Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
From a religious point of view, the problem of evil, as philosophers call the idea that a loving, omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal God allows evil and suffering, seems to suggest one of these possibilities:
- There actually is no God.
- God is less than he is believed to be (for example, not loving, omniscient or omnipotent).
- God does not intervene in nature or human affairs.
- The devil (or chief evil entity) is equally as powerful as God.
Sooner or later, if only implicitly, horror fiction must grapple with this philosophical conundrum.
Dean Koontz wrestles with the problem of evil in The Taking, Stephen King in Desperation.
In the former’s novel, the arrival of Satan and his minions, mistaken for an extraterrestrial invasion of alien spacecraft, occurs when these dark forces seek to usher in Armageddon. The nature of the problem of evil is not directly assessed, although Koontz’s novel suggests that, despite its opposition to God’s goodness, evil does have a divine purpose, unintended though that effect may be on the part of the devil. Rather as in the book of Genesis (crossed, perhaps, with the Norse concept of Ragnarok, in which a man and a woman, surviving the destruction of Middle-earth, repopulate the planet at the beginning of a new age), a remnant of humanity is preserved against the wholesale destruction that ensues the hellish invasion. In place of Noah’s ark, the protagonist, having been impregnated by her husband, bears the seed of humanity’s hopes for the future within her womb. The old world dies that a new one may be born.
If Koontz’s novel is informed (by way of Norse mythology) by the Genesis account of the flood and the survival of Noah and his family (and two of every other species on the planet), King’s story seems to take, as its foundation, the Old Testament story of Job.
In King’s novel, God has summoned protagonist David Carver and several others to stop the demon Tak, who has recently escaped from a caved-in mine. In the process, David loses his entire family and concludes that “God is cruel.” However, another character, writer John Marinville, gives the teenager a note that he, Marinville, found while he was in the demon’s lair, a get-out-of-school-early pass that David had left nailed to a tree in his backyard, hundreds of miles away, before he and his family undertook the vacation that ended in Desperation. On the note is a message that wasn’t on the note originally, a message that, presumably, is from God himself: “God is love.” To effect the greater good, love must, at times, take a harsh and unbending stand toward evil, even at the cost of great sacrifice. David is too young to know the ways of God, but, King suggests, like longsuffering Job, the protagonist must trust in the goodness of God and take the deity at his word that he is a God of love who intervenes in human affairs for purposes which are inscrutable to human beings but are just, nevertheless, and, on some greater scale, probably merciful as well.
Koontz, a Roman Catholic, and King, who grew up in the Protestant tradition but claims to subscribe to no “traditional” religious faith and to have a non-traditional idea of God, both offer a view of the problem of suffering which is rooted, at least in part, in the Judeo-Christian faith (and, in Koontz’s case, perhaps Norse mythology), as it is expressed, respectively, in the book of Genesis (and the Eddas) and the book of Job. Although neither author presents an original thesis concerning the problem of evil, each draws attention to the issue in an entertaining and inventive fashion. (A recent film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, also enquires as to the basis of evil and suffering, leaving the answer open.)
The mystery of iniquity is perhaps unsolvable, but it clearly still retains a powerful interest upon the imaginations of writers and readers today, just as it has for several millennia now.