If you’ve ever wondered why God allows so many bad and painful things to happen on earth, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, this particular area of theology/philosophy has its own term: “theodicy” – from the Latin words for “God” and “justice” (the justification of God).
In my message on Sunday I addressed the practical side of how we should respond when faced with difficulty, but I promised to address the other side of the issue – how an all-powerful and loving God could allow suffering to exist (the problem of evil) – here on the blog. While the subject is certainly more complex than what I will write of here, I hope that this overview will be helpful to some of those who read it.
Time to put on your thinking cap.
Here are the three characteristics that are so difficult to reconcile:
a. God is completely powerful (omnipotent).
b. God is completely good and loving (benevolent).
c. Evil exists in the world.
You’d be surprised at the different ways that people have sought to bring resolution to this complexity. Many hold the view that these three characteristics cannot coexist and that at least one of them must be flawed. Some of the variations include:
• Atheism – God does not exist (a & b are not true).
• The view that evil exists, but God is not capable of rectifying the situation (a is not true).
• Process Theology – God is not omniscient (a is not true).
• Maltheism – God exists, but he sometimes does evil things (b is not true).
• The belief that suffering and pain don’t really exist (c is not true).
Others hold to the perspective that these tenants can be reconciled. Here are a few of the options:
• God is both good and evil because if He was missing one of these characteristics, He would be lacking and therefore not perfect. This is an interesting philosophy, but it is completely incompatible with the revealed God of Scripture who is holy and without sin.
• God is far beyond our understanding, and we cannot rightly judge His actions. While I think there is certainly an element of truth in this (Job 38), the problem I have with this view involves worship. Just because God is powerful doesn’t mean that we should worship Him. If God is capable of breaking the very rules He has set in our hearts (conscience) and written in His Law (Scripture), then He should not be worshipped. He should be feared, but He should not be praised.
• The afterlife will so far outweigh the present condition of this world that we should not be concerned about the present evil. Again, I believe there are elements of truth here (kind of sounds like 2 Cor 4:17-18), but it doesn’t really answer the problem. Just because I’m going to do something really nice for Keri (like buy her a new car, or something) doesn’t mean that we can dismiss that she’s having a terrible day today.
• Dualism – God is opposed by an evil equivalent, and the two are at battle with one another. The problem with this view is that although Scripture clearly demonstrates that God has an evil adversary (Satan), he is not His counterpart. While the Devil does have some power, he is not omnipotent or omniscient. He is not equally powerful with God.
While I could go on for a while still, I’d like to explain what I believe is the most Scriptural and helpful view on the subject of theodicy. It’s commonly referred to as the “freewill defense”. The argument goes something like this:
a. God is all-powerful, loving, and holy, and He chose to create a world that was free of sin, suffering, and pain.
b. God also chose to create humanity with the ability to love Him back and follow (obey) His ways.
c. Love requires the ability to choose. Without the freedom of choice, love is not truly love.
d. In order to make this choice truly a choice, there had to be another option other than following God and loving Him. The choice to disobey is called “sin.” God did not create sin, He only created the possibility for humanity to choose it (see point c).
e. Given the choice, humanity chose to disobey God.
f. The effects of sin on the world were immediate and catastrophic and ushered in the existence of pain and suffering.
g. Through the shed blood of Christ, people have the opportunity to be reconciled with God, and those who place their faith in Jesus will one day experience life with God, free of evil.
h. Therefore, God is all-powerful and completely holy even though pain and suffering exists in the world today.
I really hope that nobody who has studied philosophy to any extent reads this post, because I’m sure they’ll think I butchered the subject. However, I offer this in hope that it will be helpful to someone who is struggling to work through this subject in a manner that is consistent with Scripture.