The problem of evil in the world often raises questions against the Christian theistic system concerning God's goodness and omnipotence. The basic problem usually rotates around the following premise: Christianity claims that God is a God of love, and is all powerful, yet evil is present in the world. Therefore, God is either malignant, impotent, or both. 1 Traditionally, the response to this problem has been called "theodicy"; an attempt to give a rational defense of God in view of the existence of evil in the world (derived from the words theos 'God', and dike 'justice'). 2
The Bible records God's dealings with humanity; and from the beginning this record has shown how humanity has consistently chosen evil over good. After the creation of the first man and woman, God, in His love, gave them the ability to exercise free-will but Genesis chapter 3 gives an account of this free-will embracing evil and disobedience to God. 3 By Genesis chapter 6, evil has spread to such a degree that humanity is utterly consumed by it. 4 Fitch observes how this evil has not only continued to this day, but is also accelerating at an alarming rate with the coming of each new generation (2 Tim. 3:13, Matt. 24:12). 5 God has therefore created people with the ability to choose right or wrong; but He will not force them to do only what is right , as this would be contrary to His nature. In creating creatures capable of moral good, God also has created creatures capable of horrendous moral evil. 6 It could be argued that if people were not free to choose evil, they would cease to do wrong, but they would also cease to be free. 7 If the individuals free choice were to be taken from them they would no longer be human and instead become mere puppets or robots void of all self-determination, personality, and experience. 8 If God took free-will away from His creatures, the outcome would be totalitarianism and therefore evil on God's part, resulting in a contradiction of His will and nature. 9
As a result of humanity's free-will, some of the evil in the world is self inflicted; coming as a direct consequence of an individuals own personal choice. For example, there are many people today who abuse their own bodies with smoking, alcohol, and drugs which can result in sickness and even death. 10 A recent example of such self induced evil can be found in the life and death of rock singer Freddie Mercury, who died of AIDS in November 1991, aged only forty five, as a direct result of an immoral life style of which he made no secret. 11
Other physical evils can also come through the indirect choices of a persons parents or ancestors. Even far down a persons family history, ancestral free-will such as military and political association can all indirectly effect those of later generation in a negative manner. 12 Kushner observes how social scientists have studied this subject for many years, examining such areas as wars, accidents, and trauma with relation to their effects upon future generations. 13 However, whilst Kushner sees some benefits in this approach, he insists that every adult, regardless of previous family history, must still have the right to exercise freedom of choice. 14 To deny this would make humanity no different from animals, bound by mere instinct. 15
One of the greatest cause's of evil to come upon humanity comes directly from humanity itself. Tragically, it is often the innocent and the weakest who tend to suffer at the hands of those stronger than them. The same can be said of the animal and plant kingdoms, where higher life forms prey upon lower ones. An animal that is stronger and higher in intelligence than another will kill to provide itself with food, and even non-meat eating creatures eat the lower life form of plants. In an imperfect physical world, effected by the entrance of sin, this pattern has become common place for existence, and at times, for sheer cruelty. 16 Although humanity differs from the animal world in the unique sense of being created in God's own image (Gen. 2), it too has fallen into this pattern of the stronger overpowering the weaker. 17
Not all physical evil is necessarily bad. On the contrary, some physical pain can act as a warning against greater future evils. Geisler illustrates this point by using the examples of toothache and chest pains that can act as early warnings against the future spread of decay and disease. 18 There is certainly some value in this approach to pain, but it is far from being a complete answer. Rodd criticizes this view as an inadequate theodicy by pointing out that it is only because of the progression of the modern medical world that most warning pains can be treated, whereas people in ancient times suffered without effective treatment and therefore suffered needlessly. 19
All material human evil and suffering finds its ultimate culmination in physical death. This can also be traced back to humanity's decision to choose evil over good. It was because of this decision that the first man and woman became separated from God, resulting in immediate spiritual death, and later physical death (Gen. 3). 20 Death, however, is not the end; for the Bible teaches that those who are separated from God in this life, will continue to be separated from Him in eternity (Matt.10:28). But God has not left the human race alone in this dilemma. He also suffered physical pain and death in the person of Jesus Christ for all people (Heb. 2:9), and opened the door of reconciliation back to Himself (Col. 1:21-22). 21 Therefore, for those in Christ, death is not only a transition but a glorious transformation, whereby freedom from the natural body, with its limitations is finally consummated and the believer stands in the very presence of Christ. In view of this, the Apostle Paul saw death as a mere doorway from one realm of existence into another where he could be with Christ "which is better by far" (Phil. 1:21-23). 22
One of the most common objections against the love and goodness of the God of historic Christianity in particular, is the subject of Hell. Atheists have considered this to be a serious defect within the very foundations of the Christian faith and a doctrine of the uttermost cruelty, bringing evil upon people in this life through the fear of eternal damnation in the life to come. 23 But in response to these serious objections, it should be observed that although God is a God of love, it is only one of attributes. Another attribute of God that must be considered along with His love is also His holiness. God's holiness demands absolute righteousness, which of course is not possible in the nature of fallen humanity alone. It is for this reason that Christ came to clothe men and women with the righteousness that God requires. 24
At times, the Scriptures indirectly link God with some form of evil coming upon individuals, and even entire nations, as a judgment against willful and persistent sin. 25 This fact does not imply any misdeed on God's part, as Saint Augustine indicates: "For as God is good who constituted all things, so He is just in taking vengeance on sin". 26 As a consequence of David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba, God raised evil up against his house (2 Sam. 12:11-12 fulfilled in 16:22). Due to the persistent rebellion of Israel, Isaiah prophesied that God would send oppressors against them (Isa. 9:8-10:11). But probably the most well known example of this is the account of Sodom and Gomorrah who's sin was so abominable that God was left with no other alternative than to pour out His wrath upon them (Gen. 19). This connection between God's judgment upon sin can help, in part, to understand how He can allow evil to afflict humanity, whether as an act of discipline for believers, or an act of condemnation upon unbelievers who are determined to remain in their transgression. 27
Aside from created beings with the free-will to choose good or evil, there is also the problem of what has become commonly called 'natural evil'. 28 Macquarrie questions the validity of whether any evil should be labeled 'natural'. Nevertheless, he understands the term to be useful in referring to evils that are not directly linked to the free will of created beings, but are rather linked to the upheaval of natural forces (earthquakes, storms, floods etc.). 29 It has become common to refer to such natural evils as 'acts of God' because no human cause can be held responsible. 30 However, as Williams observes, it would be more accurate to view such occurrences as "demonstrations of a creation subjected to futility, and signs of its groaning in travail." 31 Genesis chapter 3 reveals how the entrance of sin affected not only humanity's relationship with their Creator, but also shows how the rest of creation was effected negatively as a direct consequence; causing an imbalance in the perfection that existed beforehand (Rom. 8:20-22). 32
It can also be argued that the above mentioned natural evils in the present world system are often the necessary by-products of other good activities. 33 For example, the natural element of fire has the capability to cause terrible destruction, but is also a necessary ingredient for life inasmuch as it is used by people to keep warm. Likewise, water by its very substance, can take a persons life through the tragedy of drowning. But if it were to lose its unique properties every time someone was in danger of suffocation, it would no longer be water, and would therefore lose its ability to sustain human life. 34 Geisler also illuminates this fact by using the illustration of the existence of hot and cold air as being amongst the essential components for the smooth running of the created order, nevertheless, under the right conditions these elements may merge to form tornadoes. 35
As well as evil being a reality within the physical created order of things, it is also prevalent in the spiritual realm. Satan, originally known as Lucifer (meaning 'light bearer' Ezek. 28:15) was also created with free will, and like humanity, chose to rebel against God. 36 In this rebellion, Satan was also accountable for leading a large number of angelic hosts into enmity against God, who are now described by in biblical terms as demons, or evil spirits. 37 Numerous texts link the presence of evil in the world to the activity of Satan. He is able to influence people towards evil (1 Chron. 21:1, John 13: 2, 27, Acts 5:3); he brings suffering and disease (Job 1:7-2:10, Luke 13:16); and by his very nature, he is a murderer (John 8:44). 38 Mankind in particular, has become a specific target for the activity of Satan because of the image of God that men and women bear. 39 Bultmann recognizes the problem of evil in the human experience but dismisses the activity of evil spirits to the realms of mythology, finding no real relevance for them in modern society. 40 However, one only has to examine the sheer extent of evil in the world to realize that its roots transcend mere human origins alone. Many of the New Testament writers were conscious of this by perceiving the influence that evil spirits exercised upon the lives of individuals and events in the world. The Apostle John taught that the willful and sinful acts of individuals originate from the Devil (1 John 3:8, 10, 12), because they are under his control (1 John 5:19). Although human beings have free will, Satan is able to exercise such powerful dominion, that unsuspecting persons unknowingly do his bidding (2 Tim. 2:24-26, John 8:44). 41 It would therefore, be reasonable to assume, that at least some of the evil in the world is caused by the Devil and his demon spirits who aggravate and provoke the evil that is already present in the human race. 42
God's ultimate answer to the problem of evil is found at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is at the cross that Christ brought judgment against Satan (John 12:31-32), and stripped him of his authority (Heb. 2:14). 43 In an incredible paradox, God Himself entered into the suffering and death of the human race by becoming incarnate in the person of Christ, and was exposed to the full force of evil as a man. However, it is as a result of this dark point in history that God has determined good to come fourth for the redemption of humanity. 44 Through His work, Christ broke the chains of sin at the cross and was victorious over death in His resurrection, to become the source of eternal life to all who trust in Him. 45 God therefore demonstrates that the force of good, and not evil will ultimately prevail. He shows that it is not evil that is at the heart of the world, but love. 46
Although the problem of evil is a harsh reality in an imperfect world, the Christian is able to establish a framework in making some sense of its existence through his or her faith. From the biblical record, it is evident that much of the evil in the world is caused either directly or indirectly through the free-will of humanity. The evils that do not have their origins in mankind alone can be attributed to the work of Satan; and some apparent evils can come from God Himself, whereby He exercises His discipline upon the believer and His judgment upon the unbeliever. In all this God is not unsympathetic to the evil and suffering in the world. On the contrary, He was prepared to enter into this suffering Himself and be exposed to the full force of evil at the cross in the person of Jesus Christ, the suffering servant (Isa.53).
1 W.A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1995), 386.
2 Ibid., 1083.
3 W. Fitch, God and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 86.
5 Ibid., 84.
6 H. Blocher, Evil and the Cross (England: IVP, 1994), 60.
7 Ibid., 52.
8 H. Dean, Reasons to Believe (Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton, 1970), 66-67.
10 N. Geisler, The Roots of Evil (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 71.
11 J. Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell? (England: Evangelical Press, 1993), 100.
12 Geisler, 72.
13 H.S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Great Britain: Pan Books, 1982), 91.
16 Geisler, 74.
17 J.R. Williams, Renewal Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 199.
18 Geisler, 73.
19 C.S. Rodd, "Questions People Ask. The Problem Of Evil and Suffering." The Expository Times vol. 107, no. 2, Nov.
20 Blanchard, 55.
21 Fitch, 112.
22 N.F.S. Ferre, Reason in Religion (Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1963), 254-256.
23 B. Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (London: Unwin Hyan Ltd., 1989), 22-23.
24 Blanchard, 107.
25 W. Grudem, Systematic Theology (Leicester: IVP, 1994), 323.
26 Augustine, edited by Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1V (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 116.
27 Grudem, 323-324.
28 J. Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1977), 254. 29 Ibid.
30 Williams, 130. 31 Ibid.
33 Geisler, 72.
34 J. Hick, Evil and the God of Love (Great Britain: Collins, 1968), 341.
35 Geisler, 72.
36 S. Kirban, Satan's Angels Exposed (U.S.A.: Salem Kirban Inc., 1980), 11.
37 Ibid., 12.
38 Ibid., 13-14.
39 Williams, 224-225.
40 R. Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), 14-15.
41 Grudem, 422.
43 Fitch, 113.
44 Hick, 279-280.
45 Fitch, 95.
46 Ibid., 96.
Augustine, edited by Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1V. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
Blanchard, J. Whatever Happened to Hell? England: Evangelical Press, 1993.
Blocher, H. Evil and the Cross. England: IVP, 1994.
Bultmann, R. Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958.
Dean, H. Reasons to Believe. Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton, 1970.
Elwell, W.A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1995.
Ferre, N.F.S. Reason in Religion. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1963.
Fitch, W. God and Evil. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967.
Geisler, N. The Roots of Evil. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.
Grudem, W. Systematic Theology. Leicester: IVP, 1994.
Hick, J. Evil and the God of Love. Great Britain: Collins, 1968.
Kirban, S. Satan's Angels Exposed. U.S.A.: Salem Kirban Inc., 1980.
Kushner, H.S. When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Great Britain: Pan Books, 1982.
J. Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1977.
C.S. Rodd, "Questions People Ask. The Problem Of Evil and Suffering." The Expository Times vol. 107, no. 2, Nov. 1995.
B. Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian. London: Unwin Hyan Ltd., 1989.
J.R. Williams, Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.
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