“If God is a good God, then why did he allow my mother to die of cancer?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” We have all heard or perhaps asked such questions concerning God and the apparent evil we experience in this present age. The majority of people who ask such questions are not philosophers, but dear friends, family members, and perhaps our own hearts. The question of good and evil in this world is one that is not limited by religion, race, or history. It is an existential question that every person is faced with. Many philosophical thinkers have viewed the problem of evil as a rational objection to theistic belief, what German theologian Has Kung called “the rock of atheism.” The presence of evil in the world, however, can be logically consistent with a good, omniscient, and omnipotent God. In this paper, I will articulate a thesis for the presence of evil, show the importance of this thesis, defend it while also citing potential objections, and finally I will give a succinct conclusion.
My hope in this paper is to give a practical theodicy for the evil we are faced with in this age. The paper’s aim is not to be a defense, that is, to give a formulated argument against a view of evil, but to give an account of why a good and all powerful God allows suffering and evil to persist. Instead of viewing evil and suffering as a “rock of atheism,” I believe evil and suffering are more consistent to an alarm clock, waking humanity to the severity of our current reality. A major metaphysical question to ask concerning God’s involvement in the world is to ask, “What are God’s attributes?” The three attributes that are focused on in this paper are God’s goodness, omniscience, and omnipotence. The working thesis for this paper is that it is logically plausible that the evils instigated in the world are caused by the free choices of humans, angels, and nature; therefore, God logically exists as an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being.
The importance of this thesis is not just the philosophical question, but also of existential significance of our answers to the question. The question of good and evil is not a question of cosmic forces that act in opposition somewhere outside of us, but the reality of the good and its depravations within us. The issue of evil is perhaps the most relevant and painful questions that philosophy addresses and if properly articulated, can provide a person with a sure and steadfast hope to overcome its effects: pain, suffering, and injustice. The existence of evil, suffering, and pain causes us to ask tough questions concerning evil, but as Viktor Frankl understood, “If there is a meaning in life at all then there must be a meaning in suffering.”
In the following concise defense of my thesis, I will focus on the following “key ingredients” to my theodicy: freedom as potential, evil as a perversion of good, and the restoration of all things. I begin with the creation. I operate from the theistic philosophical assumption that God is the creator of the universe and is separate from his creation; therefore, God is wholly other and is apart from nature. God’s attribute of omnipotence means, “power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to his power.” So from this understanding of omnipotence, it is as nonsensical to say, “God can give creatures free will and at the exact same time withhold that free will” as it is to say, “God can make something green and blue at the same time.” Humans, similar to angels and nature itself, are endowed with the freedom to choose contrary to God’s will. Augustine insisted that evil and God’s infinite goodness are not contradictory based on the freedom of the will. Augustine affirmed that, “the will is created by God, and is therefore good; but that the will is capable of making its own decisions. It is good for the will to be free, even though this means that such a free will can produce evil.” Thus when the infinitely good and omnipotent God created humans and angelic beings with a will of their own, he created beings that were originally good, but had the freedom of contrary choice. Evil then is not some cosmic entity or an opposing evil deity, but a choice that is contrary to God’s infinite goodness.
Evil is often looked upon in modern culture as something that is distinctly separate from good. Most churches wrongly place God and Satan on the same platform as if God is the ruler of what is good and Satan in the ruler of what is bad. Black/white, light/dark, good/evil fit in better with the Taoist expression of “ying and yang” than an orthodox Christian understanding. The dark side of the moon is dark only because of the absence of light; a paper with black letters on it was once white before the letters; evil was once good. Therefore, evil is but a perversion of what was once deemed good. Lucifer, the Christian archetype of evil, was once regarded as one of the closest beings in proximity to Yahweh before rejecting Yahweh’s infinite goodness for his own ways. I make this point not to devalue the pain and suffering that result from the evils of this age, but to make certain that such evils are not ascribed to an infinitely powerful, knowing, and wholly good God.
So far in this theodicy, the type of evil spoken of can be classified as a moral evil, but there is also the broad category of natural evil. Natural evil covers such things as physical pain and suffering that result from either impersonal forces or human actions such as floods, fires, disease, famine, and defects. William Hasker in his own theodicy states, “It is important to acknowledge the existence of evil in the world as a pervasive reality. This evil mars and obscures but cannot entirely hide or obliterate the goodness inherent in the creation.” God created nature in a way that it can exist as a system: the rains come, the seeds grow, and the animals eat and eventually die. This apparent “circle of life” was also put into confusion as a result of the creation’s first stewards, Adam and Eve. What we call epidemics and natural disasters today are results of a confused natural order, as the apostle Paul described it in Romans 8:19-22:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
The natural evils that persist are a result not of God pulling the strings of nature to send a tsunami here or a disease there, but are the result of nature set to confusion as a result of the rejection of God by the first son and daughter of humanity.
The scope of God’s restoration must then work in a way to restore not only moral evils, but also natural evils. This is why even the creation cries out according Paul in Romans 8 for there is an entanglement between the restoration of creation and the restoration of humanity. Despite God’s omnipotence to endow his creatures with contrary choice, his infinite goodness moves him to pursue us in our rebellion as a lover does their betrothed. Evil is a rejection of God’s love and goodness, so a decision to return back to God, first requires God to bestow grace to us for we are born into a state of “Non Possee Non Peccare” (not to be able to not sin). Unlike Pelagius, Augustine said that it is first through grace that we experience freedom, because we are all born into sin. Adam and Eve were the only ones initially born into a state of “Posse Peccare, Posse Non Peccare” (to be able to sin, or to be able not to sin), but as far as we are in Christ we are in a state of “Non Posse Peccare” (not to be able to sin). The restoration of humanity then is not a return to a previous state, but entering into a new state of freedom from evil that is finalized in the resurrection of the dead. This requires God in his omnipotence to make a new and living way for the humanity that initially rejected his infinite goodness. It is beguiling that the Lord of the universe chose the cross as a means to bring humanity to a new glorified state for by doing so, he endured the most severe suffering, pain, and rejection in all of history. The way the Lord chose to redeem humanity on the cross legitimizes our own pains and sufferings and should move us beyond them into the new reality of the Kingdom of God.
There are a few potential holes within this theodicy, I am well aware. For the page limit in this paper, I had to make such assumptions like that of a Christian theist, an adherent to libertine freedom, as well as my definitions of omnipotence, goodness, and evil. Some could argue that my handling of omnipotence is sufficient to create free will, but not when it results with the loss of a single soul to hell. But I ask, what do you mean by “hell” and “omnipotence”? For God’s omnipotence in a sense allows for those who reject His infinite goodness, to remain rebels forever. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat…I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” I find the logical problem of evil argument, championed by J.L. Mackie to form a rather simplistic and dangerous equation, “omnipotence + goodness + evil = no God.” As I have shown in this thesis, this equation is inadequate since, “omnipotence + omniscience + infinite goodness = Gods ability to endow creatures with free will, a potential to choose good or not to choose good.”
The title of “the problem of evil” is an “enlightenment packaging” that actually covers up the realities of evil. As David Root puts it, “The Materialist’s aims – to show that the problem of evil is sufficient to disprove God’s existence – can be appreciated for their simplicity; however, they fail to save the appearances. In another age, it was not so much the problem of evil as it was the issue of evil.” Some call evil a “problem” as a result of modernity’s lie that humans can be autonomous and wholly independent. Such a lie of being self-autonomous is what started the current age we live in, one that Paul refers to in Scripture as “this present evil age.” I am actually stunned that philosophy deals with “evil, suffering, and pain” as yet another reason to not have theistic faith. It is almost like the pain of evil is harnessed as a very emotional proof for non-theistic philosophers against belief in God and I find it demeaning for all of us who suffer from the evils of this world to use evil in this manner.
It can also be argued by some that this concise theodicy of mine does not account for the probabilistic problem of evil. William Rowe argues based on the concept of “intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some great good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.” This particular argument is based a lot on the subjectivity of those who assign the probability. Those who are non-theist will assign a low probability to God, but those who are theist will assign a high probability. The probabilistic problem of evil demonstrates more about the presuppositions of the philosophers than it does if God’s existence is rational.
In conclusion, the issue of evil is very present and real in this present age. The thesis of this paper has shown that the evils instigated in the world are caused by the free choices of creatures; therefore, God logically exists as an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being. The hope of this theodicy was not to devalue the reality of one’s suffering, sorrow, and pain that are the growing pains of this evil age, but my hope is quite the opposite: to bring legitimacy and clarity to what evil truly is and to articulate the hope for a final restoration from evil. As Revelation 21:4 states, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” For when Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s infinite goodness, the potential for evil became actualized evil. This is the evil we experience today in the two categories of natural evil and moral evil. The hope for the Christian is to enter into a new state in which it is no longer possible to sin, which will be finalized in the resurrection. This choice, however, is extended by the grace of God, so that we may choose or reject God’s means of reconciliation in Christ. The blame for the origin of evil is essentially human and not divine, but God’s intervention in Jesus Christ gives us the option to truly be freed from the evil that atrophies our capacity to be and do good.
To view the pdf version of this click here: PH501 – Paper 3 – Good and Evil
Michael Peterson et al., Reason & Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion,
4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 146.
 William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 107.
 Jerry Root, C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2009), 186.
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1940), 18.
 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1984), 212-213.
 Peterson, 146-147.
 William Hasker, The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 202.
 Steve O’Malley, lecture CH 501 (Asbury Theological Seminary, Spring 2007)
 Lewis, 129-130.
 Root, 187.
 William Rowe, “The Evidential Argument from Evil,” in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3rd ed., ed. Michael Peterson et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 354-362.