Tag Archive: Problem of evil

One fact which each of us must face is the real presence of evil and suffering in the world. This is undeniable – we all recognize that bad things happen, that bad things happen to good people. accident-2-1474589-1599x1066We have to make sense of this somehow. Often this is presented as a problem for Christianity: something along the lines of, If God is good (as you say he is), how can there be so much evil and suffering in the world? If he was real, there wouldn’t be so much. So, he must not really exist. In essence, the argument says that the presence of evil means that the God Christians proclaim can’t exist because he is either unable (and therefore not all-powerful) or unwilling (and therefore not all-good), since he has not eradicated evil.

Identifying the Problem

Of course, there are really two issues when considering an answer to the problem of evil. The first and most immediate is that when this issue is brought up, it isn’t usually academic, but a response to a personal tragedy. Christian apologetics will almost never be helpful or appropriate here; compassion and empathy are by far what is more called for at this time.

But there is also an academic side to this problem as well, and that is worth considering in more quiet and stable times. Having worked through the problem in one’s mind ahead of time will give a bit of stability when the pain comes and the emotions are high. That is what I hope to offer here.

A Contradiction Without God

I cannot see any philosophical justification for the category of “evil” without God; not that God is somehow the source of evil, but that without an objective standard for good, how can we even know what evil is? Evil is not a “thing,” it’s an absence or corruption or something else. Just as a shadow cannot exist without light, evil cannot exist without good. The objection against Christianity doesn’t even make sense to me without an admission of objective moral standards, and as I pointed out previously, objective morality cannot be adequately explained without the existence of God. We cannot judge a line to be crooked unless we have some idea of what a straight line is. For these reasons, it seems to me that the problem of evil turns out to be one of the best evidences in favor of God, not against him!

But what of God’s attributes in the face of evil? Does the existence of evil mean God is not good or not powerful? Those who argue against God in this way make an assumption that all evil is gratuitous and unnecessary. But what if there is another category of evil which an all-good and all-powerful God allows to happen, both natural and moral evil, which God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting? God’s purposes in this world are not to maximize our comfort, but our character, and draw all mankind to him. Perhaps hardships are the only way some may have their attention drawn to the issues of ultimate importance in life.

A Problem for Everyone

As I see it, the problem of evil is a problem for everyone, not just Christians. We all have to live with evil, and cutting God out of the picture doesn’t explain it, it only removes any hope to relieve it. We can resign ourselves to purposeless evil with no justice and no comfort, and so we should, if there is no God. But if there is good reason to believe God is real and better explains the problem of evil than does alternate explanations, there is justice and comfort from a transcendent God who also took on humanity and experienced very real pain and suffering. In God we have someone able to offer ultimate justice for the evil and comfort for the victims, one who not only understands, not only sympathizes, but empathizes with our hurts.

Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!

One of the most often cited arguments against Christianity is that of the problem of evil.  One of the permutations of this argument states that because of the existence of evil in this world, God as defined by Christianity cannot exist.  This argument, and responses to it, will be examined below.

As defined by the Christian faith, God has three characteristics (among others): He is omnibenevolent, or all loving and all good; He is omniscient, or fully aware of what happens and what will happen in the world; He is omnipotent, or all-powerful and able to accomplish His will.  Christians also believe that God created the world, and agree with critics that evil now exists in the world.

From these two premises, that God is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, and that evil exists in the world, critics conclude that there is a contradiction, and so God cannot exist.  The apparent contradiction is that if God is aware of the evil in the world and all good and loving, He should want to remove it, and if He is all-powerful, He should be able to do so.  The fact that evil in the world remains means that there is a conflict with one of those two characteristics and thus Christianity is self-contradictory.

This apparent contradiction can be resolved by considering the possibility that the existence of evil is tolerated by God for some good reason that we as humans do not realize.  This is certainly logically possible however, and solves the alleged contradiction.  One argument that could explain this reason for evil is that God values man’s free will.  If God desires a loving relationship with man, as is taught in the Bible, free will is essential.   Without the ability to reject the love offered by God, true love reciprocated is not possible.  Beings coerced into belief and good behavior are little more than automatons, and would be incapable of true expressions of love. 

With this freedom to choose and express love, though, comes the other edge of the sword, which is the ability to reject God and behave contrary to His will, paraphrased as loving God and loving others.  This, then leads to the evil that mankind has accomplished in the world.  God shows respect for man’s choices and allows for the consequences of the expression of this free will, even when it is contrary to His own perfect will.  Since God, in His respect for man’s choices, will not (ordinarily) interdict that will, innocent victims often are made to suffer as consequence of the actions of others.  Again, God could intervene at every such occasion, but this would preempt man’s free will and devalue the choices he made, for good or bad.

The main thrust of the argument against Christianity from the problem of evil is an understandable outcry against the frequent unjust suffering in the world.  Since Christians believe that God is indeed all-powerful, loving, good, and knowing, they may reconcile the widespread evil in the world with the knowledge that God has a redemptive plan for mankind and can conceivably use the evil actions of others to accomplish this plan, while showing respect for His creation by permitting the exercise of man’s free will.