The Problem of Evil and God
Man has always, it seems, wondered regarding evil, why it happens and what, if any, role God plays in the causation process. The attack on the World Trade Center and the storms of late have prompted more questions as to the origin of these catastrophes and the proximity of God to such anomalies of nature and mass wanton acts of men. The problem of evil and God is in the forefront of the thinking of many.
We need to appreciate, first of all, that God is the Creator of all things created (Gen. 1; 2, Acts 17: 24). Not only did God originally create all things, but he "…upholds all things by the word of his power" (Heb. 1: 3). Jesus, the Logos, has been assigned the special task both of creation and the sustaining of the laws and forces that keep our universe in place and working (Col. 1: 16, 17). It must also be initially conceded that God is sovereign in operation; therefore, the study of the problem of evil and God is inevitable and pertinent.
"21: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: 22: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him" (Dan. 2).
While we are under a different dispensation and God admittedly operates differently in some areas (Christianity is not a theocracy as was the Law of Moses, for instance, Rom. 13: 1ff.), God is on his throne and continues in control (see Acts 17: 26, Revelation 4, 6).
When we speak of the problem of evil and God, definition is needed. Simply stated, "evil" is used in two ways in the scriptures: There is moral evil and physical evil in the sense of calamity and disaster. Regarding moral evil, the scriptures are definitively plain in distancing God from such. God cannot be "tempted with evil" and he also does not "tempt any man" (Jas. 1: 13). Regarding physical evil or calamities God said:
"7: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things" (Isa. 45).
There is not a particle of doubt about God both being said to control the weather and on occasion inflicting man with misfortune. Consider the following:
"5: For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. 6: Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places. 7: He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain; he bringeth the wind out of his treasuries" (Ps. 135).
"6: Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" (Amos 3.)
Since we have established the general truth of God being involved in causation regarding the weather and calamities, does it follow that God is always directly the cause for every thing that happens, weather and calamity wise?
We know for sure that God has specifically been directly the cause for a number of both weather and pestilence circumstances. Notice that God directly caused the great weather anomaly, the flood (Gen. 6; 2 Pet. 2: 5). Relative to God directly intervening in the affairs of man, consider the following:
"8: Who smote the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast. 9: Who sent tokens and wonders into the midst of thee, O Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his servants. 10: Who smote great nations, and slew mighty kings; 11: Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan" (Ps. 135).
God is seen having used nature to inflict his wrath and also employing the human element to effect his displeasure (notice the plagues, Exodus 8-14 and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies, Luke 21: 22).
Before we advance any further in our consideration of the problem of evil and God, let us again comment on the perplexity of our study. Basic research pertaining to the problem of evil and God reveals men of great minds have deeply pondered this matter, attempting to sort out what role God has in physical evil today. Augustine of Hippo at first laboring under Gnostic ideas, defined evil as the absence of good (privatio boni). Such a definition of evil resulted in what was later termed the doctrine of contrast theodicy (the German philosopher Leibniz assigned this term in 1710 A. D., see addendum 1). The Greek philosopher Epicurus is said to have been the first of note to have seriously devoted himself to a logical pursuit of the problem of evil and God (341 B. C.).
The eighteenth century philosopher David Hume reasoned thus regarding the problem of evil and God:
"Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?" (Hume’s logic reflects how frustrating our subject has been to man, even great thinkers.)
In setting up formulated logic to assist us in breaking down, sorting out, and arriving at sound inductions and from these, correct deductions, consider the primary four possible models from which to extrapolate:
The model of the atheist is, "There is no God; hence, nature and misfortune are always random and without any intelligent causation."
Model two: "God set in motion certain laws governing man upon this planet and then entirely removed himself from the affairs of man."
Model three is the result of determinism: "God is directly the cause of all things that happen, both weather and misfortune and nothing happens by chance, accident, or as the direct result of man."
Model four is: "God set in motion certain laws to govern physical creation and the universe, but he has and does on occasion intervene to use the forces of nature to his own ends."
I remind the student that there is no question that God has acted directly regarding nature and calamity. An interesting word in a study of the problem of evil and God is the word, "pestilence." The word is used about twenty-five times in Jeremiah and Isaiah alone and each time there is the thought and meaning of divine visitation (cp. Jeremiah 14: 12, 21: 6).
As mentioned, when God created the earth and placed man on it, he set in motion certain laws to govern its operation. While these laws accomplish their design, it is inevitable that there be anomalies; hence, severe storms, earthquakes, etc. I submit that such variations of "nature" do not necessarily imply a direct intervention or act of God. Consider the order of nature (see addendum 2):
"5: The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. 6: The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. 7: All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again" (Eccl. 1).
Is there a contradiction found regarding such texts as Psalms 135: 5-7 and Ecclesiastes 1: 5-7? Nay, verily. God is responsible for the rain, wind, and lightnings, in that, it was He who set in motion the laws and forces governing the weather, etc. Again, as seen, God has also directly affected the weather on occasion unto his righteous ends.
Let us now direct our attention to the case of Job to see what can be ascertained to assist us in our study. Since calamity, floods, storms, sickness, and suffering are all considered "bad," some say the devil is directly behind such "evil." One thing apparent from the case of Job is that the devil did not usually have the ability to effect the storms, deaths, and physical diseases, God had to grant him "permission" (Job 1: 6-12, 2: 1-6). In the case of Paul, physical suffering is attributed to Satan (2 Cor. 12: 7). There are two possible explanations. First, perhaps Satan was given such authority to afflict Paul as he was granted relative to Job. Perhaps Paul is assigning the origin or his suffering to the devil in general and not directly. Keep in mind, all suffering both moral and physical evil originated with the devil (sin, Gen. 3; 4, John 8: 44). Hence, in this sense all physical evil is of the devil.
Let us now begin to extract some practical conclusions from all that we have gathered. Consider again David Hume’s statement:
"Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"
Philosopher Hume is omitting some important and germane truths in his dialetic exercise. First, physical evil often has a benign place and purpose. Trials can be for the good of man.
"71: It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statues" (Ps. 119, 2 Cor. 12: 7: 16-18).
Difficulties and human privation assists in man’s purgation and purification (I Pet. 1: 7; I Pet. 4: 1, Heb. 12: 5ff.). Misfortune also allows others the opportunity to show love toward those thus suffering (Gal. 6: 2). "But the innocent suffer," it is objected. Man is so limited in his knowledge. We must remember that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and, moreover, benevolent. He does not, though, just look at one person or one circumstance. In the case of Joseph, he greatly suffered for many years and through him many were benefited (see Genesis 50: 20). Whence then is evil? Physical evil had a beneficial purpose that many do not acknowledge in their limited and often selfish thinking. The ultimate example is the suffering and murder of the sinless Son of God to benefit all men (2 Cor. 5: 21).
Based on our biblical information, God indirectly (through natural laws He established) controls the universe. God can also, when he elects, directly control the elements (cp. Mark 4: 39). In fact, God has directly used catastrophes to afflict punishment on certain peoples, as seen. There is no reason to believe that he does not continue to do so today. Keep in mind, though, we simply do not know when catastrophes are the direct result of God. During the time when God spoke through the prophets, they would reveal the coming of divine visitation and pestilence and urge repentance (Amos 3: 4ff.). We have no such divine declaration today. Therefore, we need to refrain from attempting to assign a spiritual meaning to all events.
As we close, let us also revisit our four models and apply what we have learned.
"The model of the atheist is, ‘There is no God; hence, nature and misfortune are always random and without any intelligent causation.’"
In view of the obvious intelligent design of the universe, model one is untenable.
"Model two: ‘God set in motion certain laws governing man upon this planet and then entirely removed himself from the affairs of man.’"
As we have seen, model two is not biblical (Acts 17: 27, 28).
"Model three is the result of determinism: ‘God is directly the cause of all things that happen, both weather and misfortune and nothing happens by chance, accident, or as the direct result of man.’"
Model three ignores the teaching of the Bible regarding natural laws and chance (Eccl. 1: 5-10; 9: 11).
"Model four is: ‘God set in motion certain laws to govern physical creation and the universe, but he has and does on occasion intervene to use the forces of nature to his own ends.’"
Model four is biblically tenable and is, thus, the truth of the matter. When understood, then, there really is no problem regarding evil and God. This is not to say, however, that application wise, we always know the answer in specific cases and circumstances (cp. Deut. 29: 29). (For related studies click on, "Why Do Bad Things Happen To People?" and, "What Is Calvinism?")
Addendum 1. The term "theodicy" and then "contrast theodicy" as commonly used since the 1700’s normally refer to man’s efforts to naturally and intellectually arrive at the truth regarding the problem of evil and God. They attempt this through various logistical formulas and philosophy rather than reason primarily based on the teaching of the word of God.
Addendum 2. One must of necessity distinguish between "direct" and "indirect" acts of God. While it is generally true that all weather related phenomenon is God produced in the sense that he created and put in place impetus influencing winds, hydrology, lightening, etc., it is another matter to affirm that each and every act of weather is a result of the direct impetus of God. It also must be understood that man’s actions can and have on occasion contributed to sickness, suffering, and even catastrophic events.