The Problem of Evil



It has been said by many an atheist that because evil exists there can be no God. This is known as the "Problem of Evil". On the other hand, I believe most people would agree, atheists included, that good is the opposite of evil. If evil proves that God does not exist, then by the same token, the existence of good must prove that God does exist. If hate disproves God, then love proves Him; if violence disproves God, then compassion proves Him; if revenge disproves God, then forgiveness proves Him. There must be an explanation, therefore, of God's co-existence with evil or non-existence in spite of good.

There is perhaps, the possibility that God is a combination of both good and evil (dualism). The atheist's argument does not hold true if God is evil. I would argue, however, that God is the ultimate cause of good and evil, and God is good. While evil is not the doing of God, it is ultimately caused by Him. This is because He is omnipotent, the Supreme Being. Nothing takes place without His knowledge or permission; if it did, then He would not be omnipotent-He would not be God. In the words of the famous apologist, C.S. Lewis,
...Christianity asserts that God is good; that He made all things good and for the sake of their goodness; that one of the good things He made, namely, the free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil; and that creatures, availing themselves of this possibility, have become evil.1


He explained the apparent irony in this way:
Is this state of affairs in accordance with God's will or not? If it is, He's a strange God, you'll say: and if it isn't, how can anything happen contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?

But anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another. It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, 'I'm not going to go and make you tidy the schoolroom every night. You've got to learn to keep it tidy on your own.' Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy Bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate. That's against her will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trades union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people don't do it. That isn't what you willed, but your will has made it possible.2
Nevertheless, we must remember that God did not create evil. But God created everything, right? Yes, but evil is not a thing. Evil is real, but it is not a real thing. For example, you might have a weak leg, but it is not the leg itself that is evil, but the weakness. The weakness (evil) is not a thing, but a condition. Thus, God did not create evil; He allows it. Lewis explains that "evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things - resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself."3

So our problem is this: Why does a good and all powerful God allow evil? First, we must realize that even an omnipotent Being cannot do the impossible. C.S. Lewis once noted that making God the subject of an irrational statement does not make it true. Indeed, God cannot create a square triangle, "undo the past," or make a stone bigger than He can lift. This is the reason why God cannot immediately eliminate evil. For at the same time, He would make it impossible to accomplish other goals which are important to Him.

If God were to suddenly wipe out all traces of evil, free will would be lost, and we would become animals. As animals, we would have the capacity to like God, and to react to Him, but we would not have the capacity to truly love Him. This would defeat the purpose for which man was created. The atheist fails to consider that God may be dealing with evil progressively. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then God is doing as the atheist insists, but He is doing it over a period of time. In the end, God will do away with all evil.

Does free will necessarily involve God letting us do as we please, even if it is contrary to His will? In all practicality, it does. C.S. Lewis explains:
We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.4
In God's original creation, all was good. Everything God created was perfect. Yet God gave man a choice to do evil. If He had not, then we would all be like animals or robots doing our duties, unable to will ourselves to do otherwise. We would be forced to love and obey God, so this love would not be genuine. Yes, the world would be good, without evil, but we would have no free will. When the first man walked with God, all was good. But when he chose to disobey God, he was exercising his free will to disobey God. This was the introduction of evil into God's perfect creation. God had given the first man everything he needed. God's test for this man was to pick a tree of which the fruit would be off limits to the man. This was one tree out of thousands. Why would the man choose to eat of this one tree? God did everything to ensure that man would choose to obey, yet man chose not to obey.

With this first sin, the world saw the introduction of two kinds of evil into the world: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil results from the actions of free willed creatures. Examples of moral evil would be murder, assault, or theft. Natural evil results from natural processes like tornadoes or earthquakes. Sometimes the two are combined, like when flooding results in loss of life due human negligence (underestimating the danger or poor construction of bridges, etc.). Natural processes in themselves, of course, are good things. We could not live without gravity, but gravity becomes an enemy when one falls. Before sin entered the world, gravity apparently would not have had the same effect. So, yes, God is capable of destroying evil all at once, but not without destroying human freedom, or a world in which free willed creatures can function.

Perhaps the resulting consequences were justified in the case of Adam, but why did God let the effects of sin continue, thus affecting every human after Adam? Once again, I offer a quote from C.S. Lewis:
It would, no doubt, have been possible for God to remove by miracle the results of the first sin committed by a human being; but this would not have been much good unless He was prepared to remove the results of the second sin, and of the third, and so on forever. If the miracles ceased, then sooner or later we might have reached our present lamentable situation: if they did not, then a world, thus continually underpropped by Divine interference, would have been a world in which nothing important ever depended on human choice, and in which choice itself would soon cease...5
Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli insightfully point out that:
Our souls or psyches or personalities are our form and our bodies are our matter, much as in a poem the meaning is in the form and the sounds or syllables are the matter. Once we grant this principle, it makes sense that if the soul becomes alienated from God by sin, the body will become alienated, too, and experience pain and death as sin's inevitable consequences. These are not external arbitrary punishments added on. Spiritual death (sin) and physical death go together because our spirits (souls, consciousness) and bodies go together...6
So we see that evil was brought about by humans, not by God. Once again, I turn to Kreeft and Tacelli for their insightful resolution. They say that there are six problems: the nature, origin, and end of moral (spiritual) evil and natural (physical) evil.
1. The nature of moral evil is sin, separating ourselves from God.
2. The origin of moral evil is human free will.
3. The end for which God allows moral evil is to preserve human free will, that is, human nature.
4. The nature of natural evil is suffering.
5. The origin of natural evil is moral evil. We suffer because we sin.
6. The end or use of natural evil is spiritual discipline and training for our own ultimate perfection and joy. (It also is just punishment for sin and a deterrence from sin).7
Furthermore, since the origin of suffering is sin, there is no such thing as the "innocent" suffering. Henry Morris and Martin Clark address this issue:
As far as babies are concerned, and others who may be incompetent mentally to distinguish right and wrong, it is clear from both Scripture and universal experience that they are sinners by nature and thus will inevitably become sinners by choice as soon as they are able to do so.8(emphasis mine)
We are the cause of our own suffering, but there is hope in the midst of all this evil. If you are interested in finding out about it, please read The Five Facts of Life by Bob Burch. In this article, you will discover the wonderful hope that a Christian has. This hope is based on the fact that Jesus Christ, God's own Son, died as a human as a sacrifice for our sin, thus reconciling our souls to God. God raised Jesus from the dead, and now we, too, can have victory over death. In heaven, our mind, body, and soul will be restored to fellowship with God, and there will be "no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." (Revelation 21:4)




References


1. Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain (New York: Touchstone, 1996 ed.), p.61
2. Lewis, C.S., The Case for Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996 ed.), p. 41
3. ibid., p. 51
4. Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain (New York: Touchstone, 1996 ed.), p.30
5. Ibid., p.63
6. Kreeft, Peter and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press), p. 134
7. ibid., p. 142
8. Morris, Henry and Martin Clark, Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?