suppose you do not have a single plant, but hundreds of them, in every place of your apartment. Each of them need care, but also each of them is different, both on the species and individual level. They need different amounts of water, sunlight, different soil... Some of them are even incompatible with each other. And what would you do, if you had many plants that require a lot of sunlight, but your window sill was already full? Would you throw away excess plants or place them elsewhere in suboptimal conditions?

You are by no means a perfect caregiver. You let your little green children die, either from negligence or lack of knowledge. You do your best, but you eventually repeat those mistakes over and over. But you are still a benevolent god, you still love your plants and do your best for them to thrive!


To conclude, do not give your god absolute powers. Replace your god's omniscience with nigh-omniscience and omnipotence with nigh-omnipotence. Make your god more like Greek gods, with different powers and personalities rather than YHWH, the Abrahamic god, which cannot exist without multiple paradoxes.

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Divine tournaments.

The god wants society to develop and their followers to grow stronger and so they do suppress any natural earthquakes, famines, or disasters. One of the consequences of having an all powerful god who is actively interventionist is that they should have no real issues suppressing any major problems.

But, their immortal friends often become leaders of society and have violent conflicts where they try to wrest society in a direction they want. So, the god sets up conflict zones.

When their friends and allies want to fight out over an issue they'll create an area with natural disasters, famines, tornados, and all sorts of problems. A gaming zone. To help decide which way societies should go their friends will need to compete in these zones for whatever divine blessings they can get.

Nobody needs to compete in these zones, and you can just go away and live a happy life, but if you want to get more immortality blessings or greater powers and blessings, you need to compete.

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