The problem of evil has been called the Achilles heel of Theism – it is the argument that requires the greatest amount of defense and explanation. This is the enigmatic question of, “how can an all-powerful, all-good, God coexist in a world where evil exists?” Anyone who has been faced with a tragic loss or unprovoked misfortune has asked this question in some form or another. Many skeptics have rejected theism for this very reason, and many Christians have turned from the Faith due to inability to rectify this paradox. While this seems to be an unanswerable question, many have attempted to justify God and offer an explanation.
Four Biblical Propositions
Those who are hindered by the problem of evil find the greatest amount of difficulty in the logical impossibility of a God who coexists with evil yet has the power and the will to stop it. That is to say, if God could stop evil, and if he wants to stop evil, why does evil still exist? Objectors to theism further assert that the Bible teaches these things (that God exists, that God is all-powerful, that God is all-good, and that evil exists) so the Bible must be illogical. Without further analysis, this objection is a difficult one to refute. In an attempt to resolve the problem, several rather extreme approaches have been created. Unfortunately, each of these methods does more damage to theism than they do good.
Four Negative Options
Since objectors claim that the coexistence of the aforementioned proposition is illogical, many have attempted to "modify" the understanding of theism to bring about a sufficient response. The first proposition, the existence of God, is the target of most objectors (namely the atheists). This method concludes that God is the crux of the logical problem and must, therefore, be eliminated. Unfortunately, when we remove God from the equation, we also remove the other three presuppositions: if there is no God how can He be all-powerful or good; if there is no God to stand as the moral example for determining what is good and what is evil, how can we say that evil exists? While this does solve the initial problem, it creates more in the process. Another modification is to accept that God exists and that God is good but to reject that He is all- powerful. This paints a picture of a transcendent God who wants to put an end to evil but is unable to do so. The result of this conditioning is a philosophy known as finitism. These theories place God up against an equally powerful force that thwarts His righteous endeavors. Conversely, others choose to see God as being all-powerful, but not caring or good. The final attempt at modification is to deny that evil exists. This, however, results in a complicated worldview that will typically lead one to begin to deny reality itself, including God as a transcendent Being.
Each of the aforementioned methods does considerable damage to the theistic view, which is why atheism is a typical result of such thought. The theist also has an answer to the problem of evil: theodicy. Technically, any attempt to justify God in light of the problem of evil is a theodicy. However, most conservative theologians would argue that a true theodicy is one that tries to answer for God while honoring the Truth as God has revealed in – the truth found in Scripture. The theist’s answer to the problem of evil comes in the form of perspectives by which an individual is encouraged to view the world and events, which take places around them. The first perspective has to do with man’s Createdness. Distinct to man, as opposed to the counterpart created order, is being made in the “image and likeness” of God (Gen.1:27). One component of this is man’s free will – the ability to choose and act upon impulse. It would have been impossible for God to create humans, in His image and likeness, without granting this free will; not because He is incapable of this (in the way that dualism asserts) but because doing so would be a logical impossibility. The only way that man could truly be free is if consequences for his choices were also a reality. Consequences for man’s actions often result in what we observe as evil. It is also important to note that evil does not exist as a substance. This denial of evil's substantial existences is not the same as denying that evil exists at all. In life, several things are not substances within themselves, but simply the absence of something else (i.e. the absence of light is darkness). These things only exist because something else does not – evil is then the absence of good. Since God has granted man free will, as per the requirement for genuine humanity, man may choose to deny what he knows to be good, thus actualizing evil. The actions carried out by man often result in unfortunate circumstances for them and those around them. On a much larger scale, the introduction of evil to world and race by the first people (Gen. 3) has created a world that is full of evil components: natural catastrophes, malicious actions, and a depraved nature in man (Rom. 1). The most important aspect of the theistic response is found in the act of redemption carried out by God through the Second Person of the Trinity: Jesus Christ. Even though it was man (all humankind) who has brought forth the reality of evil to the world, it was God who ultimately paid the price. Jesus Christ took on the full weight of sin and evil and paid the ultimate price of death. When the skeptic asks how an all-powerful, all-good, God can coexist with evil, it must be realized that God must exist in order for evil to be identified (He stands as the moral object by which we determine such a thing), He must be all-powerful in order to lay down his life and raise it up again (through Jesus Christ), and must be good in order to take the punishment that rightly belonged to mankind on Himself. In short, God's act of redemption answers the problem of evil.
Devin Peterson is a passionate writer with a strong gift for teaching. His education in theology, Bible, and Biblical languages gives him incredible insight into the wisdom of Scripture.