(This content is taken from Appendix A of my intro to apologetics book, Defending, Contending & Commending: Worldview Apologetics Made Easy and Biblical)
The Problem of Evil is said to be the biggest defeater raised against God, specifically the one true God, the God of the Bible. The “problem” has been stated in many different ways. The simplest formulation is: “If God’s so good why is there evil in the world?”. This dilemma is used by skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and others to try and disprove God by showing that it’s inconsistent to believe in him because there is evil and suffering in the world. It can come in an informal argument like the one above and it can be put into a formal equation as well.
1.If God is all-powerful
2. If God is all-good
3. If God is all knowing
4. And evil exists in the world
5. Conclusion: either God is not strong enough, He isn’t good enough, or He doesn’t know enough to put a stop to the evil that exists in the world.
There seems to be a logical contradiction in believing in the God of the Bible because of the existence of evil
we know evil exists, therefore God doesn’t exist.
Throughout the history of western philosophy and theology godly men, and not so godly men, have tried to solve this apparent problem of evil. There are a couple defenses I’ll highlight for us and I’ll explain why I don’t use them.
First up is the Deprivation Defense. This defense says that evil is merely the lack of good. Think about sleep deprivation, to be deprived of sleep means you are lacking the proper amount of sleep, so evil is a lack of good. This approach has some biblical warrant, we are told that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God in Romans 3:23. Augustine used this approach to explain where evil came from. God made everything good, as explained in Genesis. There was nothing inherently evil or wrong with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It wasn’t evil, God said everything was good. It was in the breaking of God’s command not to eat of the tree that was evil. This defense depends on degrees of goodness. Adam choose something less good (the apple) than the Ultimate Good (God and his command not to eat the fruit). In-so-doing, Adam’s choice introduced evil into the word. This defense has taken the responsibility of evil off of God, think of a baker and your standard donut. Would you blame the baker for the whole in the center of the donut? No way, he is responsible for the dough and frosting and sprinkles and all that but not the hole in the middle, the hole is the absence of donut.
Ok Park, If this Defense is so good, why don’t you use it? Well this defense can show how evil came into the world but it doesn’t tell us why it’s still here. Think back to the baker and the donut. If you complained to the baker and told him you don’t like donuts with a hole in the middle because that space could be filled with jelly or custard or more donut, he could make a new donut without a hole, could he not? I mean aren’t there cream filled donuts out there? There are even guava donuts and they are absolutely delicious, but I digress. The point is that if God is good and all powerful He should be able to fill in the donut, that is, He should be able to stop the suffering and evil that exists here in the world right now. This view doesn’t explain why God allowed Adam to eat if He knew he was going to. And it somewhat collapses into the Free-Will Defense. So what’s the Free-Will Defense?
The Free-Will Defense can be explained in the following formula:
1. God wants to make creatures who love Him
2. Love requires free choice
3. Free choice requires Free-will
4. Creatures with free-will can choose good and evil
So God granted Adam and Eve with a libertarian free-will and gave them a choice to obey His command not to eat of the fruit or disobey His command. We know what happened in Genesis 3… they chose wrong and that’s why there’s evil in the world. Why is it still in the world? Because human’s still have Libertarian free-will, we still need it if we are to love, hate, disobey, obey, and be held responsible for our choices, both good or evil.
At this point you might be saying, “yeah, that sounds pretty good, what could be wrong with this one?”. Well this defense would be a good one if it weren’t for the Bible. This idea of libertarian free-will stems from humanistic philosophy rather than a natural reading of the Bible. When we look at Scripture we see that we have a compatibilist-will, that is we have a will that is compatible with God’s sovereignty. It’s God who truly has free-will, He does all that He pleases, He is the potter and we are the clay. We have the ability to choose and God will most definitely hold us responsible for sin but God sets up kings and removes kings, He is the sovereign ruler of the universe, He leads and guides us and works all things for the good of those who love Him.
The Free-Will defense also assumes that free creatures need to have the opportunity to choose evil or else they aren’t free. This idea neglects the fact that in the new heavens and the new earth we will freely love God without the opportunity to ever sin again. We look forward to that day wholeheartedly, yet we forget about it when we use this defense. So it would seem that we can make free choices even without this libertarian free-will and the opportunity to be tested.
Also the assumption that love cannot be coerced is a questionable one as well. Throughout the whole Old Testament we see God punishing Israel for not loving and obeying him. In the desert He even opens up the ground to swallow up some of them for not loving Him as He deserved. He also rewards His people when they do obey Him, which isn’t as frequent. In the New Testament we see that God draws people to Himself and through the power of the Holy Spirit, He causes them to be reborn. God takes out hearts of stone and gives hearts of flesh. God punishes those who don’t love Him and He blesses those that do. He has to make people entirely new for them to love Him as they should… and He does, over and over.
The third reason I don’t hold to this defense is that it does in fact limit God’s power. Think back to the original argument. One of the attributes of God under attack was his power, or omnipotence. This defense surrenders on that point and says “yeah, God gave up much of His sovereignty and omnipotence in order to give us libertarian free-will”. This defense is not a very good one.
There are a few more defenses, but let’s get to the one I like best. Let’s call it the Biblical Defense. Remember our Two Step worldview Apologetic?
Step one, we do not answer the fool according to their folly or else we will be like them ourselves (Proverbs 26:4) . First we must ask some clarifying questions. Don’t take on their premises without reframing the question. If we were to jump right into our defense without defining evil from our own worldview we would be at a disadvantage. We don’t have the same definition of evil, it’s important to find out what theirs is. We offer an internal critique of their worldview by asking them for their definition of evil. You’ll find out quickly that without the Bible as your foundation it’s very hard, if not impossible, to come up with a solid standard for good and evil. Most people will end up saying that their standard is subjective. With no absolute standard of good and evil you can only give your opinion or preference. Here we see that the unbeliever has dissolved their own attack. They have no objective standard by which to judge something as good or evil and so their argument is left with no bite, it has no teeth.
Step two is where we answer the fool according to their folly so they aren’t wise in their own eyes (Proverbs 26:5). We don’t all have the same definition of evil. As Christians we honor Christ first and foremost. We are to be honest about our convictions and we need to stand on the Word of God as our foundation. We don’t let the unbeliever frame the conversation by telling us what we believe. We believe that all evil is a result of sin. All moral evil is ultimately a sin against the good God of the Bible who created all things and deserves perfect obedience. All natural evil, such as tornados, are a result of the curse God put on creation because of the sin of Adam and Eve. If evil is ultimately sin, then if God were to end all evil right now… None of us would be alive. We also know from the Bible that the “logical problem of evil” doesn’t include all of God’s attributes. God is good and all-powerful and all-knowing but that’s not the full story. God is just, He is holy, merciful, wise, patient. God is love and has wrath against things and people who bring evil against those whom He loves. We also know that God has a morally sufficient plan for all the evil that exists in creation, namely that plan is to lift up His Son, Jesus Christ and save all those who put their faith in him. We know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. We see that God used the worst evil in all of history, the death of His perfect Son on a Roman cross, to bring about the greatest good in all of history, the salvation of the world. If God can use the worst evil to bring about the greatest good, then of course He has a morally sufficient reason for the evil that’s in our lives.
For further reading:
Scott Christensen, What About Free Will?
John Frame, Systematic Theology, Apologetics, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology
Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready
Clifford McManis, Biblical Apologetics
William Edgar, Reasons of the Heart
Tim Keller, Reason for God