Does Christianity Solve the Problem of Evil?

BY: JONATHAN BENNETT

Charles Templeton was once remembered for his passionate preaching, but is now renowned for the renouncing of his faith. Templeton’s battle with faith was spawned as a result of an inner intellectual battle. He reasoned that if God were omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, human suffering would not exist in the world [1]. Templeton was not the only one in history to struggle with this concept; many men have been turned away from Christ due to a personal loss or tragedy. Even the great C. S. Lewis would write, in response to how one would naturally respond to a world filled with pain and suffering, “If you ask me to believe this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit I would reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. [2]” This dilemma has come to be known as the problem of evil. Lewis would go on to assert that in order for this dilemma to be solved it is essential that we view it through the eyes of Christianity. This paper will show that a correct view of Christianity, more specifically the omniscience of God and depravity of man, as understood by the church, will answer the problem of evil for those who have toiled with this matter.

How Omnipotence Interacts with Free Will in the Problem of Evil

When God created the earth, Genesis is careful to note, the mold God started with was a mass filled with chaos and emptiness. Yet God seemingly brings from this void every natural thing we see today. It is intriguing to note that, along with each step of creation, God seemingly relinquishes control to the very thing He just created. Ronald Osborn notes the significance in the repetition of the word let in the creation prologue stating that God lets or allows the rivers to fill the earth, the birds of the air to reproduce, as well as the beasts of the field to do the same, instead of asserting His power and doing it Himself [3]. He would go on to state, “Rather than simply dominating the world, in the very act of bringing the world into existence God is in a certain sense already withdrawing himself from it – or perhaps better limiting Himself within it-in order for it to be free [4]. This control that God gave to nature was not just limited to rivers being able to fill the earth or animals having the capacity to produce after their own kind but it resulted also in man having free will.”  

Could it be that it is not so much God causing the evil, as it is God permitting man, who is evil, to act as he sees fit.

Free will simply suggests that God allows man to have his own will. It is this truth that brings us to the heart of the matter. The great question within the problem of evil is, “How can a loving God cause such evil on the earth?”  Could it be that it is not so much God causing the evil, as it is God permitting man, who is evil, to act as he sees fit. As long as man has free will, the world will never fully picture perfection. Andrew Linzey would say, “To be a creature is necessarily to be … imperfect … from this standpoint the very nature of creation is always ambiguous; in both ways it affirms and denies God at one and the same time. Affirms God because God loves and cares for it but it also necessarily denies God because it is not divine. [5]” Not only is man totally free, man is also totally depraved; one should never anticipate that this combination of freedom and folly would ever be capable of producing a moral world on his own. At this point, the question about pain has not been settled,although it has shifted. Previously the question was, “How can God cause all of this pain?” but now the question must be changed to, “How can God allow all of this pain?” We have moved from questioning God’s omnipotence, noting that God has chosen not to interrupt man’s free will but rather often exercises restraint with His involvement in nature, to questioning his omniscience: “If God knew allowing free will would present a problem, why would He permit it?” It hasbeen argued by some that God shares responsibility in the creation of evil in a secondary sense as he allows free will to exist. However, it must be noted, “God gives us the power of free choice, but we are responsible for exercising it. Once again He gave the fact of freedom, but we are responsible for the acts of freedom. [6]” It is thus an error to blame God’s omniscience for any second hand involvement in creating evil.

How God's Omniscience Explains the Problem of Evil

Michael Martin, a devout atheist, uses this logical progression to proclaim that a loving god does not exist. It is his claim that it is improbable for a god to hold knowledge of counterfactual conditions [7]. If true, God would be ignorant of man’s next moves, his own future actions and sovereignty becomes mere myth, and no one being is in charge.  However, this is not the God of the Bible. According to the Molinist view of the providence God, God does have knowledge of counterfactual conditions. William Lane Craig would further describe this view stating, “God possesses hypothetical knowledge of conditional future contingents. He knows…what would have happened if he had spared the Canaanites from destruction, what Napoleon would have done had he won the Battle of Waterloo…[8]” This take on divine providence is best seen in the Gospel of John. “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36 KJV). Here it is while standing trial by Pilate. According to Jesus, the reason soldiers or angels are not fighting for His freedom is because His kingdom is not of this world; if it were, His servants would fight. Here Jesus shows knowledge of what would take place in two completely different scenarios. 

Since God has knowledge of counterfactual conditions, it stands to reason that He is aware of every portrayal of evil in the world. Furthermore, before humans were ever given free will, God knew that human free will would cause pain. Like the argument of free will, one must admit this argument falls short of answering the problem of pain as well; in fact it introduces another problem.  It was initially pondered whether God permitted man’s suffering as a result of His ignorance. It has since been uncovered that God is aware, yet seemingly chooses to allow man to struggle with evil. To bring a sense of clarity, help can be found in understanding the suffering of Job.

The Story of Job

Robert Fyall is careful to note that Job, in all of his suffering, is never made aware of why he must endure affliction. Even at the end of all of his lengthy prologues directed towards God, Job is never given a reason for his suffering; only the reader of Job is made privy to this information in the first chapter of Job[9]. God’s only response to Job’s condition is, essentially, ‘I am bigger than you are and I know more than you do so you must trust my goodness and my omniscience’ (Job 38-41). Again,the reader is made privy to information about why Job is suffering, along with God and Satan, but, as for Job, he must trust that God is aware of something he does not know. It is this missing puzzle piece that solves the riddle. Job comes to the conclusion that he had attempted to make sense of his situation in vain, but he did not have all of the clues (Job 42). Norman Geisler would add, “Even though we don’t always know why, at least we know why we don’t know why- Because we are limited in our knowledge. God isn’t, and wants us to trust Him. [10]” God’s Omniscience becomes the key to understanding the problem of evil. At the end, Job would agree with Solomon: “He (God) has made everything beautiful in His time.”(Ecclesiastes 3:11 KJV)

The Story of Habakkuk

Ignorance, however, often aids agony. This is not just true in the life of Job, but can also be seen in the life of Habakkuk. Habakkuk started his book: “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.”  (Habakkuk 1:2,3) The book continues with Habakkuk going on his watch and looking for the Lord to speak to Him. It is later discovered that there was a reason for the silence of God, and Habakkuk was not made privy to that information. Thus it is beneficial, after taking a careful look at the life of Job and Habakkuk, for the finite to remember who is truly infinite, and who is not. As Job would state, it is possible to attempt to speak of things that are “too wonderful” (Job 42:3) to speak on.

Conclusion

While this paper has not produced an argument that has dealt with the emotional problems that accompany pain, it must be noted that no theodicy or rationalization can produce such a peace on its own. Yet that was not the goal, the intent of this paper is to show how God can be all-powerful and all-knowing, while evil still exists. When one holds to the Christian view that man is totally depraved and has ushered sin into the world, as well as noting that God is still aware of counterfactual conditions and is still in control of the world, it is possible to conclude that God will take the evil man has done and turn it around. This is God’s work. Additionally, since, “God is the highest good, he would not allow any evil to exist in His works unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil. [11]” Once Job realized this, he hated his initial actions and repented; even Habakkuk learned that even when it seems like things are falling apart, God is still in control.  For although man may, “…Think evil…God meant it unto good”
(Genesis 50:20 KJV).

When one holds to the Christian view that man is totally depraved and has ushered sin into the world, as well as noting that God is still aware of counterfactual conditions and is still in control of the world, it is possible to conclude that God will take the evil man has done and turn it around.

[1] Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 7-13.

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, (New York: Harper One, 2005) 552.

[3] Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2014) 27.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 81.

[6] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: Sin and Salvation (Minneapolis: Bethany House) 548.

[7] Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, ( Philadelphia: Temple University Press) 383.

[8] William Lane Craig, Four Views on Divine Providence: God Directs all Things, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 79.

[9] Robert Fyall, Now my Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press) 19.

[10] Norman Geisler, If God Why Evil, (Bloomington: Bethany House) 51.

[11] Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press) 76.


Jonathan Bennett (@PastorJonB) is a graduate of Trinity Bible College. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also currently serving as the Assistant Pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.