This article is a portion of Chapter II of my upcoming book, When God Turns Things Around. The Problem of Evil is one of the most cited reasons for rejecting God’s existence. This chapter of my book gives concise but definitive answers to the different forms of the Problem of Evil.
The Emotional Problem of Evil
If the Christian God is real, why is there evil and suffering in the world? This is a question that has been asked many times, and there have been various answers that have been given by philosophers and theologians. There are a few ways to answer this question, and the appropriate answer depends on the meaning of the question. After all, not everyone has the same view of evil. Perhaps a more easy way to phrase the question is, “If God is real, why is there pain and suffering?”
We will deal with the question logically. The question at hand assumes that evil, pain, and suffering are somehow at odds with Christianity. This is an assumption that I emphatically reject. If the objector is trying to critique Christianity, the belief system of Christianity must be granted in order for the criticism at hand to be applicable to Christianity. The same goes for someone who is just asking a question such as, “If God exists, why must I suffer?”
Clearly, the Bible teaches that there is a God, and there is such thing as evil, pain, and suffering. This is the result of the fall of man (Genesis 3:14-19). Once this answer is given, the following question is commonly asked, “If God knew about the fall and allowed it to happen, is God the author of evil?” The interesting thing about this question is that there is an assumption that the cause of an effect determines who is responsible for the effect, but this is not how the Bible treats responsibility. In the Bible, responsibility is based on accountability to a higher authority (1 Samuel 2:3). If the question at hand conditionally assumes that Christianity is true, are we not obliged to grant what the Bible says concerning the concepts contained in the questions that are asked about Christianity? After all, any objection or question that takes aim at Christianity only will misrepresent Christianity if we discount what scripture says about the issues at hand.
Another might ask, “If God is all powerful and all knowing, how could anyone resist his will? How could God hold me responsible if I cannot frustrate his will?” The Apostle Paul answers this question in Romans 9, “ But who in the world are you, O man, who talks back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Does the potter have no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honor and another for common use? Now what if God, willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath designed for destruction? And what if He did so to make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory?” The Apostle Paul is pointing out that as the creation, we have no standing that allows us to question the one who made us. God made us, and he is in charge of his creation. Indeed, even Hebrews 6:13 reads, “Now when God made His promise to Abraham—since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.”
God’s Purpose for Evil
As for evil, God endures it with much patience. But why does he endure it? The Bible makes this clear in numerous places. For instance, in Genesis 37, Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, is thrown into a well. Joseph is then sold into servitude and is falsely accused of adultery and is sent to prison in Genesis 39. In Genesis 40, God helps Joseph help other people by interpreting their dreams. A couple of years later, the Pharaoh begins having dreams and none of his servants can interpret it. Hearing about Joseph’s success in interpreting dreams, he sends for Joseph (Genesis 41). The Pharaoh knew that Joseph’s interpretation was from God and therefore correct so he placed Joseph above all the land. Joseph was now the Pharaoh’s second in command over Egypt.
At some point, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, and they unknowingly crossed paths with Joseph. Joseph kept his identity hidden for a time, but he revealed who he was to his brothers in Genesis 45. Joseph even told his brothers that despite their actions, God was the one who actually sent him to Egypt (Genesis 45:5-8). Why did Joseph have to suffer for so long? It wasn’t because of an indifferent or powerless God; God had a purpose for Joseph’s trials and suffering. Even the evil deeds of Joseph’s brothers could not frustrate God’s will. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said to his brothers, “Yes, you yourselves planned evil against me. God planned it for good, in order to bring about what it is this day—to preserve the lives of many people.”
There is no such thing as gratuitous suffering. God has a purpose even for evil and suffering. Indeed, Romans 8:28 reads, “Now we know that ALL things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” Even all pain and suffering has a purpose, and that purpose is determined by God. If you are going through a difficult time, rest assured that your suffering is not pointless, and God has his reasons for leading you to your trial.
The Logical Problem of Evil
There is another version of the Problem of Evil that has not yet been covered. We have largely dealt with the Emotional Problem of Evil. The Logical Problem of Evil attempts to show that God does not exist because of evil and suffering. There are multiple variations of the argument, but all of them have the same implications. Here is an example:
1. There shouldn’t be gratuitous evil in the world if an all powerful and all good God exists.
2. There is gratuitous evil in the world.
3. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.
It is worth noting that even most atheist philosophers have given up on this argument because there are too many issues with it. The first issue is that they take too much liberty with the property of goodness. God’s goodness in the Bible does not preclude the notion of evil, for God has made us agents who have a will that is distinct from his own. 1 Therefore, it was God’s will that the decisions we make, whether they are good or bad, would impact the world. While our own intentions are not always good, God’s intentions always are. This is what demonstrates God’s goodness.
Given what has been discussed earlier in this article, there is no such thing as gratuitous pain and suffering. Therefore, given what the Bible says, the syllogism that is used for this argument is not applicable to Christianity. While Christian philosophers have offered solutions to this problem (most atheist philosophers have conceded the issue, but most of the solutions that Christian philosophers give are more rhetorical than Biblical), I will submit my own solution; my solution is based on what the Bible says about evil, pain, and suffering. If we were to take what the Bible says concerning evil into account, we can refute this argument with the following syllogism:
1. If the Bible is true, there is evil in the world.
2. The Bible is true.
3. Therefore, there is evil in the world.
4. If there is evil in the world, God has a purpose for evil.
5. There is evil in the world.
6. Therefore, God has a purpose for evil.
7. If God has a purpose for evil, there is no such thing as gratuitous pain, suffering, or evil.
8. God has a purpose for evil.
9. Therefore, there is no such thing as gratuitous pain, suffering, or evil.
Any good philosopher would be inclined to accept this solution, but a lot of people who are taking part in the discussion of evil and God will state something along the lines of, “You have to prove the Bible is true before you can make this argument.” In such a scenario, the atheist would have to concede the issue of the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil is an internal critique of various forms of theism. You cannot do an internal critique without granting the other worldview for the sake of argument. Clearly, this argument is offered only to show that if Christianity is granted, there is no explicit or implicit contradictions between the truth of Christianity and evil. In essence, if the objector rejects the argument on the basis of a lack of proof for the Bible’s truth, they concede the Logical Problem of Evil. If they grant Christianity for argument’s sake, logic demands that they accept the conclusion of the argument. 2 Either way, the objector concedes the issue and Christianity still stands. This response is equally applicable to what is called ‘The Evidential Problem of Evil.’
Throughout the history of philosophy, unbelievers have made quite a bit of noise about the Problem of Evil. To be fair, Christianity is not the only worldview that this argument is used against, but, when an objector uses it to address Christianity, the argument is really much ado about nothing. Any attempt to construct a moral framework that is compatible with naturalism leads to logical contradiction due to a problem of infinite regress, and any attempt to do an internal critique of Christianity by arguing that evil and the existence of God are incompatible is doomed to failure. 3
1. In this article, man’s will and God’s will are defined by their respective intent.
2. In this article, ‘logic’ is defined as the science of necessary inference.
3. I am fully convinced that the objections to the Problem of Evil that are given in this article are insurmountable.