Last week we laid some groundwork for discussing the Problem of Evil with someone who is using it as an argument against the existence of God. Uncovering the hidden presuppositions is helpful in both diffusing the power of the argument, and in turning it back on the Atheistic worldview as well, but it doesn’t do the full job of answering why evil exists within the Christian worldview.
The way I’m going to tackle this is going to be partially based on the notion of Free Will and the Ontological Argument that I discussed in previous posts. There have been a number of ways of answering the Problem of Evil, and I’m going to start building my argument by looking at the character of God, and the shape of creation.
If we had to list some of the attributes of God, what would we list? The things that come to mind right away for me are: all-powerful, loving, all-knowing, sovereign, holy, unchanging, infinite, eternal, and free. You may not have thought of that last one, but it’s particularly useful when dealing with the problem of evil. Famously, Alvin Plantinga has answered the problem of evil with his Free Will Defense, which basically says that God created the best possible world, given that we have to have free will (in the libertarian sense) so we don’t become robots, and the evil that exists is due to our freedom. However, do you see what this does to God? It doesn’t really let Him off the hook, so much as it merely limits Him. The God that exists cannot be constrained by anything, lest He cease to be God. This includes our freedom.
That said, God is constrained by His own character. For example, God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and He also cannot do things which are logically contradictory, since the laws of logic find their grounding in His being. So the answer to the age-old question of “can God create a rock so big He cannot lift it?” would be no, because He cannot create the logically contradictory, since it would be contrary to His own nature. This may seem like a problem (or perhaps just boring), but actually it’s a good thing, because it means that we can trust what God has said about Himself, and that He will never change!
If God has created us with a compatibilist notion of freedom, as I have argued before that He has done, this means that He sometimes allows us to follow our sin. However, we also know that God does restrain evil, as John Piper discusses here. So what do we have, so far?
- God is completely free to create as He sees fit.
- God is only constrained by His own character.
- We have been created with compatibilist freedom.
- We are allowed to freely follow our sin, while still being restrained by God from being as bad as we can be.
Now we come to the part about the Ontological Argument that I mentioned earlier. If you recall, that argument talks about God being the greatest possible being in existence. The reason I bring this up is because if it is true that all perfection exist in God, then it would be more beneficial for us to see as many of God’s attributes as possible, given that we are His image bearers. This being the case, God must be able to show His holiness, wrath, and justice as well as His love, mercy, and steadfastness. However, in order to show these things, there need to be reasons to do so and applications thereof. Imagine trying to show the justice of a court without a crime being committed and a criminal to punish! That analogy breaks down at the point where we realize that human courts are not perfect. We know that God doesn’t force people to do evil things, purely in order to show His justice. People love their sin (John 3:19) , and God allows some people to remain in their sin. This is a hard truth, but that is what the Bible describes.
On a related note, we are supposed to be imitators of God, and there are specific instructions which would be very difficult if we didn’t have God displaying specific attributes. For example, in Ephesians 4:26, we are told to be angry, but not to sin. This is a command which is difficult, but it would be entirely impossible and downright nonsensical if we did not have the supreme example of God Himself to follow. We know that God hates sin (Prov. 6:16-19), yet does not sin in His righteous anger (James 1:13). This is a partial explanation of God allows sin and evil to exist in the world, even if we may not understand the full picture in the moment of our trials.
This type of argument is commonly called a Theodicy (not to be confused with a Theocracy), and it is often asked that if this is true, and God is Sovereign over everything that happens, doesn’t that make Him at least the author of evil? The short answer is no. The examples given when we discussed free will of the compatibilism presented within Scripture show that God can use the evil intentions of people to bring about His will, but this does not mean that they are not responsible for their evil actions, nor does it diminish the legitimacy of secondary causes, for they are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20. John MacArthur discusses this a bit more in a short article here.
In summary, building a Theodicy argument against the Problem of Evil needs to include these facts:
- The argument presupposes a standard of objective morality that is only possible if the triune God of Christianity exists.
- The complex, deep nature of love within Christianity needs to be the standard by which the argument is judged. Including Pro. 3:12.
- God is absolutely free.
- God is only constrained by His character, which means He cannot lie or do logically contradictory things.
- We have been created with compatibilist freedom, allowing us to freely sin, even while God sovereignly brings about sinful actions for good.
- God restrains our evil, preventing us from being as bad as we can be.
- If God possesses all perfections, then it is more beneficial that we are able to see all His attributes, including holiness, justice, and wrath.
- In order to exhibit these attributes, there must be situations that would justify them.
- All men suppress the knowledge of God, and are without excuse in their sinful actions, making them culpable for their evil actions as secondary causes.
- God is not, and indeed cannot, be the author of evil.
This may well deal with the logical problem of evil in the form of an argument, but it may not be helpful for someone who is dealing with an extremely painful situation in the moment. Next week we’ll conclude this series with showing how the truth of Christianity is not only logically powerful and consistent, but is also emotionally helpful and satisfying in life’s most trying situations.