By: Justin Wishart
Many people consider the Problem of Evil to be the greatest challenge to Christianity. A summary of the argument can be as follows: If the God of the Bible is true, then there would be no evil in this world. There is evil in this world. Therefore, the God of the Bible is not true. The reasoning is this; if God is all-powerful, then He would be able to end evil; if God is all-knowing, He would know of evil and how to defeat it; and if God is all-loving, He would want to end evil. These are all aspects that the Bible says are true about God.
It’s such a common argument that scores of books have been written on this subject. In fact, countless people have abandoned, or refused to accept, the faith for this reason.
The purpose of this article is not to provide an answer to this argument but to discuss one way some people have answered this problem: that God isn’t all-powerful, all-knowing or all-loving. I will attempt to show people who place limits on God’s power, knowledge, or love (or some combination) do not actually solve the Problem of Evil.
The first and most important point is that this view contradicts the Scriptural witness of the nature of God. A Christian can never hold this view because to hold this view is to say the Bible is wrong about the nature of God. And if the Bible is wrong about something as critical as God’s nature, how can we trust anything it says? How can we trust what the Bible says about salvation or morals? To say that the Word of God is wrong is to say that the Bible is not the Word of God. But, even outside this consideration, there are other reasons as to why these solutions don’t answer the Problem of Evil anyways.
GOD IS NOT ALL-POWERFUL
Doesn’t it make sense that if God is not all-powerful, and He simply cannot overcome evil, this would not make God responsible for evil? Think about it, this encourages social justice as God then made man to ‘tip the scales’ to the side of good. This also makes God someone we can sympathize with; He really wants to rid the universe of evil, but simply cannot. However, this hardly gets God off the hook.
Why would God create this universe when He knew He couldn’t control evil? Even if He didn’t know this would happen, it seems far-fetched to think that He wouldn’t at least suspect this would be so. And if He even had an idea that an evil He cannot control would enter into this world, it seems very unloving to gamble with people’s lives like this. Holding this view make God either not all-knowing, all-loving, or both. This creates a more limited God then what was first thought.
GOD IS NOT ALL-KNOWING
What if God cannot know the future where free-will agents are in play? If God created man with free-will, God cannot know the future and as such is not responsible for evil. The argument can be summarized as follows: The future can be foreseen only where there is a necessary order of causes and effects. But, a necessary order of causes and effects is contrary to human free choice. Hence, in a world of free creatures it is impossible to foresee evil. (Norman Geisler, The Roots of Evil, pg. 30) Even if this argument was good, it still would not solve the Problem of Evil. Even assuming this argument, it seems far-fetched to think that God could not see at least the possibility of evil entering into this world through free-will agents. This seems plain enough and again, for God to make such a gamble is unloving. Worse, if God was all-powerful, even if He was not all-knowing, why didn’t He destroy evil with His power when it first appeared on the scene? If God is not all-knowing, it would also seem to make Him also not all-powerful, not all-loving, or both. Again, we end up with a more finite God then we first anticipated.
GOD IS NOT ALL-LOVING
This is a philosophical option that has not had much traction. Not very many actually hold to this view. However, could it not be that God is all-powerful and all-knowing but delights in our suffering or doesn’t really care about it all? This is not an answer, but simply a denial of the Problem of Evil. The reason is how then would we know what evil actually is? One can say something is evil and someone else can say the same thing is good. If evil cannot be effectively defined, there can hardly be anything understandable as evil. A God who is not fully loving,is not that different from the Atheist position anyways; it simply cannot account for good and evil. This can also lead to some seeming contradictions. It seems contradictory for God to create beings that deeply care and love if He does not do so also, unless He was sadistic. If God was sadistic, God would be both creating and destroying our world at the same time. He would create and savagely oppose His creation seemingly all at once. Unless He created this world in order that he can savagely opposes it, which is simply a completely evil God. This obviously simply amplifies the Problem of Evil. Plus, it is doubtful that this view can lead to any meaningful religious experience that one would want to pursue, which would explain its very limited acceptance.
If we were to use these arguments, we would be conceding that the answer to the Problem of Evil would be that God is the problem. It turns out that limiting God does not actually answer the Problem of Evil. It seems that the problem still persists regardless. It appears that if we are serious in answering this alleged problem we must affirm how God is presented in Scripture, or deny His reality. There seems to be no point in finding some compromise position on this subject. We will not come out any further ahead if we do.
NOTE: This article and arguments presented were inspired by Norman Geisler’s book ‘The Roots of Evil’, 1978, Zondervan