Creation Care, NT Wright, Faith and Science, Art, Being Human, and More

February 10th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

The Problem of Evil

This question was posted on the Facebook group “Ask Pastor Joel” by Katie Robinson:

“… I’ve been kinda wrestling with a tough question we discussed at my school (Caldwell) while talking about philosophy and stuff. If God is the only Creator, and He is all good, how is there evil? We talked about how maybe it was a perversion and twist of good by Satan, but I guess I’ve just had a tough time trying to work this out in my mind.”

Here is my attempt to answer:

Dear Katie,

This is one of those questions that is really multi-faceted when you break it down, and very hard to answer because it reaches back into deep mysteries. I am going to try to answer this from the standpoint of basic principles of Biblical revelation. Please feel feel to follow up.

As Christians we affirm that God is not only good, He is Goodness in its essence. Over and over the Scripture affirms the very basic premise that God is good.

As Christians we also affirm that God is also all powerful and sovereign over all things. He has created and He sustains all things by the word of His power. Nothing exists outside His providential will.

It is clearly hard sometimes when we look around at the world to believe that God can be both these things. But Jesus and the Apostles and the Prophets all do affirm these basic truths about God.

Your question about evil has various facets. If we ask “How is it that there can be evil” we’re not just asking “How did evil come about?” but also “How can a good God have allowed such a thing?” and perhaps also “How did it happen?” And behind all these questions is the most difficult of all question, “Why, if God is good and all powerful and all knowing, did He create a world not only with the possibility of evil but with the knowledge that evil would enter into it?”

I believe that God created man and all things out of His love and goodness, that we his creatures would be able to delight in and share in His love and glory.

He created us that we would find our delight and joy in Him. The deep mystery is that for this actually to happen we had to enter into His joy freely, not programmed to do so but freely and willingly wanting to do so. This old C.S. Lewis argument that we had to have the capacity to say “no” for saying “yes” to have meaning still stands up well.

I can’t say I recommend it but the movie “The Stepford Wives” comes to mind. In that movie the men of this community had had their wives operated on so that they would be perfect in every way and do just as their men said. The point behind the silliness is that it is a violation of our basic humanity to be simply forced or programmed to do good.

I very strongly urge you to read the CS Lewis book Perelandra (also called Voyage to Venus) from his science fiction trilogy. It may help you “see” these things better than a hundred theology books

So Adam and Eve, created in the image of God, were given a boundary and allowed the capacity to violate it, which they did, and so death and suffering entered into the world.

Apparently the angels had also been given that capacity for Satan had already rebelled and was bent on causing human beings made in God’s image to rebel too.

It seems that for man in God’s image to enter fully into the blessing of sharing in God’s goodness and glory he had to be able to do that because he wanted to.

But why would God allow Satan into the garden, and why would he allow Adam and Eve to disobey and plunge the rest of the race into ruin? The first two chapters of Job may give us some insight into the first question. I suggest you read those chapters over a few times. But the fact that Satan is an unwitting tool or agent of God does not answer the second question.

Why? So as to fully reveal the grace and mercy and love of God only partly revealed in Creation? Perhaps. In order to raise many sons to glory, as it puts in in Hebrews 2:10? Yes, that too. In order to reveal the splendor of his justice as it says in Romans 9:22 and following? Yes, that too. In order that in due time he could reveal His Son the Lord Jesus in His great act of self giving love? Yes, that too. I think also that the “great mystery” that Paul touches on in Ephesians 5:32 is also part of the answer.

But in the end we cannot really answer the “why” question. Perhaps we are just not able to get our minds around it. Perhaps at the end of the day it is simply not proper to press the matter. As the Lord says to Job in Job 38:4, “Where were you when I lay the foundation of the earth?’ And as Paul writes in Romans 9:20, “But who are you O man to talk back to God?”

Some cynics and skeptics might say that God is on a power trip here. But I think it has something to do with what is right and proper. We are not to put God on trial. We are not His judge. It’s kind of like a young child demanding that his parents fully explain and justify to him every decision they they make. Not only may the answers be beyond the child’s capacity, but it is not the child’s place to demand such things.

As to the nature of evil, I think we should think of it as BOTH the absence of and perversion of good, but also as rebellion, the desire to have autonomy, to live as one pleases without accountability to God.

That’s a first stab!

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  • Rebecca
    9:04 pm on August 21st, 2011 1

    The existence of evil in the world is an effect of the fall of Adam and Eve and human races free will. Also, if there were no evil in the world, how would we know good? There had to opposition for us to know the joy of Jesus Christ. If there were no despair we wouldn’t know hope, if there were no anger we wouldn’t know happiness. In addition, if there one never sinned then they would never know the joy of repentance and forgiveness through Christ’s atonement. Like Joel said that comes back to an individual’s choice.


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