Printed from the Blue Letter Bible
The Problem of Evil
Is the problem of evil a crack in the foundation of the Christian faith? Are Christians forced to fill these cracks with putty-like responses which seemingly reduce God's revealed attributes? Has God remained silent in answering the question of the problem of evil, leaving Christians to fideistically categorize this issue as one of the secret things which belongs to the Lord? Or, as Deuteronomy 29:29 concludes, is the problem of evil in the category of those "things that are revealed belonging to us and to our children forever"? With questions of "Why?" regarding sin, disease, war, starvation, pain, and suffering in this knowingly evil world, the Scriptures must be searched in an effort to provide adequate answers to help Christians stand firm when the foundations seem shaken. God is undoubtedly sovereign, all-knowing, and all-good; nevertheless, evil is clearly present in this fallen world. With this apparent dilemma at hand, a procession into biblical solutions must follow in bringing to the surface the solutions God gives in answering the question of the problem of evil.
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First, God's Word clearly reveals that God is in fact all-powerful and sovereign, giving Him the ability to say, "My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please" (Isaiah 46:10 NIV). The study of numerous biblical passages in conjunction with the systematic study of Scripture as a whole maintains that there is not one loose molecule running around this universe outside of the complete control and dominion of God.
The passages above just scratch the surface in giving biblical evidence for a God who is in control of everything. God is an all-powerful and sovereign being, in control of both evil and good-His will stands. This is an important element of the sovereignty of God: God is in control of everything, both evil and good. God has decreed evil in that He knew that Man would choose evil according to his free will. God could have prevented man from sinning by not creating man with free will, by not placing the forbidden tree in the garden, by not allowing Satan to tempt Eve, or God could have simply elected not to create man at all. However, God did create the world as good, but decreed to create a world in which He would allow sin to enter, according to the free will and responsibility of man, knowing that He would work it together for good in accordance with His perfect purposes (cf. Romans 8:28). Scripture reveals the sovereign hand of God in both good and evil as He decrees those things which come to pass.
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God has foreordained all of the things that have come to passincluding God's decree of evil, in that He knew that free, morally responsible agents would choose evil. By permitting man to sin, the blame and responsibility for evil must never be placed upon God, but on those beings who chose evil.
A sovereign God's ability to accomplish all of His purposes does not result in fatalism. God can maintain sovereignty through morally responsible beings freely choosing according to their desires, establishing man's responsibility, while accomplishing the good and perfect will of God in accordance with all that God decrees. Man is not forced to act against His will in choosing evil, but has freely acted, unknowingly resulting in the fulfillment of the decrees of God.
Mankind is responsible for the wickedness of rejecting and crucifying Christ. Man alone is responsible for his own sin. Sin, however, has neither overtaken a sovereign God nor found a place outside of the things God had foreordained and determined by the good counsel of His will. Biblical Christianity demands a sovereign and all-powerful God. A biblical solution to the problem of evil must include a completely sovereign God.
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Secondly, the Bible clearly teaches that God is all-knowing. The Psalmist praised God for His incredible wisdom and knowledge.
God not only determines the number of stars but has no limit in His understanding. God has determined, understood, and known all things that would occur from eternity past. In attempting to reconcile evil in an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God's world, often one or more of God's attributes are forfeited. The "Process Theologian" explains away the problem of evil by proclaiming that God did not know things would turn out as they have and has taken drastic measures in an attempt to reverse the evil present in the universe. God reveals, however, that "His understanding has no limit." God knows now and has always known all thingsand He is certainly not bound by the actions of man in order to know what will take place next. The Bible does not reveal a God who sits on the edge of His seat anxiously awaiting man's next move in order that He might make a counter move. God has always known all things which would take place.
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The final attribute for consideration is the goodness of God. The problem of evil in a sovereign and all-knowing God's world would be simply solved by eliminating God's goodnessif Scripture allowed such a solution. The Bible, however, clearly teaches that God is perfectly good.
God in His perfect goodness is not the author of sin nor has He in any way forced or coerced man to sin against his own free will. God's decree and foreordination of sin in the world was accomplished by mankind freely choosing according to each individual's own desires. God has never laid aside His goodness at any time in eternity nor has He forced or enticed man to sinfor such involvement would be sin in itself.
Deuteronomy 13:6-10 (NKJV) "If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods,' which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God . . ."
John Frame says that if God enticed or forced man to sin, this "would picture God as some kind of giant Mafia boss who keeps his hands clean by forcing underlings to carry out his nasty designs" (Frame, 166). God has clearly revealed that man sins as the result of his own desires rather than the coercion of God.
James 1:13-15 (NKJV) "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death."
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Any attempt to give answers for the problem of evil through dethroning God of his sovereign power, limiting God's knowledge, or questioning God's goodness, should be refuted as biblical impossibilities.
John Frame says, "It would be nice to have a solution to the problem of evil, but not at any price. If the price we must pay is the very sovereignty of God, the faithful Christian must say that the price is too high. After all, it is of little importance whether any of us discovers the answer to the problem of evil. It is possible to live a long and happy and faithful life without an answer. But it is all-important that we worship the true God, the God of Scripture. Without Him, human life is worth nothing" (Frame, 154).
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Are there any biblical answers for the problem of evil? One of the most frequently used answers amongst Christians is found in the Free-Will argument. Simply, the choices man makes are not foreordained or caused by God and, therefore, God cannot be held responsible for the existence of evil. Alvin Plantinga in God, Freedom and Evil has embraced this answer for the problem of evil (Frame, 159). The freedom of the will, as a gift from God, delivers God from His responsibility for evil and places it upon man. Undoubtedly, Scripture teaches that man is responsible for sin, however, Scripture also gives clear references to God foreordaining and decreeing all things which occur. The following verses are examples of God's invisible hand providentially working in the lives of people as He enables those who are spiritually blind to see and repent. It is God who enables totally depraved sinners to will the things of God as He changes their hearts.
The Free-Will argument is lacking in its failure to give an answer to the vast biblical evidence of God foreordaining and decreeing all things, both good and evil. Jay Adams, in his book, The Grand Demonstration, provides a more biblical explanation for the problem of evil. Adams points to Romans 9:22-23 as a proof text for what he has coined, "the so-called problem of evil" (Adams, 14).
Romans 9:22-23 (NKJV) "What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory . . ."In the ninth chapter of Romans, Paul is dealing specifically with election and reprobation, clearly supporting God's righteousness and ability to display His sovereign prerogative as He shows mercy on some and demonstrates His perfectly just wrath upon others. Anticipating questions regarding the right of God to have mercy on whom He wills and hardening the hearts of those He wills (Romans 9:18), Paul answers by pointing to the sovereignty of God rather than emphasizing the free will of man.
Romans 9:19-21 (NKJV) "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?' But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?"A potter has every right to do as he desires with his clay. All people belong to the same lump of fallen humanity through the sin of Adam. All of mankind has willingly rejected God in active sin prior to God hardening their already sinful hearts. The person questioning the justice of God is not pointed to man's free will for the answer, but rather, to a sovereign God who acts in perfection as He pleases.
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In Romans 9:22-23, an explanation is given for God's work in making "one vessel for honor and another for dishonor. These "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" were made for the specific reason of revealing God's wrath and displaying His power. The "vessels of mercy" were prepared to "make known the riches of His glory." Likewise, in reference to the wicked Pharaoh in the days of Moses, God says, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth" (Romans 9:17 NKJV).
The Westminster Confession states that man's chief end, or purpose in life, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. What is God's chief end? John Piper argues convincingly in several of his books (e.g., God's Passion for His Glory; The Pleasures of God) that God's chief end is to glorify Himself. God alone is worthy of all glory and honor. God is supreme over all of His creation and stands alone as the all-powerful, eternal, and infinite being over all that exists. For this reason, God's chief end not only should, but must be to bring glory and honor unto Himself, for He alone is worthy.
As the perfections of God are displayed throughout creation, God is glorified. As a perfect God, He does not possess any possible attributes that will result in glory being removed. Every aspect of the person and character of God are infinitely perfect and good. There is no possibility of a more perfect being-and God alone possesses this quality. As a result, as God demonstrates the perfections of who He is, glory comes to His name.
Through God allowing and foreordaining evil, God works this together to accomplish the work of revealing His person. If God had not allowed sin to enter the world, could man truly know God and worship Him for all that He is? Would man be able to know the grace of God that extends blessings to sinners who deserve wrath? Could man know the love of God had God not displayed it in the greatest manner by laying down His life for those still dead in their sins? God's holiness and justice are displayed through His wrath upon unrighteousness. The incredible humility and meekness of God was displayed for all creation as God became the least of all men in a fallen and depraved world. As the perfection of God's holy character is contrasted with an evil world, God's people are able to find Him alone to be the One who can satisfy their deepest needs as their fountain of living water.
If God's chief end is to bring glory to His name and God does whatsoever He desires to do, then the existence of evil must be allowed and decreed by God ultimately bringing glory to His name. This does not necessarily mean that each instance of evil can be clearly understood by finite man today, but God can be trusted as He maintains His sovereignty, omniscience, and goodness.
John Frame concludes,
"We cannot always understand why God has chosen evil events to accomplish these good purposes. We do know that God never foreordains an evil event without a good purpose (Rom. 8:28). There may be other reasons than the ones we have mentioned, either to be found in Scripture or to remain locked up in God's own mind. We know that God has a reason for everything he does. Everything he does reflects his wisdom. But he is under no obligation to give us his reasons. Nevertheless, as we see evil used for good again and again in Scripture, can we not accept in faith that those evils which are yet unexplained also have a purpose in the depths of God's mind? Again, we do not have a complete theoretical answer to the problem of evil. What we do have is a strong encouragement to trust God even amid unexplained suffering. Indeed, the encouragement is so strong that one would be foolish not to accept it" (Frame, 187).God has revealed His character to man through both creation and the special revelation of His Word. The skeptic often plays the "problem of evil" card as he raises doubts, confusion, and questions in the minds of many professing Christians. Sadly, the church is often not equipped to answer questions regarding the problem of evil because the theological foundations are not always stable. The cracks in the foundation of the Christian faith are not actual, but man-made by poor theology. Questions regarding evil are not merely trivial but largely impact the personal lives of all people. Emotions become stirred as the question of evil brings to the surface personal trials, difficulties, and tragedies. Looking to a sovereign and good God who allows and decrees evil to demonstrate His character with the ultimate goal of bringing glory and honor to His name does not always answer the details of each individual instance of evil. In the midst of severe trials, the question of "Why?" is often directed towards God. Christians, however, can stand firmly during the difficult times knowing that an sovereign, all-knowing, and all-good God is in complete control working all things together for good.
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