In my last post, I talked about why Christians deal with the problem of evil. But just because Christians struggle with it doesn’t mean that there are no answers. Theodicies offer explanation for God’s allowance of evil in the world and are derived from key theistic principles.
- God exists.
- Evil exists.
- God wills evil to exist.
For the Christian, the first principle is undeniable. The supernatural God of the biblical account indeed lives. He is described as “holy” (1 Peter 1.16), “righteous” (Psalm 119.137), and immeasurable in greatness (Psalm 145.3). He is loving (1 John 4.8), all-powerful (Isaiah 43.13), all-benevolent (Psalm 119.68), and just (Job 34.12). He stands as creator of the universe and the author of man. In summary of all God’s attributes, the apostle Paul says He is “over all” (Ephesians 4.6). No other being transcends Him.
The second statement is similarly indisputable. The Bible makes clear references to the existence of evil in the world. But what is evil? Simply put by Christian theologian R.C. Sproul, “Evil is nothing.” That is, evil has no being. It is merely the condition of an action. Furthermore, evil is defined as a negation. For example, many define evil as something that is not good. The Bible often employs the terms “unrighteousness” or “ungodliness.” Thus, evil is a non-real condition where good is absent. It is also important to note that, because evil has no existence, God did not create it. God only created things.
Theologian John MacArthur categorizes evil into three types: natural evil, moral evil, and supernatural evil. Natural evil is confined to external events like famine, disease, and earthquakes. On the other hand, moral evil is internal. Pride, greed, and lust are all moral evils committed by moral beings. Lastly, supernatural evil occurs in the spiritual realm. Supernatural evil characterizes the work of Satan and his demons. This is where the atheist would claim Christian theism is contradictory. For how can an omnipotent, all-benevolent God and a world ridden with sickness, avarice, and starvation coexist? The answer is found in the third principle.
According to His divine sovereignty and omnipotence, God wills evil to exist. Everything within the created universe is under God’s domain, which includes evil. While God contains no trace of evil within Himself, that does not logically prevent Him from employing what is “not good” to accomplish his sovereign will.
This view is not without biblical support. For example, the author of Lamentations declares, “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3.37-38). Or in Amos, “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Amos 3.6). Therefore, God must assume responsibility for evil without being its source.
Many Christians find the last principle hard to swallow, for doesn’t it make God answerable for evil? Yes, it does. However, God is the ultimate standard of goodness. He is good and does only what is good (Psalm 119.68). Therefore, though we may not fully comprehend, it seems good to God that evil exists. It can be concluded that the evil God intends is necessary to accomplish the good He ultimately seeks.
But why? Theologians have made several attempts to explain God’s allowance of evil, which I’ll discuss in Part 3.