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Proclamation Index

The Problem of Evil

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" – Epicurus




Ancient philosopher Epicurus shared the preceding words which are often offered by skeptics in opposition of a God who is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient amid evil, pain, and suffering which runs rampant in the world today. Many scholars from both Christian and non-Christian perspectives have hotly debated the problem of evil for quite some time.

When we look at the world, there is no shortage of evil, pain, and suffering on full display. Our world is home to wars and fighting, evil governmental regimes, atrocities committed in the name of religion, and natural disasters. Couple that with instances of pain and suffering that are not quite as grandiose in the grand scheme of things - illness, injury, and death on a smaller familial scale, and what you see is the problem of evil on full display.

We don’t have to look very far to see instances of evil and suffering present in the world. However, it is important to recognize the reality of its existence if we are to have a fruitful discussion pertaining its origins. When we travel back to the narrative account of creation that is presented in Genesis, we see that God created a world that was wholly good. It was a world that was free from evil, pain, and suffering because it was a world that was free from sin. In fact, God referred to His initial creation as “very good.” (Genesis 1:31) However, because of the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world and thus fractured a creation that was wholly good. Therefore, the clear testimony of scripture is that evil entered the world because of the disobedience of humankind.

The problem of evil is significant... made more so because of the advancement of the notion by sceptics that God is the culprit. This of course, serves to give unbelievers fodder for their unbelief; a pretense to reject the omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent being that orthodox Christianity proposes Him to be. Even some scholars like Thomas J. Oord, a significant proponent of open and relational theology, have gone as far as attempt to solve the problem of evil by limiting the power and knowledge of God. Thomas J. Oord, in his book, God Can’t, writes, “A loving God simply cannot do some things. Preventing evil is one of them. God could not have stopped the evil you and others experienced.” Oord goes on to propose that a God who is worthy of being worshipped cannot be one who is complicit in causing, allowing, or supporting evil. This idea completely dismisses the sovereignty of God and ultimately brings the existence of the Christian God into question.

            There are many theodicies or defenses for the problem of evil. Some serve to raise more questions than answers, however there are some that have significant merit. In my opinion, The Free Will Defense as proposed by Alvin Plantinga is one such argument that provides a plausible answer. Plantinga’s defense was shared in response to J.L. Mackie’s argument from evil. Mackie proposes that the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence of God is logically inconsistent with the presence of evil in the world. He suggests that a God whose attributes indicate that He is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, is not compatible with the presence of evil in the world. Thus, such a God can be excluded from consideration.

            Plantinga’s free will defense begins by proposing that Mackie’s argument fails to establish a logical contradiction that is explicitly evident regarding the orthodox Christian God and the existence of evil in the world. Thus, the proposition is that all that is needed to defend the premise of a good God in the existence is evidence that God created a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so. Ultimately, the conclusion we can draw is that a sovereign God does not have to provide reasons for doing the things that He does.

            While it is certainly true that God does not have to explain His actions, this doesn’t do much to practically speak to the problem of evil. However, Plantinga provides a bit more information that is important for us to unpack. He proposes that creaturely will plays a significant role in the defense of a good God’s existence in a world that is increasingly evil. The proposition is that a world which contains created beings which are significantly free is more valuable, with all other things being equal, that a world which contains no free creatures at all. There is little doubt that God can create free creatures. The issue that becomes quickly apparent is that God’s creation of free creatures which can only do right means that those creatures are not significantly free because they have no ability to choose between good and evil. Thus, Plantinga proposes if God is to create beings that are capable of moral good, He must create beings that are capable of moral evil. He cannot give these beings the freedom to perform evil and also prevent them from doing so.  

            What we can ultimately understand is that the world which God initially created was wholly good. The freedom of will that was possessed by humankind caused the world to enter a state of brokenness. Thus, it is not God who perpetrates evil, rather evil is a side effect of the free agency that was given to humankind. If at any time, humans possessed free moral agency, then evil must be possible. This does not serve to diminish the power of God, but rather serves to place His power on full display. One of the most reasonable explanations for the existence of evil is the existence of human will. When we look to Scripture, we can see that God has a clear plan that has been evident from the very beginning. While there will always be pain, evil, and suffering this side of eternity, we can take significant comfort in the fact that God is working to restore the world to its originally intended state (and better). A state that was wholly good and devoid of evil, pain, and suffering… and we will one day be able to join Joseph in exclaiming that what others intended for evil, God intended for good!

 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28

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