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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dealing with the Problem of Evil, Pt 4

(Previous posts in this series: part 1, part 2, part 3)
In the past few weeks we have been looking at the problem of evil.  The problem of evil refers to a common objection to belief in God.  To some, there seems to be a logical contradiction between the existence of a good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God and the existence of evil.  If God is good and knows how to prevent evil and has the power to prevent evil, why does evil exist?  For some, the existence of evil represents an impassible barrier to belief in God.
Our first task in dealing with this problem was to determine whether or not the Bible teaches that God is good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, and if so, whether or not these truths are essential to the Christian faith.  If any one of these three attributes are not true of God, the problem of evil goes away.  But we found that not only does the Bible clearly teach that God is all three of these things, but also that without any one of the three, the Christian faith is destroyed.  It is the teaching of the Bible that the goodness, omniscience, and omnipotence of God are essential truths of our faith.  We cannot deal with the problem of evil by sacrificing one of these attributes.
So what next?  A very simple method is to just show that the problem does not actually exist.  This post and the next will focus on the fact that both the Bible and logic tell us that there is no such problem, that is, that there is no contradiction between the existence of the God of the Bible and the existence of evil.  Of course, that doesn’t make the emotional tension go away all together, and future posts in this series will deal with popular but biblically faulty approaches to dealing with the problem of evil, as well as how to understand the providence of God as it relates to the existence of evil in the world. 
First of all, the most simple way to deal with the problem of evil is to note that the Bible does not recognize the co-existence of a good, omniscient, and omnipotent God and evil as a problem.  Perhaps that statement should be qualified somewhat.  The Bible does recognize that man has a problem it, but also affirms that God has no such problem.  In other words, the Bible notes that man may not understand how and why God allows evil, but the Bible also notes that God does not feel obligated to explain himself on the issue.
The story of Job is a prime example of this tension.  As you may know, the book of Job begins with an assessment of Job’s righteousness: “that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1).  The Lord then called Satan’s attention to Job: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (1:8) Satan replies that the only reason Job is upright is because God has blessed him.  “But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (1:11).  So God gives Satan permission to take away everything dear to Job, and eventually gives him permission to take Job’s health as well (1:12; 2:4-6).  Satan does so.
Most of the rest of the book details Job and his friends trying to make sense of the suffering that has befallen him.  Job’s friends insist that if evil has come upon Job, it must be because of some evil found in him – it must be God’s punishment.  Job denies this possibility, arguing that he has lived a morally upright life.  Job’s “final argument” is in chs29-31, in which he makes a case for his own righteousness, laments the suffering he has experienced, and appeals to God for an explanation.
In the next section (chs32-37), a young man named Elihu comes and chastises both Job and his friends for their approach to the question.  Finally, the Lord Himself addresses Job in chs38-41.  His response could be summed up in one question: “who do you think you are to question the Almighty?” 
The book ends with Job repenting of his presumptuousness and God blessing him beyond his original state.  In the end, Job does not get his question answered.  He does not learn why a good and just God allowed such intense evil to befall him.  The message seems to be that God is sovereign and all-knowing and good…and owes no explanation to man for the things that He does and allows.
It is fine to ask God questions.  It is quite another thing to demand answers and to act as if God is bound to give them.  There are areas of mystery that we cannot understand, but we must trust that the Bible is true and that God is who He says He is.  What we do know is clear: Scripture consistently denies that God is in any way responsible for evil.  1 John 1:5 tells us that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”  We have already noted in this series that James 1:13 affirms that “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”  Nevertheless, evil exists.  The Bible teaches both truths side by side and we are bound to believe them both.  In our finite human minds, we may not be able to reconcile the two, but the Bible does not recognize the problem of evil as a true problem. 
It is important to understand this as we begin to look at how to understand these issues.  We must start where Job ended – humbly acknowledging that our understanding is limited, our God is inscrutable, and no matter how far we progress in making sense of the issue at hand, God is worthy of our worship and love.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?  Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.  (Rom 11:33-36) 
Posted by Greg Birdwell

1 comment:

Brian Jonson said...

Greg - thanks for this series.

For me, the biggest challenge is accepting that God is glorified through the evil that exists. He does all things for His glory, and this includes "evil" things. Sometimes we are allowed to see how that all works out, such as in the life of Joseph. I would say most of the time we aren't privy to the "why". Children who suffer, disabled adults who are abused, extreme poverty and disease - these are all things that exist and serve to glorify God. I will admit, however, I cannot understand exactly how. Nevertheless, God is God and I am not. So, it's ok that I don't get it.