Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Problem of Evil

Admittedly one of the toughest things in the world for anyone to fathom is a God who is omniscient and omnipotent to be seemingly incapable of stopping the evil that plagues our world on a daily basis. However, this is a reality that we are confronted with on a regular basis from non believers. So in order to formulate a solution you must first understand the problem and the nature behind it. If you were to look up the nature of the problem of evil in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology it would state, “The first mistake is thinking there is only one problem, of evil confronting all theistic positions.” (Elwell 1984,2001, 414)

In order to get a better understanding of the nature of the problem with evil we need to look at it from the religious side first and then the theological/philosophical side. While looking at this from the religious point of view we notice that someone actually experiences some form of evil. Elwell states, “In view of the experienced affliction, the individual’s personal relationship with God is strained. Someone caught in the throes of this problem asks such questions as “Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” and “Can I continue to worship a God who does not remove the evil that is now besetting me?” (Elwell 1984,2001, 414)The evil this person is experiencing could be anything from persecution for their faith, attacks on their character to even physical ailments.

Then we have the theological/philosophical side which breaks down into two subgroups, moral evil and natural evil. Mark Driscoll in his book Doctrine defines them this way, “Moral evil is the result of a responsible agent, whether intentional or negligent. Natural evil is suffering that occurs without a moral agent involved (hurricanes, floods, earthquakes). Humans make no (or very few) actions causing natural evils.” (Driscoll and Breshears 2010, 153) While Driscoll gives us several examples of what natural evil can look like we are left to ponder moral evil. Moral evil are those things that a person does that are evil (rape, theft, and murder are just a few extreme examples).

As we continue trying to solve the problem of evil we must look at a few additional factors which are internal consistency and the way God is perceived. When I speak of internal consistency, I mean that the position that has been taken has no contradictions in it. Elwell expresses it in this manner, “For the theist, the implication is that he or she muse so structure his or her theology as to contain views of God, evil, and human freedom, which, when put together do not result in a contradictory system. In particular, he or she must be careful to avoid a system in which God is said to be both good and able to remove evil, despite the system’s admission of the existence of evil.” (Elwell 1984,2001, 414) We should also understand that there are many different systems to resolve the problems of evil. The way we perceive God to be makes a huge impact on the way we view evil and its place in the world. If you were to take the theistic view that God created the world and just left us to our own devices and he doesn’t care we do not need to resolve to problem of evil in the world. However, we believe in a loving God who is redeeming the world and has a plan.

Bad things happen to people. If we are to believe that scripture is true and we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) then none of us are technically good people. When the Lord created the world he created perfect and free from sin. He tells us this in Genesis 1:31, that everything “was very good.” Since God in incapable of being in the presence of sin and evil without payment we can see how the world was free from sin. So when Adam and Eve sinned they were cursed and their nature and the nature of all subsequent generations were made with sin. Not only were they cursed but the Lord also cursed the ground, referring to the earth which is why we have the reactions of natural evil in the world.

There are more than several different theodicies out there, such as Leibniz’s theodicy, the soul building theodicy, and the free will theodicy. Leibniz’s theodicy believes that there are reasons he chooses to do what he does and in fact they are laws, and God would not do anything without sufficient reason. Leibniz’s theodicy is overly rational. The soul building theodicy shapes itself around the fact that there is a need for moral and spiritual development. So by having evil and having to either turn to God or from him are our options thus the need for evil, to help us grow in our relationship to God. You could almost argue against the soul-building theodicy the same way Paul did in Romans 6 referring to sinning more to receive more grace. I am personally growing closer to the free will type of theodicy. Basically, the free will theodicy says that God gave man free will which he was right to do and man abused what was given to him. So by man abusing his free will God is not responsible for evil while men are. Elwell points out, “In other words, God cannot create significantly free beings and make it the case that they always do good.” (Elwell 1984,2001, 1186)

May you be blessed in growing closer to your understanding of God and your own theodicy.

Word Count: 934

Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Elwell, Water A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids,MI: BakerAcademic, 1984,2001.


  1. Attempting to contemplate or penetrate the causes of 'evil' is only made more difficult because 'religion' has offered a conception of God, morality and expectations of the incarnation which contradicts the continuing existence of 'evil'. Yet the question only arises because religion itself exits. That God is active in the world of human affairs.

    If we ignore religion for a moment, we are a species with a self evidently limited moral comprehension, perception and integrity. And neither evolution nor religion has offered the means for growth in this area. By saying this, I'm not making an agrument against God, but one against our religious imagination, theology and tradition!

    So long as evil dominates human existence, religion doesn't and hasn't worked. The choices then on offer are to discount the very idea of God and become an agnostic or atheist or an apologist for God or consider that religion itself may simple have nothing to do with God? Has religion even started yet? Is theology even a valid human intellectual endeavor?.

    These are question history has yet to answer, but the answer may be closer than anyone expects.

  2. Thus Spake Zarathustra, right? Not to be incredibly rude, but I am sick and tired of people dumping on religion because it does not give them the proper truth that they want. Ok, let us just say that there is no God and thus there is no good or evil. Now what? Who cares? We cannot justify anything but we also cannot declaim anything. If I want to embrace Christian dogma and teachings in complete ignorance of science, so what? It does not matter anyway to each his own and I think mine is better. If I convince enough people I am right it does not matter WHAT the scientific community says...I am right, because everything is meaningless and the only expression of truth is power and manipulation.

    Ok, what if there is a "god" but religion is not even close to getting "he, she, it" right? Who cares? There is nothing reliable to guide us anyway. Science cannot show us God, it is concerned strictly with materialistic, naturalistic phenomenon; not with the supernatural in any shape form or fashion. So, if there is a god, it cannot tell us and if there is not a god, it cannot tell us that either. So, if science fails to tell us about god, and god exists, then to whom do we turn if not religion and theology? We just make sum wild guess or go on human consensus? Maybe we should ask the Vodoo witch doctors or the scientologists? If god exists and religion cannot help us understand who we are, who he, she, it is, and how we are supposed to live in response then well, it does not really matter WHAT I believe now does it?

    The point is that it is way too easy to be skeptic and hate religion...I mean seriously. All religions have problems; all religions have some truth in them. However, I do believe that the one that comes the closest and resonates the most coherent reality is that of the Christian faith. The claim that Jesus Christ was not just another religious figure, but was God incarnate and that through him we can have eternal life now, has been tried and tested throughout the years. All the things "Christendom" has done does not find its expression in the teachings of Jesus Christ or the Church; they are warped deviants of revealed truth.

    Sorry to get so riled up but it is just so passe to put up "religion sucks" without having to answer with your own positive affirmation of existence.