Monday, September 8, 2008

The Problem of Evil

I was reading recently the early edition of USA Today in which Michael Novak writes in "The Forum" about the problem of evil. "How could a good God let unthinkable suffering torment our world?" It's an age-old question that goes to the very root of who we are and who we aspire to be. Novak points out that The New Yorker, of all magazines, gave a good number of pages early last month to a quite brilliant book reviewer, James Wood, for a long essay on why he could no longer be a Christian. "Stories like his," says Novak, "are widespread. They usually cite the natural evils that too often crash upon humans — in China a stupefying earthquake, in Burma a cyclone, elsewhere tsunami, or tornado, disease, flood, or cruel slow-working famine. They then add the evils that humans inflict upon other humans" and diseases, accidents.

It raise the question that I answer in Bible Answer Book, Volume 1 of why God would allow bad things to happen to good people. This is the most common question that Christians are asked to answer on shows like Larry King Live.

At first blush it seems as though there are as many responses as religions. In reality, there are only three basic answers: pantheism, philosophical naturalism - pantheism denies the existence of good and evil, because in this view God is all and all is God. Philosophical naturalism, the worldview undergirding evolution, supposes that everything is a function of random processes, thus there is no such thing as good and evil. So you have those to responses. And there's one other - theism. Only theism has a relevant response and only Christian theism has an answer that is satisfactory.

Christian theism acknowledges that God created the potential for evil because God created humans with freedom of choice. We choose to love, to hate, to do good or to do evil. The record of history bears eloquent testimony to the fact that humans, of their own free will, have actualized the reality of evil through such choices. Without choice love is meaningless. God is neither a cosmic rapist who forces his love on people, nor a cosmic puppeteer who forces people to love him. Instead, God, the personification of love, grants us the freedom of choice. Without such freedom, we would be little more than preprogrammed robots.

The fact that God created the potential for evil by granting us freedom of choice ultimately will lead to the best of all possible worlds - a world in which "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain." Those who choose Christ will be redeemed from evil by his goodness and will forever be able not to sin.


Jonathan Dec said...

Thanks for this post Hank. Very helpful.

Terry said...

"Christian theism acknowledges that God created the potential for evil because God created humans with freedom of choice." Doesn't explain, "in China a stupefying earthquake, in Burma a cyclone, elsewhere tsunami, or tornado, disease, flood, or cruel slow-working famine.", the evil not created by humans.

Prodigal said...

Here is my address on this topic, maybe this will help some...

So God is holy, perfect, without blemish, and He is totally in control of all things. We know that He created everything and that nothing transpires without His ordination; that is He ultimately allows all things to come to pass. We must first recognize that God Himself did not create evil, but the potential for evil. This may seem like a fine line, but it isn't. It is the same line that separates the Creator from the created. Just as He created angels with the ability to choose good or evil, He gave us this choice in the person of Adam, mankind's representitive. We are by definition volitional beings who make choices constantly. Unfortunately Adam choice to sin created in us a curse, which is the sin nature we all bear.

God uses evil for good. For instance, look at the story of Joseph and his brothers: Joseph's father loved him, gave him a multicolored coat, his brothers sold him into slavery, but ultimately Joseph became the second in charge in Egypt, during the famine his brothers came to Egypt to buy food, and Joseph revealed himself as their brother, Joseph forgave his brothers immediately even though he could have had them killed. Do you remember what Joseph said to his brothers? "What you meant for evil God meant for good." God used the sin of Joseph's brothers to eventually save Joseph's family from famine. There are countless circumstances in life that we can look back and see God using evil to complete His good purpose. He always does this without ever condoning it, after all He is perfect.

So why does God allow evil to exist? Well look at it this way: Those who have given their life to Christ, have repented of their sin, and have openly confessed to follow Him, have been saved. Jesus says that "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one can get to the Father but by me." These individuals, called Christians, have been given eternal life, free from the penalty of God's just wrath; the penalty that all people deserve. Christians will experience the grace and mercy of God in its fullness in heaven. To understand this, let me pose to you a metaphor:
Lets say you were driving at 100mph on the highway. There are no speed limit signs anywhere and no one has ever given you any inclination that going over 65 mph is illegal. Would you understand that what you were doing is wrong? Now look at the law of God, the ten commandments. If we didn't have the ten commandments would we know that idolatry is wrong? Probably not. In the same way, Christians, the true believers, would not be able to appreciate the extent of God's grace and mercy if they were not intimately acquainted with the reality of evil. We live through it daily, the suffering, anguish, and pain are the converse of the grace, peace, and infinite love that God has for people. God has chosen to demonstrate His grace on this earth through the reality of evil. God chose to allow His son to be killed, and not only that, but while on the cross, God poured out His wrath on Him, the wrath that belonged to Christians. The Romans crucified Him, the Jews called for His blood, the people cheered, but what man meant for evil, God meant for good.

Carl said...

You need to have Timothy Keller author of The Teason for God on your show. It's a good read!

billb said...

Hank, I appreciate your willingness to allow open comments on your blog. However, I think you don't do a complex philosophical issue much justice by sweeping it under the carpet.

Here are two (contrived) examples to illustrate why the PoE is not so simply attributable to free will:

1) A quarter of a million people die instantly in a tsunami. The vast majority were not Christians and, thus, are headed to hell. Young, old, men, women, everyone. Hard to see why this is necessary for human free will to exist.

2) A woman gets mugged, raped and murdered while walking alone at night. By the logic of the "free will defense", God allows this to happen because He values the rapist's free choice to commit rape and murder more than He values the woman's right to live.

I realize there are rationalizations for both of my examples; I list them only to demonstrate that the PoE is a problem, one that thinking people of all stripes have struggled with for millenia. :)

Hustada said...

Love the show but I don't find Rob Bell near as threatening as you do. Seriously. The guy does not deny Christ as the only way. He does not deny the trinity and he certainly doesn't deny the concept of hell as it should be understood. He merely asks certain questions that ALOT of Christians probably are already thinking and questions their importance with regards to God's sovereignty.

His new book is basically a rehash of C.S. Lewis's "The Great Divorce" except that its not fiction. The idea that those in hell are there of there own choosing and not because God threw them down there because they did not speak "The sinners prayer" while they were alive. I think thats somewhat of what Bell is getting at here. God looks at the hearts of men, not the words that audibly flow from their mouth. I believe that God gives everyone a fair shake regardless of whether they've heard the name of Christ or not which naturally makes one wonder how that looks to those who haven't heard the name of Christ or have a limited knowledge on the matter. We make a decision one way or the other and thats really what I got out of Bell's book. I didn't get "universalism" at all from this book. I just got a "maybe" type mentality from Bell in that its possible at some point in the afterlife to still choose God. Not sure why thats really so farfetched or heretical.