Just this morning, another shooting left a TSA agent possibly dead with seven wounded at LAX. With the sound of those shots fired still ringing in our ears, we are reminded once again of an all too obvious reality: there is evil in the world. This poses a problem for those who cannot reconcile that a good God exists when evil simultaneously occurs. This is nothing new. The so called “problem of evil” has been the philosophical poster child used to reject God for centuries. The attack isn’t on the God of the Bible, but on a mischaracterization of the God of the Bible.
Appealing to man-centered philosophical arguments result in doubts about God; therefore, it’s important to examine rhetoric in light of the Bible. Three points about the “problem of Evil.”
“God doesn’t exist; if He did, He’d prevent bad things from happening”
Among the earliest attempts to address the issue is by a third century historian, Lactantius who quoted Epicurus (341–270 B.C.):
God, he says, either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? or why does He not remove them?
Epicurus’ philosophy set the standard for subsequent generations to reject God. In 1955 J. L. Mackie from the University of Sydney demonstrated his faith in Epicurus’ musings, saying:
The problem is this: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false. But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions: the theologian, it seems, at once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three.
Sandra LaFave, Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate School asserts:
If God loves us, as Christians say, and he is just and fair and all-knowing and omnipotent, then why is human life often so full of suffering? The suffering of innocent people, e.g., children, seems especially cruel. The God of Christianity knows that innocent children suffer. He’s omnipotent, which means he could make the suffering go away. And he’s supposedly a loving God (a loving father, according to popular imagery); what kind of loving father would allow his child to starve to death or die from some horrible disease? Some people, like J. L. Mackie, view the problem of evil as the most powerful argument for atheism.
Without a biblical understanding of God and His Word it’s easy to understand how such wayward claims are made.
“Bad things” don’t necessarily befall a person because of the morally evil things he or she does, but rather because of the ultimate moral evil; his or her rejection of God (Jn. 3:19-20).
This idea isn’t shared by John Hick who recognizes that “moral evil is evil that we human beings originate: cruel, unjust, vicious, and perverse thoughts and deeds.” Hick’s definition of evil should incorporate God’s justice (Ps. 5:4-6 and Jer. 7:22).
There is judgment for those who reject God’s offer of salvation. God often chastises the disobedient during life (Jn. 3:18; 5:27) and for the rest of eternity (Rev. 20:10-15). Christians aren’t excused from the effects of evil during their lifetime, millions have been persecuted and murdered throughout the ages simply for living “godly in Christ Jesus” (2Tim. 3:12).
Those believing that the presence of “evil” is sufficient grounds to reject God also require their philosophical perception of “god” to prevent others from being “mean.” But when God presents capital punishment they are left believing God is nonexistent.
Hasker notes, “What can we legitimately conclude about what a good and loving God should do about instances of terrible evil? Shouldn’t God be doing more—a great deal more, in fact than is actually being done?”
A better question: “What is concluded about what God has done about instances of evil?”
God lovingly warned Adam about the consequences of sin (Gen. 2:17). After rejecting His decree, Adam and Eve never had the same relationship with Him but they didn’t see God’s judgments as unloving; neither did they conclude that God no longer exists.
God gives people freedom to receive Him or reject Him. Rejecters freely deny His offer which has been extended to all people (Jn. 3:16, 36).
Out of His sovereignty, God allows man to commit wicked deeds, yet through His holiness He excuses Himself from culpability from man’s disobedience; therefore, God has morally sufficient grounds for the existence of evil.
When catastrophic events occur, God sometimes identifies Himself as the originator, yet because of man’s disobedience God is not held responsible for man’s premeditated sin (Acts 2:22-23).
Peter implicates those responsible for killing their Messiah (Acts 2:36). Their evil actions, Peter declared, came by way of God’s sovereignty in that Jesus was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.”
Wayne Grudem, commenting on Acts 2:23, says that Peter makes clear that “In one sentence he links God’s plan and foreknowledge with the moral blame that attaches to the actions of ‘lawless men.’ They were not forced by God to act against their wills; rather, God brought about his plan through their willing choices, for which they were nevertheless responsible.”
God declares his role in creation, “well-being” and “calamity” all in one brief verse. “The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these” (Isa. 45:7). Roland McCune notes that “The Hebrew word for “calamity” “refers to physical evil which is entirely different from moral evil.”
Though Scripture teaches that God creates calamity, He doesn’t do so without warning. Out of God’s love, he carefully details how he will bless His people for their obedience and for the actions He will take against man’s wanton disregard for His love (Deut. 6:5, 12; Deut. 27–28).
It didn’t take long for God’s people to turn their backs on Him and for the curses God promised to repeatedly fall on them (2 Kings 17; Jer. 8:5, 9-10). Perhaps if only Israel would have come up with Epicurus’ philosophical syllogism they could have excused themselves from God’s covenant by concluding that He couldn’t possibly exist.
The cycle of rebellion and judgment continues. Israel rejects God’s call for obedience and God lovingly sends His messengers to encourage repentance. As their rebellion continues God’s grace endures, as their revolt escalates, God warns.
Isaiah 10 describes God’s judgment against Israel at the hands of their Assyrian enemies. God selected this enemy to carry out His judgment on Israel but then states how He will judge Assyria for their atrocities (Isa. 10:25). Bruce Ware sheds light on Isaiah 10 and the seeming gulf between human freedom and God’s sovereignty:
What is true in Isaiah 10 is true throughout Scripture. Over and over again we are faced with situations in which God ordains what human persons carry out freely. But libertarian freedom simply is incompatible with such divine ordination of human free choices, and therefore it fails as an explanatory model for accounting for the kind of freedom we possess.
The free-will defense seeks to “get God off the hook” for atheistic accusations that God can’t be God because He wouldn’t judge the Assyrians for evil He foreordained. John Finberg notes:
Again in Chapter 14 Isaiah records the Lord’s warning of judgment to Assyria; God has planned it, and no one can stop it. As the Lord says (v 27), “The LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” Some may claim that this only refers to the incident of punishing Assyria, but we must realize that this instance is an example of the more general principle we saw in Ps 135:5–6; Job 42:2; and Prov 19:21. Whatever God wants to do, he will do, and no one will successfully stand in his way.
Paul is clear about the sovereignty of God in Romans 9:20-23. Regarding this passage MacArthur states:
The Greek verb rendered prepared is passive. God is not the subject doing the preparing. There is the very clear sense in this use of the passive voice to relieve God of the responsibility and to put it fully on the shoulders of those who refuse to heed His Word and believe in His Son. They are prepared by their own rejection for a place (hell) prepared by God, not originally for them but “for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).
So now what?
“The problem of evil” is not a problem for God. Simply because evil occurs doesn’t negate the existence of God. Man doesn’t have the option to define love as the opposite of evil so that his conclusion may be that God doesn’t exist. Out of His sovereignty, God allows man to commit wicked deeds, yet through His holiness He excuses Himself from culpability from man’s disobedience; therefore, God has morally sufficient grounds for the existence of evil.
There is evil in the world and God repeatedly calls for repentance of sin based on belief in His Son (Jn. 8:24). A humble reaction to God shouldn’t question His sovereignty, but a prayer for mercy and forgiveness followed by thankfulness for eternal life in Christ Jesus (Jn. 20:31).