The Problem of Evil

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

The following is my personal theodicy, scriptural support is provided 
in the endnotes.

How can an absolutely good God exist when there is evil in the world? This is the question posed by many who reject theism, and Christianity specifically. Many attempts are made to reconcile this tension between a good God and an evil world, and these explanations are called theodicies. Here I will present my own theodicy where I address the philosophical problem of moral evil, the philosophical problem of natural evil, and the religious problem of evil.

Starting with the philosophical problem of moral evil is the best beginning point because natural evil and the religious problem of evil both stem from moral evil. In Genesis 3 the account of the fall of man is given, and it is at this point that sin entered the world through the rebellious act of Adam and Eve. Adam’s disobedience of God’s command resulted in the complete corruption of his will and nature, and this is passed down to all his decedents. If one takes the Bible as being inerrant, infallible, and sufficient, then it is clear that moral evil entered the world through the sinful act of Adam.[1] Not only that, but Adam’s sin corrupted all of mankind’s very nature and thus “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”[2]

It is not that man makes a free will choice to do evil, but rather it is his very nature to do evil. During a recent lecture given by pastor Voddie Baucham on expository apologetics he posed the question, “what is wrong with the world?” Pastor Baucham answered his own question stating: “we don’t do what we were created to do, namely glorify God, that we are alienated from God, that we do evil deeds, and that we are hostile toward God; ultimately the problem is sin.”[3] The presence of moral evil is a result of man’s corrupt and wicked nature.

Natural evil stems from moral evil, and more specifically from the sinful act of Adam in Genesis. Genesis 3 says:

“And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you…’”[4]

So not only did the fall of man bring corruption and calamity to mankind, but it also corrupted the natural world. Natural disasters, animal attacks, disease, and the violent chaos of the cosmos find their cause in man’s first act of rebellion against God; the creation, animate and inanimate, was subjected to frustration after the fall.[5] When viewing natural evil in light of scripture one realizes that the atheist and naturalist deny man’s responsibility when they blame God for the destruction and calamity poured out by nature.

The argument against a good God based on the existence of moral and natural evil is weak at best. This weakness is found in the fact that the atheist or naturalist levies value judgments against God, yet they have no objective moral standard on which to base such judgments. Atheists usually fall into one of two camps, either they believe morality is subjective, or they believe it is non-existent. If morality is subjective, then the things they point to as good or evil are simply their opinion, and at the end of the day these value judgments have no meaning outside of themselves or the community that holds to those opinions.

If morality is non-existent, then logically the atheist cannot judge God as being good or evil. So the problem of evil offensive launched by the atheist is usually a straw man that causes the Christian to try and justify God’s actions on moral grounds to a person who either has a subjective and thus non-authoritative moral system, or no belief in morality.

The religious problem of evil poses the question, “Why is there suffering in the world, and what is the purpose of my suffering?” A simple deductive argument directly answers the first question: If man is inherently wicked, and if the natural world in its current corrupt state are both prone to produce, carry out, and revel in evil, then humankind will be subjected to suffering as a result of such evil. The first and second premises are true according to scripture, and the conclusion necessarily follows from those premises. Suffering is tied directly to sin, man sinned and brought about his own destruction, which means his suffering is self-inflicted in a sense.

The purpose of suffering is ultimately to point us toward the one who can take away our suffering once and for all, that is Jesus Christ. Paul says as much in his letter to the Romans: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”[6] For the person who does not believe in God this answer may be unsatisfactory, but it is the answer that scripture gives, John Calvin puts it this way:

“It ought not indeed to be grievous to us, if we must pass through various afflictions into celestial glory, since these, when compared with the greatness of that glory, are of the least moment.”[7]

And Jesus himself said:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[8]

The naturalistic and atheistic worldviews say that life has no meaning or purpose, or that you infuse it with your own meaning and purpose. In that system suffering has no meaning, and in fact is simply the playing out of random occurrences and biological processes. The Christian says that we suffer as a result of the sin that man himself brought into the world, but there is a savior in whom one can find peace, purpose, and meaning.

The Christian must have a proper understanding of the Christian life in relation to suffering, and John 16:33 helps to make this clear, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”[9] Jesus said these words to the disciples as he foretold his coming ascension into Heaven, and the troubles they would face after his departure. Christ and the Apostles all warned of the suffering Christians will face and have to endure in this life. Paul states in Colossians:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”[10]

The Christian must understand that to live a life for Christ is to also endure suffering, but that suffering is only for a time, and can be faced through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. If a person believes that following Christ means living with constant health, wealth, and pleasure, then he or she will be rocked to the core when trials, troubles, and tribulations come upon them. Ultimately the key to enduring suffering is a right understanding of and reliance on God.

Those who do not believe in God, or at least a good God often attack the beliefs Christians have about God. While these attacks against such beliefs are not necessarily attacks against God, if the beliefs being presented are correct, then to attack them is to attack the very character and nature of God, which is God himself. When all the debating, philosophizing, and arguing is done it comes down to who man is, who God is, and why the former rejects the latter.

The atheist, the naturalist, the agnostic, and so on attack God because they hate God and are enemies of God. They pose these questions but despise the answers, they want to know how there can be a good God yet still evil runs rampant, and they want to know why God does not stop it all. Romans 1 gives the answer:

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”[11]

A long section of verses, but they speak to the source of evil. Whether it be moral, natural, or religious the presence of evil in the world comes from humankind’s rebellion against, and rejection of, God.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Romans 5:12.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Genesis 6:5.

[3] Baucham, Voddie. “Expository Apologetics Part II.” (lecture, G3 Conference, Douglasville, GA, January 23, 2014).

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Genesis 3:17.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Romans 8:20–21.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Romans 8:18.

[7] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 302.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt 11:28–30.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), John 16:33.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Colossians 1:3-5.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Romans 1:21–25, 28-32.


Bibliography

Baucham, Voddie. “Expository Apologetics Part II.” Lecture, G3 Conference, Douglasville, GA, January 23, 2014.

Beeke, Joel R., and Mark Jones. A Puritan Theology: Doctrine For Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012.

Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938.

Calvin, John, and John King. Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software,        2010.

Calvin, John, and John Owen. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible            Software, 2010.

Lange, John Peter, Philip Schaff, F. R. Fay, J. F. Hurst, and M. B. Riddle. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Romans.                Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Lange, John Peter, Philip Schaff, Tayler Lewis, and A. Gosman. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Genesis. Bellingham,            WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s