Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, October 17, 2011 10 comments

This is the “fancy theological word” for perhaps the most perplexing concept, both for Christians and non-Christians alike - why is there evil in the world, if God is so loving? If God is good and He created the world, how can we reconcile the presence of evil and suffering in the world? That is definitely a paradox!

Many theologians (people who study God for a living) have studied and wrestled with this very question. Irenaeus, who lived in the 2nd century A.D., said that the reason for evil in the world is that humans have free will. Free will means that God does not control us as humans; we can make our own choices, whether for good or bad. Suffering is the result of human actions, not God’s actions. Irenaeus believed that God could stop evil, but He doesn’t because that would take away our free will.

Alvin Plantinga is a modern-day 20th century theologian who has also wrestled with theodicy. Plantinga asserts that free will is important, because if we were forced to do good, God could not be gracious to us. The freedom to choose goodness (or evil) allows us to experience the wonder and love of grace and forgiveness. If everything in the world was forced to be good, we could not truly experience God’s grace.

Think of it this way. Imagine that you were given every luxury you could imagine, from a gorgeous house to the nicest sports car to the latest electronic device to a million dollars in your bank account, and then someone gave you a $20 bill. How special would that $20 bill be? If I had a million dollars, another $20 wouldn’t be very special to me. But, if you lived in a cardboard box in a back alley and were struggling each day just to survive on meager food and someone gave you a $20 bill, how special would that be? It’s definitely a matter of perspective.

Similarly, if the world was perfect and we were all forced to do good all of the time, how special would it be that we are forgiven and loved by God? Not at all, because there would be no need for forgiveness! Things like a random act of kindness from a stranger would have no meaning because it would be the way everyone is. But, because we do live with evil in the world, it is like receiving a $20 bill when you are struggling to live - that’s how God’s grace is to us in this evil world, though of course God’s grace is a much bigger gift than a $20 bill!

Evil is in the world because God has given humans the great gift of free will. We can choose how we live our lives, and because of that one choice we can make is to accept God’s gift of grace, which is so much more special to us because of the evil world we live in.


Robert said...


It should first be noted that your explanation doesn't deal with natural evil, i.e., natural disasters, diseases, etc. When the tsunami hit Japan last year, whose free will would have been violated if God supernaturally stopped the waters?

Also, it should be noted that the free will defense doesn't apply to the Christian god. Christians have always maintained that their god intervenes in the world, either to alleviate evil (e.g., the Exodus), or to utilize for some purpose (e.g., the Flood). Bible scripture makes this explicitly clear:

"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7 KJV)

Finally, the Christian doctrine of eternal torture is force, or, more accurately, coercion - "the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force." No threat or intimidation devised by humans compares to the threat of eternal torture.

JD70 said...

Here is a past blog post in regard to your tsunami question. I understand that you will probably disagree but thought I would share it.

"Stop Blaming God [About the Earthquake and Tsunami]"

JD70 said...

Sorry about that.

Robert said...

Thanks JD70. I read the blog post. Unfortunately, I didn't think it coherent. Also, it didn't acknowledge or explain verses like Isaiah 45:7.

So no response to my post above?

JD70 said...

Our foundations for our belief is different regarding the beginning of the universe. I believe that when everything was created it was perfect. This would include no natural disasters, diseases etc. These things, including thorns and thistles entered the creation as a result of our human's sin against God. God did not cause this. It was what happened to creation after we sinned. All of creation fell. It is a consequence to us living out our God given free-will. Yes, we have free-will. You can deny it all you want but we do have it.

We also see God very differently and that is your choice and mine too. I do not fear the God of the Bible. I do respect Him greatly but I no longer fear Him because I don't need to anymore.

Regarding eternal torture, God is God and we are not. I didn't create out of nothing and neither did you. He is the owner and He can set the rules and guidelines. In fact you are thrilled that He did this you just won't admit it.

~breathe air
~type on a computer
~Eat food and can get rid of the waste you don't need
~can think for yourself

Again you and I have different foundations we start from. The difference is I have a relationship with the God of the universe. I know Him and He knows me. It's personal. If you want to not acknowledge this Being, that is your choice. You may ask, "Then have Him speak to me " or "have Him speak to the world or show Himself." To that I would say, You can do that yourself. I don't need to do that because I already know Him and Know He is real. This is no disrespect or one upping. I don't need Him to do that for me.

As for Isaiah 45 I will get back with you on it. In my humble opinion though the KJV is not really reliable because it was not translated from Greek or Hebrew but Latin so that will be part of my answer just so you are aware. So I will be seeing what the original Hebrew had to say on this matter.

Robert said...

Hi JD70. Yes, we do have different beliefs However, I've yet to see a response to what I see as flaws in the post on theodicy, namely:

1) It doesn't deal with natural evil.

2) The Free Will Defense doesn't apply to the Christian's god.

3) The threat of eternal torture is coercive.

With respect to Isaiah 45:7 KJV, I used the KJV because it does indeed have a more accurate rendering of the original Hebrew, as your research will undoubtedly show.

Katie said...

Robert, I recently translated the original Hebrew of Isaiah 45:1-10 and did some research into it, particularly verse 7. Yes, the words of verse 7 do say, essentially, that God created evil. But, all Bible passages must be interpreted in their context - just as with any other written work (books, newspaper articles, etc). A sentence from a novel may mean something totally different in the context of that narrative than if you pulled it out on its own.

The context of this verse (and the greater context of most of the Old Testament for that matter) is God reminding the people of Israel about how things work - if they obey Him, they will be blessed; if they disobey Him, they will be punished. Isaiah 45:9-10 reminds them of the "disobedience" part of that.

The Hebrew word translated as "evil" here has many other meanings, including adversity, affliction, calamity, distress, or misery - not necessarily moral evil. This is a pretty common phenomenon with Biblical Hebrew words, that they have multiple meanings, some of which do not fit every occurrence of that word.

When you put the word's multiple meanings together with the context of this passage, you get a better picture of the meaning of Isaiah 45:7, and the passage as a whole. Because verse 7 does not specify who is receiving this evil that God apparently created, we find that answer in the verses around it. We see in verse 9, “Woe to the one who quarrels with the one who formed him.” This is the person who God is bringing the “adversity, affliction, calamity, distress, or misery” on. God punishes those who disobey and those who are hard-hearted in rebellion against Him. This is the rule that God has set forth for the world; because He is God and holds all power and authority, He can do that. He loves us enough to give us the free will to obey him or not, when we know full well what the consequences are for either choice.

JD70 said...

You keep bringing up "natural evil". If you are referring to tornado's, hurricane's, even thorn's and thistle's then as I said before we have a very different foundation.

You believe since the beginning of time nothing has changed. You believe death has been here since the beginning of time. I do not believe that. You cannot prove your position just as I cannot prove my position.

Why? Because the beginning of time is not observable which is needed to "prove" a scientific theory. Or am I missing something?

As for free-will, it does apply to the God of the Bible. Just because you don't like the consequence given does not take away anyone's free-will. You and I are free to do what ever we please. For instance if you wanted to walk off of the top of the Sears tower in Chicago I would warn you not to do that. I would do everything I could to stop you but in the end if you walk off of the top of the Sears tower you will face a very grave consequence. Gravity just doesn't stop working. It's just like the consequence to sin nature. No difference.

Robert said...

Katie, I think it's very clear from the preceding verses that "God" is relating generalizations about himself. Here are verses 5 and 6 (among other verses, such as 8 and 12):

"I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else."

Verse 7 continues with the generalizations.

Your claim that the "evil" in the verse is only directed to the disobedient does not make sense in light of the other action claimed of God in the very same verse: making peace. God makes peace for the disobedient too?

I have also done research on this verse and found no support for your apologetic among other Christians.

Robert said...

JD07, when I raise the point that natural evil hasn't been addressed, I'm not speaking of how it supposedly came about, but why God apparently doesn't ameliorate it.

Katie's justification for why God doesn't stop evil is the preservation of human free will.

"Suffering is the result of human actions, not God’s actions. Irenaeus believed that God could stop evil, but He doesn’t because that would take away our free will."

But not all suffering is the result of free human actions. Not only does Isaiah 45:7 make this clear (even under Katie's apologetic), but simple causality too. When a child dies from, say, a genetic defect, how did that child's actions cause the defect? There is no link.

You said that natural evil "entered the creation as a result of our human's sin against God." I'm not sure the basis of this claim, but it's certainly not biblical. According to the Bible, it was the actions of two people - Adam and Eve - that "cursed" creation (Genesis 3); the rest of us are just allegedly living with the consequences. That we are made to suffer so for someone else's mistakes is outrageous on its face, which is probably why Christians try to obscure it by laying the blame on all humanity. But that contradicts their scripture.

The other point I raised, that even if one accepts yours and Katie's apologetics, is they contradict other Christian beliefs, such as the interventions in human lives God makes as a result of supplicatory prayer. God apparently has no problem violating free will in curing grandma's back pain, but ask him why he doesn't save a child from death by starvation and the answer is because that would violate her free will.

In sum, Christian beliefs are simply not coherent. Perhaps there is a god out there somewhere, but it's nearly for certain that it's not the Christian's god.