The Haunting Problem of Evil

Mary and Joseph are instructed by an angel to flee their hometown and enter into Egypt, not merely to fulfill prophecy (Matt. 2:15; Hos. 11:1), but to save the life of their newly-born son Jesus (Matt. 2:13-15). The journey is long and very difficult. The mother and son ride atop a donkey while the father walks beside them. From this story I receive the following challenging questions: "How could God be so cruel? Why would He put them through such difficulty?" I admit I am taken aback from such responses and complaints. God is protecting Jesus, even though Mary and Joseph endure hardship, and do so ultimately for the security of our salvation.

I am uncertain at times what people expect from God. What I have concluded is that people want "a loving God" to make every event in this fallen life of ours to be heavenly: no problems, no sin or evil, only good feelings and a good life. In effect: people want heaven on earth. They want the future perfection in this fallen context. But the two cannot co-exist.

I do not accept what is known as a Greater-Good theodicy1 -- that all sin and evil serve a purpose in the mind and plan of God, from which He will bring about a greater good, since that indicates that God needs evil in order to bring about good. God does not need evil; sin and evil are not necessary, not even to the plan or will of God, even though God is privileged with responding to evil with justice. A Greater-Good theodicy renders sin and evil necessary. I do not view sin and evil as necessary. I hold to a Creation-Order theodicy, which maintains that God allows evil, even gratuitous evil for which there is no seeming purpose, and that this reality holds intact God's sovereignty and the free will of humanity. I think that this view is a proper Arminian or non-Calvinistic view of reality, God's providence and sovereignty, and the God-given free will that is pertinent to our being human and our being created in the image of God. Could God prevent heinous evil from occurring?

The question is not framed within God's power or capability. Yes, God is capable or possesses the power to eradicate all evil, but that is not the core meaning of the question. This question should, rather, be framed thusly: Why does God not prevent all evil? But even this question is complex, for some people are referring to really bad evil (perhaps gratuitous evil which has no seeming purpose), rather than evil to lesser degrees. But even if God were to prevent really bad evil, what some people are truly referring to is God preventing all evil, which would, by necessity, include their own sin and evil.

Dr. Bruce Little, quoted at length regarding the nonsense of "really bad evil," comments:
Another problem arises when one thinks through the logic of the question. If a horrific evil is horrific because of how it compares to another evil [which is subjective to the opinion of each person], then logically this will mean that all evil should be prevented [and aggressively and proactively prevented by God]. Consider the following argument. Suppose we represent the evil in the world by X and the varying degrees of evil by X+1, X+2, X+3 and so forth, where the higher the number associated with X, the worse the evil. X+3 is a worse evil than X+1.

For arguments sake, let's also assume that X+5 is the worse evil imaginable to man. Man requests that God prevent X+5. The request is for God to prevent the evil before it happens (this in itself poses a problem [not merely regarding the notion of free will, and God being ultra-deterministic, but also that we would then have no concept of X+5]). This means it will never have been a part of the human experience. Assuming God prevents X+5, the worst evil in the human experience will be X+4. However, when the same logical procedure is applied to X+4 as was to X+5, the worst evil in the human experience is now X+3. Taken to its logical conclusion, the request would not stop until God has prevented all evil.2 (emphases added)
In essence, then, there is no possible, meaningful, or viable explanation as to why God does not prevent heinous or gratuitous evil. The one asking such a question seems to have backed the believer and, by implication, God into a corner. Is there no viable answer as to the problem of evil and God's relation to it? From the perspective of my theodicy and worldview, the problem is not at all with God, but with our respective perception of God's relationship to us, within our fallen world, and to all evil.

Fickle human beings, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists among them, want their proverbial cake and eat it too. They want their freedom, to think and to behave in whatever manner they desire, but they also want God to prevent them from all manner of experienced evil. Why not just ask God to create a square circle? In other words, they are demanding an absurd contradiction. If God is to prevent all evil, then that would include the expressed evil of each one of us, which means that we would not exist within the context of free will but be mind-controlled by an ultra-meticulously deterministic being akin to the version of God espoused by Calvinists, pagans, and other determinists. Again, Dr. Little argues the case logically and persuasively:
Whereas people really do choose to do evil, but God intervenes so their choices cannot come to fruition, then it follows that there is no way for God to prevent the worst evils without seriously impinging on the authenticity of the power of moral freedom [assuming that we are free, even if in a limited sense]. In reality, the only choices that people would be permitted to make would be the choices resulting in good or, in other words, obedience to God. In attempting to fix one thing, this logic concludes with the very aspect of man that makes him a unique being is destroyed, forming him into something other than a being made in the image of God. In the end, the possibility of God eliminating all horrific evil is not a real possibility regardless of how good it sounds in the sentence.3
Dr. Little also argues that, since God is not a determined being Himself, and human beings are created in the image of God, then for God to have meticulously and exhaustively predetermined every minutiae of each person, from eternity past nonetheless, eliminates God's image in His unique creation.4 In reality, then, any form of deterministic philosophy destroys the image of God in human beings. "God's choice to create entails, at least in part, that creation is compatible with His being. This means creating man as a rationally functioning personal being capable of authentic love and moral judgment."5 Let us consider this theological perspective further.

That God created human beings capable of love in no sense indicates that God, even though He enables depraved sinners toward faith in Christ, chooses to unconditionally select and decree who will love Him, not love Him, and, hence, who will and will not be saved. This is a consequence with which I always wrestled as a Calvinist; that, in unconditionally selecting to save some people and not others, He was also unconditionally selecting who will and who will not love Him. In the mind of God, the concept would be derived as, "I unconditionally select William to love Me but not Steve." Human intuition alone informs us that the concept is inviable.

Arminian theology, Arminian theodicy, posits that God, through His Holy Spirit and by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, graciously enables depraved sinners to respond to that grace, and we name this response faith (i.e., trust, belief). As a consequence of a gracious enablement, an individual is freed to respond in faith, with an authentic expression of love for God -- "authentic" being the key word.

Again, Dr. Little argues, "As a rationally functioning moral personal being, man enjoys creaturely freedom in order that he might authentically (freely) choose to love God (among other things). Loving God is the highest function of a created being to which all men are called (Matt. 22:37-40)."6 Contrarily, Calvinism deprives human beings not only an authentic expression of love toward God (i.e., God unconditionally elects not only whom He will save, but also who will love and obey Him, the latter indicative of the former), but also of their humanity, their existence as an image-bearer, and an authentic view of spiritual and physical reality. The genius of Arminian theology is that it gives human beings, created in the image of God, the God-given power of moral choice in a way that is authentic.7 This also informs our response to the problem of evil.


1 Dr. Bruce A. Little comments: "Rejecting the premise of G-G theodicies does not deny there are never any cases where God brings good from evil intent (or at least it appears that good has come from the evil). The objection here is that the evil is allowed for that purpose ... His purposes are being served at your expense." See A Creation-Order Theodicy: God and Gratuitous Evil (Lanham: University Press of America, Inc., 2005), 161.

2 Ibid., 163-64.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 162.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., 162-63. Dr. Little uses the "genius" reference with regard to a Creation-Order theodicy, which I replace with the genius of Arminian theology, since Arminians reject any notion of God being pre-deterministic in His mannerisms with humanity, namely, allowing human beings the freedom to render their own decisions, words, and actions without a prior decree rendering the same necessary (the good choices being grace-induced and the bad being an expression of freedom motivated by sin); which otherwise, we believe, renders God the Chief Sinner of the universe.


Susan Miller said...

Thank you for your articles and this Web site!

The Episcocrat said...

Thank you, Susan.

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.