The Problem of Evil

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Below are some notes that I took from Millard Erickson’s book Christian Theology on the Problem of Evil in this world.  I trust that they will be help to you as we deal with this difficult problem:

The Problem

  • One of the most difficult intellectual challenges to the Christian faith is how an all powerful, all loving God can allow evil to exist in this world.
  • If God is all powerful, then why does He not just do away with evil and make no bad things happen.  Since He is all powerful and does not do away with the bad things, then He must not be all loving.
  • If God is loving, then He should not allow evil to happen to anyone.  Since He is loving and would surely want to stop all evil, then He must not be all powerful.
  • Since there is evil in God’s world, either He must not be loving enough to stop it or powerful enough to stop it. If He has all power and loves us, then surely there should be no more evil in this world.

Three Common Solutions

In dealing with this challenging question, there are three common solutions:

1.  Finitism

Finitism is the rejection of God’s omnipotence.  It is commonly manifested as a form of dualism such as Zoroastrianism or Manichaeism.  Zoroastrianism was started 500 years before the birth of Christ by Zoroastur, a prophet, philosopher, and poet from Iran.  There are an estimated 100,000 people in the world who follow hold to the beliefs of Zoroastrianism.  Manichaeism started by Manichaeus from Persia and thrived between the 3rd and 7th centuries.

Finitism is basically the idea that there are two ultimate principles in the universe: God and the power of evil.  There is a struggle between these two forces with no certainty about the ultimate outcome.

Problems with Finitism:

    • Solves the difficulty of the problem of evil but does so at the high price of God’s omnipotence.
    • Finitism does not offer any real encouragement that God will eventually overcome evil.
    • If there has been a struggle between God and evil for all of eternity, what makes us think that God will overcome evil in the future?
    • This view also casts a shadow over God’s goodness.  If the evil with which He struggles is part of God’s own nature (which Finitism says it is), then how can God be said to be good?

2. A modification of the concept of God’s goodness.

Few Christians would deny the goodness of God, yet this solution suggests that God’s goodness must be understand in a different sense than what is usually meant.  This solution holds to the idea that man’s will is not free, and everything that happens including sin and evil is caused by God.  Because God is good, whatever happens is good, even if it appears to be sin and evil to us.  This view could be called hyper-calvinism or determinism.

Problems with this view:

    • In regards to the modification of the concept of God’s goodness, the term goodness undergoes such a radical transformation that it almost would not recognized as what is usually meant by the goodness of God.
    • This view places too much emphasis on God’s ability to do whatever He wants even if it is not consistent with His own nature.
    • It comes close to believing that right and wrong are a matter of expediency for God.

    3. The denial of evil

      • This viewpoint denies the reality of evil making it unnecessary to find a way to explain its coexistence with an all powerful, all loving God.
      • This idea teaches that suffering, pain, and evil are only an illusion.  God is the only ultimate reality.
      • Christian science promotes this idea.
        • Founded by Mary Baker Eddy
        • Grew rapidly in 1950 but is declining
        • 400,000 worldwide
        • Book Science and Health
        • Positive thinking, etc.
      • Answer to denial of evil – three problems
        • The denial of evil may assert that disease and evil exist only as an illusion, yet it fails to deal with the existence of the illusion of evil.
        • Second, if evil is an illusion, how did it gain such widespread belief and could not God eliminate such a false belief?
        • Third, denying that evil exists simply does not work.  Those who hold this belief still become ill and die.

    BIBLICAL ANSWERS

    1.  Evil is a necessary part of creating humans with a free will.  (Genesis 3:16-17)

    1. There are some things God cannot do – be cruel, lie, break promises, etc.
      1. God cannot make a genuine human without a free will.
      2. For God to prevent evil, he would have to make humans different from what they are – no free will.
    2. Man’s free will to choose
      1. John 3:16 “whosoever believeth”
      2. Deuternomy 30:15-19 “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing”

    2.  What is we see as good or evil may not really good or evil. (Romans 8:28-29)

    1. Divine Dimension
      1. What we say is good and evil may not really be so.
        1. At times, we think that…
          1. good is whatever is pleasant to us at the present
          2. evil is what is personally unpleasant, uncomfortable, or disturbing
      2. Good is not necessarily defined by what is good for us; good is what glorifies God, fulfills His will, and conforms to His nature.
        1. Romans 8:28-29 Good is not personal wealth or health, but being conformed to the image of God’s Son.
      3. I am not a good judge of good; God is far superior in wisdom and knowledge;  I want to go with His opinion.
        1. Dentist – not good to eat sweets and sugar
        2. Doctor – not good to eat fatty foods
    2. Time Dimension
      1. Some evils in the short term may be good in the long term
      2. Dentists drill hurts now but helps later.
      3. Romans 8:18 “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
    3. Extent of Evil
      1. The rain that may spoil my picnic may help the farmers.
      2. What may seem as evil to me may be a greater good.

    3. General evil is the result of general sin. (Romans 5:12)

    1. Sin brought evil into the world:
      1. Death (Romans 5:12)
      2. Anguish in childbearing (Genesis 3:16)
      3. Male domination over the wife (3:16)
      4. Toilsome labour (3:17)
      5. Thorns and thistles (3:18)
    2. The whole creation groans (Romans 8:18-22)
    3. Sin tainted man’s nature and now he is born with a sin nature.
      1. He is born with a depraved nature, heart, and mind.
      2. He will naturally do wrong and sin.
      3. Brings about the corruption, oppression all around us.

    4. Specific evil may be the result of specific sin (Galatians 6:7-8)

    1. Not all evil is the result of specific sin.
      1. Job did not suffer sin like his friends suggested.
      2. Blind man did not suffer for sin (John 9:2-3)
    2. Sin does bring its consequences.
      1. David – adultery
      2. Achan – covetousness (John 7:24-25)
    3. Galatians 6:7-8  Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

    5. God Himself was the victim of evil. (Hebrews 4:15)

    1. God allowed sin even though He knew He would be the victim of it.
    2. Jesus came and was subjected to the evils of this world: hunger, fatigue, betrayal, ridicule, rejection, suffering, and death.
    3. Hebrews 4:15 “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

    6. The life after this rights all of this life’s wrongs. (Revelation 20:12)

    1. Revelation 21:8 Sinners will have their part.
    2. Revelation 22:11 Continue as we were in this life.

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