Searching for a Good Reason: The Problem of Evil Part 3

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In the last post in this series, I talked about why the existence of evil means that God allows evil to exist.

Since this is, understandably, a little difficult to deal with, theologians have created several theodicies, or explanations for why God allows evil in the world.

A soul-making process characterizes the first theodicy. According to the idea of soul-making, God desires that His children develop into increasingly moral beings. This results in “an immeasurably good state in which rational creatures are in the richest possible intimacy with their Creator.”

Proponents of a soul-making theodicy argue that natural and moral suffering create the perfect “moral training ground” for this process to occur. People can only grow into ethically upright beings by surmounting the moral challenges God places in their path. Just as hunger drives a person toward food, suffering guides a person toward a deeper connection with God. Thus, through the persistence of suffering, God achieves a greater level of communion with His creation, which He considers an ultimate good.

Another popular theodicy purposes evil as the ultimate backdrop for God’s righteousness. The apostle Paul declares, “But if our unrighteousness brings out the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” (Romans 3:5). Contextually, Paul is saying that Israel’s wickedness does not nullify God’s goodness toward them. Rather than dimming the character of God, Israel’s sin makes His righteousness even more radiant. Only by the contrast of evil does the purity of God abound. In more practical terms, a Christian would never realize the extent of God’s righteousness – not to mention their moral inadequacy – if not for evil. As Christian theologian John MacArthur acknowledges, “We would never understand the full glory of God’s righteousness if we were not so familiar with our own.”

How could we receive salvation if we could not measure our sinful deeds in light of a sinless God? Or how could God make known His goodness and mercy to an evil race if evil never existed? According to this theodicy, evil serves as the darkness that makes the flame of God’s goodness shine even brighter.

While the problem of evil may sometimes appear to bring about the collapse of Christian theism, there are numerous arguments that offer a sound response. However, multiple responses indicate that no individual theodicy or defense can truly withstand all queries raised concerning the problem of evil. Is there truly an answer to the “Achilles’ heel” of Christianity?

Maybe the answer is God himself. God is God. As Most High, He maintains the authority to do whatever He wants. “The Lord does what is good in his sight.” (2 Samuel 10:12). If the Lord does only what is good, who are we to question the means by which He brings it about?

We exist as finite beings, yet we are trying to comprehend the ultimate complexity of God’s divine will. If this were ever possible, human beings would ascend to the very supremacy of the Most High himself.

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It Seems Good to God that Evil Exists: The Problem of Evil Part 2

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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:

  1. God exists.
  2. Evil exists.
  3. 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.

Christianity and Atheism’s Common Ground: The Problem of Evil Part 1

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Atheistic scholars have labeled the problem of evil as the “Achilles’ heel” of Christian theism. They claim that, like Achilles’ heel, the problem of evil inevitably brings Christianity to ruin. In fact, many God-professing individuals have converted to atheism due to this unresolved question. But Christian theists are not left without an answer to the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is logically structured into three statements:

  1. God is omnipotent.
  2. God is all-benevolent.
  3. Evil exists.

Atheists argue the incompatibility of these statements. They say that if an all-powerful God created a world in which evil exists, then he must not be all-good, or else he would have used his power to eliminate such evil. Transversely, if God is all-benevolent, then he desires to eliminate evil. But since evil exists, he must not possess the power to do so. They conclude, then, that God does not exist.

Before proceeding, one point must be made clear. While the source of evil is a perplexity for a Christian, the source of good is not. God is the origin of all goodness, for “He is good” (Psalm 107:1). And, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17). With God as the ultimate authority over what is good, a Christian can evaluate what is right and wrong based on His righteous standards. Consequently, when God no longer exists, neither does ethics.

In an atheistic worldview, there is no such thing as a moral, law-giving God. Instead, morality is merely the result of chemical reactions in the brain of an evolved animal. Without any objective standards, good and evil become relative to the animal, or determined by mutual agreements within a society. Therefore, morality is reduced to the mental whims of an evolutionary process.

In fact, moral standards can fluctuate at any given time. Homosexuality, for example, was widely accepted in ancient Greek and Roman culture, as men would often participate in sexual activity with other men. Not only was it tolerated, but homosexuality was even celebrated in the arts, theater, and culture, according to some scholars. Skipping to the thirteenth century, homosexuality was strictly condemned in European society. Stringent laws called for the severe punishment of homosexual acts. Some reports indicate that people were even burned to death or beheaded for unlawful sexual behavior. The moral pendulum swung back, as homosexuality is currently accepted in most Western cultures.

With a worldview in which morality is constantly shifting – as with the issue of homosexuality – on what grounds can the atheist brand certain actions as good or bad? Human thought should be just as valued as the random process in which it was evolved.

But only the most committed of atheists live as though moral principles do not exist. For an atheist, even testifying to the problem of evil is, at its core, admitting to objective morals.

The problem of evil for the Christian theist then becomes the problem of good and evil for the atheist.