Summary: Dying for an Answer: An Attempted Theodicy to the Problem of Evil
It is perhaps one of the greatest intellectual stumbling blocks in all of religious thought. As much as any soul would like to avoid the topic all together, sooner or later each person will be forced to grapple with the seemingly incongruous realties resulting from the simultaneous existence of both a sovereign God and the prevalence of evil in the world. To some, the disconcerting existential trauma of suffering in their lives and in the lives of those around them is enough to make one come down in the negative in their answer to the God question. However, upon deeper reflection one is forced to realize that --- though still mind boggling --- it is not necessarily inconsistent for both evil and the Biblical conception of God to exist at the same time.
In the hopes of gaining just a bit of perspective into such an overwhelming universal mystery, it is probably best to start out by formulating the problem in a summarized written form. Norman Geisler in “Introduction To Philosophy: A Christian Perspective” states the problem in the following manner: “(1) If God is all-powerful, He could destroy evil. (2) If God is all-good, He would destroy evil. (3) But evil exists. (4) Therefore, there is no such God (Geisler, 274).” To establish a credible defense to these charges, the Christian must show that evil does not necessarily upset the divinely appointed applecart and is allowed to exist because of the purpose it serves in subordination to higher, more important realities even if these do not always make sense to finite human sensibilities.
At the heart of this debate is a discussion as to both the nature of God and the nature of evil. As to the ethical nature of God, Matthew 5:48 instructs the reader, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.” However, that goodness is not like unto that of a saintly grandmother, though kind and loving in all of her intentions, who is helpless to prevent the world from deteriorating all around her.
In the spirit of the Rooseveltian axiom of speaking softly and carrying a big stick, God has the power necessary to carry through implementing how He thinks things ought to be. Colossians 1:17 says, “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” This is further elaborated and extended in Acts 17:28 which reads, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being...”
Pretty much nothing happens without God knowing about it and at least allowing it to happen by not intervening to prevent it even if He himself does not endorse the action, behavior, or event in question. Evil, by its very nature on the other hand, is a thought or deed violating God's nature of absolute goodness as expressed in the form of His natural and special revelation to those who inhabit the universe He created.
Yet, if God really does have the whole world in His hands as the old spiritual suggests, there needs to be a bit of explanation on the part of the apologist or theologian. For if God really is in sovereign control, one must show how this fits together with passages such as I John 1:5 which says, "This then is the message we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."
The first step in eliminating the apparent contradiction arising between the existence of both God and evil is to show how evil might serve some purpose or be allowed to exist as the unfortunate byproduct of some more comprehensive good. Perhaps the best response Christian thinkers have provided thus far over the centuries is probably the so-called "Free Will Defense".
The underlying assumption of the Free Will Defense posits that the fault and consequences for evil in the world lies solely on the shoulders of those who commit moral transgressions and exhibit ethical shortcomings rather than upon a God imposing them upon the world from the outside. Scripture bears much of this idea out in passages such as Romans 5:12 which reads, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned..." Thus, it is pretty much our own fault as a species as a whole for the misery rampaging across the face of the earth and in individual lives.
While such a theory might help account for things such as crime, war, and even sickness since none of us have escaped the stain of sin, by itself it does not provide enough explanation to account for the tragedy arising from natural disasters (often referred to as so-called “acts of God”) or why God does not normally intervene to prevent ne’er-do-wells from inflicting pain and suffering upon their victims innocent in terms of instigating these particular acts of malice. Both of these quandaries find their answer in what Ronald Nash calls the “Natural Law Theodicy” or what John Frame refers to as the “Stable Environment Defense”.