Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here for another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Today we’re going to be talking about the problems of evil and suffering. It is perhaps the biggest reason why people reject faith in God, because aside from the intellectual problems that theists may face, there are personal ones as well that people deal with with the problem of evil because they’ve dealt with evil and suffering in their own lives so it really becomes a personal affair if you will why people might be angry at God.
In Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis remarks that there was a reason why he had been an atheist. He writes, “I was at this time living like so many atheists or antitheists in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.” So here Lewis tells us a little bit about his feelings prior to becoming a Christian and that it wasn’t so much that he didn’t believe God existed, but rather the fact of the matter was he was angry at God and so perhaps some of you listening there, maybe you’re dealing with some hurt in your own lives and you’re tempted to blame God, but at the very least, even if you want to blame God, that means you can’t say He doesn’t exist, because at the very least you think He does exist if you’re angry with Him.
This is a problem that really touches to the heart. What we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be separating, I should say, distinguishing the types of problems of evil and suffering so today we’re gonna be just doing a general overview of the three distinct categories and the first one is called the logical problem of evil. The second one is called the evidential problem of evil. The third one goes by a variety of names, the religious problem of evil, the emotional or pastoral problem of evil. I’ve seen it a number of different ways. Before we get into it though let me just say that if you’d like to have your voice heard on the show, if you’ve got a question about any of the problems of evil or if you’ve got a comment yourself, I’d love to hear from you so give us a call here at the studio at 505-2STRIVE, that’s 505-278-7483.
So the three categories, the first one, the logical problem of evil is roughly that the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God, and the existence of evil, are inconsistent or contradictory. The evidential problem of evil posits that the existence of God is improbable given the extent of evil or some gratuitous instance of evil, and then the religious or emotional problem of evil is roughly that an individual doubts God’s existence or is angry at God in light of their own experience of evil and suffering.
So, the logical problem of evil. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurius wrote “Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able but not willing? Then He is malevolent? Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able or willing? Then why call Him God? Roughly 2,000 years later the Scottish philosopher David Hume echoed Epicurius there when Hume wrote “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? So roughly a formulation of the argument of the logical problem of evil is this.
So we’ll be covering a couple of deductive arguments and so a deductive argument is just a structured way of aligning certain propositions and from them making logical inferences so here we’ve got this first segment so premise one, if God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, then He will prevent as much evil as He can. Premise two. He does not prevent evil as He can. Conclusion. God does not exist or He is not omnipotent, omniscient, or perfectly good.
So that’s the argument and then the question is “Well where is the contradiction?” Right. So people say “The existence of evil and the existence of God are contradictory.” That’s the word that’s often used, so then we need to ask ourselves, “Well where is the contradiction?” We have to show where the contradiction is and before doing that we really should ask ourselves “What is a contradiction?”
So according to the second of three classical laws of logic, the Law of Noncontradiction, two propositions that are directly opposed and mutually incompatible to each other cannot both be true at the same time and in the same manner. What that means is that we have A is not equal to not-A. As an example, a square by definition is not equal to something that is not a square, like a circle, or consider that A is B is not equal to A is not B. I know we’re getting propositional here so let’s get some more grounded examples.
Here’s a proposition. Kevin is a man is not equal to the proposition Kevin is not a man. Perhaps Kevin is a dog. Those are the sort of things that are contradictions. Right? So when we consider the four positions in question, that God is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, right, and that evil exists? Those are the four propositions. The question is “Where is the implied or hidden premise that would lead to the contradiction?” So we need to make that contradiction explicit in order to see that there is A is equal to not-A.
So when we consider those questions, it can be hard to come up with a way of understanding where the explicit contradiction is. So let’s take an easier example here. Let’s put the logical problem aside for the moment and here we’ve got the following three propositions.
#1. Mike is taller than Kurt.
#2. Kurt is taller than Claire.
#3. Mike is not taller than Claire.
So here, we can recognize that it’s not possible that these three propositions are all true. But the contradiction is not explicit. It is implicit. So we can rightly reason that if Mike is taller than Kurt, and Kurt is taller than Claire, then Mike is taller than Claire so that would be proposition 4. Mike is taller than Claire. So when we add that fourth proposition to the set, which a set is just a group of the propositions, we do see the formal contradiction, the explicit contradiction.
So we need to do something like that with the logical problem of evil. Right? If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and all loving, then He wouldn’t allow evil to exist, but evil exists. Where is the explicit contradiction? We’ve got those three attributes of God and the other proposition that evil exists, but because the atheist or the agnostic is trying to convince us that the three attributes and the existence of evil are inconsistent or contradictory, they have to show us where that explicit contradiction is and this has yet to be done. It has yet to be done even amongst the top notch philosophers. They cannot provide the formal contradiction to show us where it is. So instead of waiting around for the atheist to succeed in coming up with a proposition, theists could add a new proposition to the set that would help explain how the four propositions are not a contradiction and so there’s a philosopher by the name of Alvin Plantinga, he’s a retired philosopher. He spent most of his time at the University of Notre Dame. He’s done this. He has provided a proposition and he calls this the free-will defense. In the free-will defense, all that has to be shown is that the proposition is possibly true, so it doesn’t have to be true for the actual world, but it has to be possibly true so as long as it’s possible for God to have a good enough reason for letting evil exist, then the set would be internally consistent.
Plantinga’s response to be arguing is that God creates a world and that He has good reason for doing so. Sort of like a greater good argument. What’s the greater good here? So that greater good is essentially the fifth proposition, free-will, that humans have free-will? So here Plantinga writes
“A world containing creatures who are significantly free is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right, for if He does so, they aren’t significantly free after all. They do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures of moral evil, and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom. This is the source of moral evil.”
“The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence, nor against His goodness, for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”
And that’s it. That’s essentially the free-will defense. The type of freedom that Plantinga’s referring to is called libertarian freedom or libertarian free-will by which Plantinga means this. He writes, “If a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from permitting it. No antecedent conditions, and or causal laws determine that he will perform the action or that he won’t.”
If you’re interested in reading more about Plantinga’s defense here, you can pick up his book. It’s called God, Freedom, and Evil. It’s a short read actually. It’s maybe about 100 or so pages, so it’s a quick read generally speaking, and very logical and straight forward so it’s not too difficult to follow along. However, that sense of freedom, it’s a robust sense of freedom and not all Christians are in support of that sort of freedom and so interestingly enough, I think there are some Christians that still have this issue of the logical problem of evil. They haven’t solved it and so they still have to come up with ways that they would respond to the logical problem of evil, but perhaps I’ll get into that at another time.
What sort of reception did Plantinga’s work and argument have? Actually, quite a good one. So John Feinberg, the professor of Biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has written “In contemporary literature, no one has done more to defend and develop the free-will defense than Alvin Plantinga. He not only answers atheists Flew and Mackie, but also gives the free-will defense its most complicated and sophisticated expression. An expression that has convinced many.”
J.L. Mackie, who Feinberg just mentioned wrote “Since this defense is formally possible, we can concede that the problem of evil does not after all show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”
So there you get an atheist that’s willing to admit that essentially, Plantinga has solved the problem of evil and so another atheist, William Rowe has written, “Granted, incompatibalism”, which is just another word, specifically he has in mind here the libertarian view of incompatibalism, “there is a fairly compelling argument that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God.”
So essentially, the logical problem of evil has been solved and even though it’s been solved at the academic level, it’s important for two reasons for us to understand how it’s been solved. First in understanding this issue, we are loving God with our minds, so it’s still important for us to learn about this, and we can understand that God exists, He is omnipotent and omniscient and benevolent and yet evil exists in the world. These things are not contradictory and we can believe that they are consistent if we adopt a robust sense of human freedom. As I mentioned, some Christians are unwilling to do this and some Christians are even willing to grant the logical problem of evil and they reject God’s omnipotence or His omniscience and so they’re willing to concede certain points against the historic position of the Christian church and I would want to, I wouldn’t be willing to go so far as to do that even though these people are still Christians themselves.
Secondly why this is important, we’re talking about the logical problem. So we can use this knowledge in how we show others that we love them and the discussions that we have so it’s important for us to learn these things because some people haven’t and I’ve often been talking to people or writing on Facebook back and forth with people and they’ll mention the logical problem. They won’t mention that explicitly, but they’ll say “God can’t exist because there’s so much evil in the world.” Right? Or just that there is evil in the world rather. Immediately I think, “Oh. Well they’re preventing the logical problem of evil.” So how do we respond? There you go. That’s one of the reasons why we want to learn about these academic or intellectual issues because it can help us in the conversations that we have with people.
Let me say a closing remark here.
Let me say a closing remark here on the logical problem of evil. It does require a rebuff sense of human freedom, so as the early saint Augustine of Hippo wrote “As a runaway horse is better than a stone, which does not run away because it lacks self-movement and sense perception, so the creature more excellent which sins by freewill than that which does not sin only because it has no freewill.” Now I say the early Saint Augustine because academics, there’s a general consensus, though not an exhaustive agreement, there’s a general consensus that Augustine’s view of freedom changed over time, especially the later Augustine, some of his writings may not exactly line up with what he previously wrote about freedom so there’s debate over the topic.
When we say that God is all-powerful, we do not say that God could do anything imaginable, and that’s one of the points that Plantinga’s trying to point out here in his work. First, God does not act contrary to His character or His nature. He can’t lie for instance. Titus 1:2 tells us that. And he can’t tempt people to sin according to James 1:13. So He doesn’t act contrary to His nature. Secondly, He can’t create logical contradictions such as God cannot create a square circle or a married bachelor, so with these two things in mind, God cannot create a world with no evil and yet have people that are capable of being in a loving relationship with Him, so if creatures were not free in the libertarian sense to love God, they would not be capable of love or obedience, but rather conformity with what has already been determined.
So that’s essentially it for the logical problem of evil and now we’ve got a few minutes here before our break. I want to talk about the evidential problem of evil.
As a reminder, the evidential problem of evil posits that the existence of God is improbable, given the extent or degree of evil and so what’s really important to get here, how it’s different from the logical problem of evil, is that it creates a more modest claim, a much more modest claim, because the logical problem of evil tries to show that the existence of God and the existence of evil are contradictory, but this one is more of a probabilistic claim, that the existence of God is simply improbable given the extent of evil or the degree of evil, and that degree, there’s another word called gratuitous. We’re going to be talking about gratuitous evil. That’s sort of the degree, the severity of particular instances of evil.
The evidential problem here. This is really made famous by a fellow named William Rowe who’s a professor emeritus of philosophy at Purdue University. So we previously cited Rowe here about his willingness to concede the logical problem, but he’s come up with a tricky issue here on the evidential problem of evil and so with the logical problem of evil, we often think about moral evil, the evil that occurs as a result of an agent doing something out of their own free choice, but there’s also types of evil that exist, not just moral evil. There’s also natural evil. Some may dispute here this term natural evil. It’s true it’s not really the best indicator because there may not be something necessarily or inherently wrong with nature doing what it does and so here’s usually where we would add the problem of evil and suffering because what nature does can and does result in suffering of people, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes. This results in suffering and it may not be precisely evil, but there’s discussion over what constitutes that and there might be a reason why, an underlying reason why these things occur that could be evil actually and we’ll get into that.
So William Rowe writes “In some distant forest, lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire, a fawn is trapped, horribly burned and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering.” So here we have the problem of evil, of natural evil, and then the suffering of a fawn in the forest. So if we had to put this in deductive form it would be roughly something like this. There exists instances of intense suffering that God could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good. That’s the first premise. Premise two. God would prevent the occurence of any intense suffering He could unless He couldn’t do so without losing some greater good. Therefore, God does not exist.
You’ll notice it’s a much more modest claim than the logical problem of evil and in the first premise, it really cites God’s omnipotence because we’re talking about that God could prevent some evil without losing some greater good such as a forest fire where a fawn dies. Right? What greater good occurs as a result of that? Then the second is that God would prevent such instances, but He doesn’t, therefore He doesn’t exist, so He doesn’t because there is no God that would do that.
Traditionally, theists have objected to the first premise, but more recently there have been a small number of theists that have begun to reject the second premise, but before getting into how that’s all done, I want to consider the basis of Rowe’s argument here. So he thinks that the second premise is intuitive or self-evident, which many theists have granted over the years so that God would prevent the occurence of any intense suffering. He could unless He couldn’t do so without losing some greater good. That’s the second premise. So to support his premises, Rowe with regard to the first premise, he uses an inductive inference and induction is probabilistic, so he presents two propositions, what he just calls p and q. P is that no good state of affairs we know of is such that an omnipotent omniscient being’s obtaining it would morally justify that being’s permitting gratuitous evil. Therefore, here’s q, it is likely that no good state of affairs is such that an omnipotent, omniscient being’s obtaining it would morally justify that being in permitting gratuitous evil. Note that language. It is likely. So there’s the inductive inference, so it’s probabilistic. Before this starts confusing us since we’re dealing with a lot of propositions on the show today, I want to present a more understandable way, a simpler argument if you will, as to what this really boils down to and it’s to what I call an argument of gratuitous evil. So here’s a simpler argument so if you want you can forget the formal evidential one or the p and q inference that Rowe makes and it boils down to this.
Premise one. If God exists, then gratuitous evil does not exist.
Premise two. Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist.
So that’s essentially the argument of gratuitous evil and after a short break from a word from our sponsors, we’re gonna see how theists have responded to the argument of gratuitous evil, and again if you want to have your voice heard, you’ve got a question here about something I’m talking about or a comment about the problem of evil, then after the break we’re going to be talking about more personal suffering and how Christians deal with that. I’d love to have your voice heard. Give us a call here at the studio. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483.
Kurt: Thank you for sticking with me through the short break there from words from our sponsors. Before the break we talked about the logical problem of evil and how people attempt to show or to state, assert if you will, that the existence of God and the existence of evil are contradictory and incompatible, but we’ve shown how the free-will defense adequately responds to that, those assertions, and even atheistic philosophers are willing to grant that, but the focus is then changed to the evidential problem of evil, that the extent and severity of evil in the world is such that if God were to exist, He would prevent it and so it’s a claim based on probability theory, and so before the break I left with this argument of gratuitous evil.
If God exists, then gratuitous evil does not exist.
Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist.
That’s just a deductive argument there for what I’ve called the argument of gratuitous evil so how do Christians or more broadly speaking theists respond to this argument? Some might bite the bullet on the first premise. They might say, yes. There is gratuitous evil, but does that mean that they have to give up belief in God? Well, no. It doesn’t. You could hold that even though you think gratuitous or unnecessary evil exists, you could still think that God exists, and so remember that the evidential argument is a probabilistic one, so one could hold this argument to be true and it’s really important to consider all the background evidence that we have about the existence of God. So say you affirm this argument, but you do so in conjunction with your beliefs about say, the origin of the universe. Right? Cosmological arguments. Or the sustainability of the universe. The argument from contingency. Or the moral argument, right? So you may have very good reasons for thinking that God does exist and so you just need to hold all of these arguments in tandem together as a cumulative case so once you do that, here William Lane Craig writes “So the theist could actually admit that the problem of evil taken in isolation, does make God’s existence improbable, but he will insist that when the total scope of the evidence is considered, then the scales are at least evenly balanced or tip in favor of theism.” and I would argue there the latter, that the weights are still tipped in favor of theism.
If you buy into the probabilistic claim here of the evidential problem of evil, it still would not mean you have to give up belief in the existence of God, so if you think there is evil out there that’s unnecessary, that God would prevent it if he could then I just want to be encouraging to you that that doesn’t mean you have to give up belief in God, and some people are willing to make that jump, but it’s just that it’s a jump because we have other evidence we need to consider before we come to that conclusion.
As I said, some Christians, some theists are willing to bite the bullet, they say yes, but others say no. Right? Consider that if we were to take the first premise of the argument of gratuitous evil and instead of performing what’s called the Modus Talens, we perform a modus Ponens, so that’s another type of deductive argument. Wikipedia’s great for looking at this if you want to look up more about what a Modus Talens is or a Modus Ponens, so the argument that we can make is this.
Premise one. If God exists, then gratuitous evil does not exist.
Premise two. God exists.
Conclusion. Gratuitous evil does not exist.
There as you note what I just talked about our background evidence, we would support premise two, God exists. So that would be the hinge in discussion against atheists. Right? They would be critiquing the second premise. So at that point we would come to the conclusion that gratuitous evil doesn’t exist. Then this discussion might unfold. “Well how can you say that? This evil is necessary?” Because the atheist thinks that it is unnecessary right. It’s so severe. God could do something. He would do something if He could do something, but He doesn’t. It’s improbable that He exists says the atheist. So how do theists respond?
They would say that there is no gratuitous evil and there’s a camp here called skeptical theists or skeptical theism. This is not to say that these people are skeptical of theism, but rather skeptical theism is the position that there is a large epistemic gap between what humans can know and what God knows so roughly we may not have good reason for knowing why God would allow some specific evil action. This position’s become more popular over time due to the work of a fellow named Steven Wickstrom. He’s written this interesting article in the International Journal of Philosophy of Religion called the Humean Obstacle to Evidential Arguments from Evil on Avoiding The Evils of Appearance. We don’t need to get into all of that. It’s great and fascinating and there’s what he calls the cornea principle or the condition for reasonable epistemic access. This is all too high level for us.
The basic principle that we need to get from this though is that for all we know, God has good reason for allowing evils that appear unnecessary. They appear unnecessary and we, being finite and mortal, don’t know what those reasons are and maybe we’re just not in the timeline, we don’t have the perspective necessary, for knowing why God would allow some evil, but God, being sovereign makes certain providential decisions that result in some greater good, even if we have trouble seeing that greater good for any particular instance and so God has His reasons, but we may not know what those are.
Here what’s often posited is what’s called chaos theory. Let me quote from William Lane Craig again here who cites the chaos theory as an illustration. He writes “A butterfly fluttering on a branch in West Africa, may set in motion forces that would eventually issue in a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean.” Note here how it would be impossible for the person witnessing and experiencing the butterfly flapping its wings to know what the outcome of that event would be and likewise there may be some horrific event that appears to be gratuitous, such as the murdering of an innocent man or a child’s dying of cancer, and that would create a ripple effect throughout time and space that brings about some other end result that none of us could know about because it happens 100 years or a 1,000 years from now.
Let me say that that’s not to say there’s some sort of necessary causal chain, but it’s more of a contingent causal chain so I don’t want to say the butterfly flapping its wings necessarily brings about the hurricane, but that’s just the way things may have been, so now imagine the sort of ripple effect that would have occurred if Hitler decided not to invade Russia which many historians believe to be one of his biggest blunders, because a lot of his soldiers died in the harsh winters there. Imagine if he hadn’t done that and imagine if instead he had done a land invasion of England. Imagine what that would have brought. It’s very hard for us to see what would have happened otherwise. We just don’t have that perspective, but perhaps God does. Right?
But if you think this sort of defense is unsatisfying. Suppose you find yourself agreeing with the notion that there is gratuitous evil, that first camp, and though it’s not as popular, it’s still feasible to object to the premise stating that if God exists, then gratuitous evil exists. After all, it isn’t explicitly clear to some that if God exists, that there would be no gratuitous evil. At this point, what you could do is you could start to present what’s called a theodicy. This goes across the camps now. Whether you think there’s gratuitous evil or not, both sides still want to defend the existence of God and that He’s omnipotent and omniscient and all-loving and so we do this by presenting a theodicy and a theodicy is an attempt to vindicate divine goodness and providence in light of the existence of evil, so recall from the logical problem of evil that the solution by Dr. Plantinga was called the defense. A defense sought to show something as true via possibility whereas a theodicy presents an account, a model, for how something likely or actually is.
Dr. Craig notes here that when we present hypotheses accounting for evil, if the hypotheses are true, it “reduces any improbability that evil might be thought to throw upon God”, so that’s to say it weakens the probabilistic claims. Again, we’ve got to consider all these factors together, cumulative case for why God would exist and then why would He allow evil. Any hypotheses that are true sort of help ward off the degree of certainty that the evidential claim makes. Christians have had a number of different theodicies they’ve presented. I’m just going to quickly talk about a few of them.
One of them is called the soul-making theodicy. This was first proposed by the church father Irenaeus. We see a number of Bible verses that touch upon the soul-making theodicy and it’s essentially that what God is working on is making our souls or recreating or reforming our souls to be more like Christ. Consider James 1:24. “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be more mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Or Romans 5:3-4. “We also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.”
An analogy that I like to tell people when I’m speaking to an audience is that I’m a parent. I’ve got two kids. When I take my child to receive a vaccination, I know it’s going to hurt the kid and the kid’s gonna feel pain, but there is a long-term benefit to receiving that vaccination. So to God takes us to receive short-term pain for the long-term benefit even if we can’t see what that long-term benefit is so we may not know what that reason is and that’s why maybe God is allowing certain things to happen to us, why God doesn’t step in.
So what are some things that God may be making our souls about or for? He wants us to receive a knowledge of salvation. Right? God is in the business of having people come to know Him and so some of the evils that we experience as evil in life may appear as pointless, but they maybe are not pointless with respect to producing Christ-followers so that’s one of the important things to remember. Not just Christ-followers, but Christ-makers, so consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6 where he shows us that the afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger are all the things that he’s experienced, but this is important because he writes in that same letter in chapter 4, “Therefore we do not lose heart even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day for our light affliction which is but for a moment is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. While we do not look at things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
So it very well may be that some of the evil has no earthly purpose shall we say, or fleshly purpose, but God isn’t in the business of just giving us earthly comfort. According to Paul, this weight of glory that God is preparing us for is of far greater value and that’s ultimately more important, so the present sufferings that we have are miniscule relatively speaking and it’s important to keep that in mind.
What about the free-will theodicy? Not the free-will defense but the free-will theodicy. This is traditionally attributed to Saint Augustine. He, as we had mentioned, the logical problem of evil, he had talked a little bit about freedom, and he wrote some works on that. So the free-will theodicy interestingly enough talks about the moral evil that humans bring about, but it also talks about the free-will of spirit beings even so much so that the free-will of spirit beings are partially if not fully responsible for natural evil. This is also from Thomas Aquinas. It’s got wide reception among philosophers today. Remember, these are hypothesies. We’re not saying we’ve got super good evidences this is the case. Maybe we have a little bit of evidence, but these are hypotheses that we’re dealing with.
According to Christian theism, humans are fallen creatures. We have a propensity to sin, some more than others, and those that are depraved commit some of the most heinous crimes on planet Earth including some of the most seemingly gratuitous instances of evil out there and so it’s important to remember to that this isn’t just non-Christians. It’s Christian people too sadly. Christian people fall short and we do some of the same things, perhaps to a lesser degree. Some fall short to the same degree as non-Christians and so that explains why there’s moral evil and we do some really bad stuff even in our own lives and so we’ve got to consider that that all contributes to the society, the state of affairs where seemingly gratuitous evil occurs.
Let me move along for the sake of time here. Third theodicy, natural laws. The universe needs natural law for order. Without these laws we would cease to exist and sometimes these natural laws function in a way that results in harm to humans so even though natural evil is a consequence of the natural laws, God is still justified in creating natural laws that bring about earthquakes, for example, because there’s a greater good achieved.
As I had mentioned, some thinkers have attributed natural evil, say, to spiritual beings doing their thing, say demonic forces. Alvin Plantinga writes, so satan, so the traditional doctrine goes is a mighty non-human spirit who along with many other angels was created long before God created man. Unlike most of his colleagues satan rebelled against God and has since been reeking whatever havoc he can. The result is natural evil, so the natural evil we find is due to free actions of non-human spirits. Again, let me remind you this is just a hypothesis. We’re not saying this is super-certain, but maybe this is the case behind the realm, behind the curtain, between the natural world and the spiritual world.
The last theodicy we’re going to cover here is mystery. Job 1:11 tells us that satan reeks havoc without reason and Ecclesiastes 8:14 tells us there is something else meaningless that occurs on Earth. Its righteous men who get what the wicked deserve and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too I say is meaningless. Greg Boyd, who’s written this great book on why God allows evil and suffering. He notes that there are a variety of factors at play in the cosmos, most of which we have no idea about. Let me quote from him at length here. He writes
“From this it should be clear, that to explain in any exhaustive sense why any particular event took place just the way it did, we would have to have the entire history of the universe. Had any agent, angelic or human, made any decision different than it did, the world would be slightly different, or perhaps significantly different, but we of course can never know more than an infinitesimally small fraction of these previous decisions, let alone why these agents choose the way they did, and to this our massive ignorance of most natural events in history, which also create their own ripples, combined with our ignorance of foundational physical and spiritual laws that are operative in the cosmos and we begin to see why we invariably experience life as mostly ambiguous and highly arbitrary. We are the heir to an incomprehensible vast array of human, angelic, and natural ripples throughout history about which we know next to nothing, but which nevertheless significantly affect our life.”
Wow. That really just sums up the deep mystery of why God allows evil. There’s just so many factors at play that we’re just not in the place to understand and even though they greatly affect our lives, we just don’t know why some things occur.
So, let me conclude here about the evidential problem of evil. Daniel Howard-Snyder, he writes,
“The theist may rightly find the premises or inferences of arguments from evil dubious, and hence no problem at all. Perhaps then an argument from evil is the problem for the theist who finds all its premises and inferences compelling, but even then it may not be a problem since she might have more compelling grounds to reject the conclusion than to accept all the premises and inferences. Perhaps then, an argument from evil is a problem for the theist who finds all its premises and inferences compelling and who has lousy grounds for believing theism and she knows it.”
So interestingly enough here, Daniel Howard-Snyder remarks that “Wow. Well we’ve got these problems of evil, but theists really know how to respond to these things,” and so it seems that the only people that have truly intellectual issues with the problem of evil is because they have lousy grounds for theism, that is to say that they think have lousy grounds or they don’t have any grounds because they haven’t studied it. So the Christian philosophers do have these grounds as we’ve been talking about them. The free-will defense. The theodicies. Skeptical theism. These are all reasons and viewpoints that theists have postulated for responding to the evidential problem of evil.
It’s really just the people that haven’t thought about this stuff and that’s why it’s important that we’re talking about it here today and why you should be thinking about these things so that way, if these things ever come up in discussion or you begin to have doubts yourself, you can have that answer. Again, this is just the intellectual stuff, the logical and evidential, this is just in our minds. There’s this third category, the religious or emotional problem of evil that is a category in its own right. It’s when an individual doubts God’s existence or is angry at God in light of their own experiences of evil and suffering.
Now this is not merely an intellectual thing, it’s become personal. It’s a relational issue. There’s personal hurt. We’ve got about ten more minutes in the show here today and we could, and hopefully I’ll devote a whole show to each of these categories. I just want to give you an overview today, and there’s so much to say here on the relational issue. Here on this issue philosophers don’t talk about it all that much and nor do theologians because they sort of view it as just a counseling problem, but what I want to say is we can actually think about our relationships with one another and we can think about how we perceive certain states of affairs. I know just recently in my family, there was a tiff of sorts, not with my wife, bless her soul. She is perfect and beautiful beyond all measure. But there was a tiff in my family and I had to sit down with someone and we were talking about how we perceived a certain state of affairs that transpired where someone got a little angry and someone said something they shouldn’t have, that sort of thing. It happens to all of us.
We sat down and we talked about our perceptions and, lo and behold, we each to a certain degree, sort of had misperceptions. I don’t know if that’s a word actually, but it should be. We had misperceptions. We misunderstood the way things happened because we didn’t see things a certain way or we failed to see things a certain way or we heard something that wasn’t quite right and so it’s really important that we think about these things because we relate to God and so how we perceive God’s actions in the world affect what we think about Him and about why He would allow evil or really how, that’s the key word, how He allows evil. That’s also important, because Christians have different approaches to this and I really strongly advise against certain Christian philosophies here on how to deal with evil.
There’s a few adages. God rights the wrongs. Or some people say that verse from Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you.” Even though that verse is horribly taken out of context. It’s about the Jewish exile, the Babylonian exile, and about how God had a plan to restore, to bring back the people to Israel from Babylon. It’s not about an individualized plan that God has for our lives. Maybe there’s evidence of that elsewhere in Scriptures, but that verse is not it. At any rate, what people are doing there is they’re citing skeptical theism even though they don’t know it. They’re saying there’s greater goods here at play and so we don’t know why it happens, but citing that verse from Jeremiah as a sort of coping mechanism, which may help people.
So I’m a firm believer in talking about the religious or emotional problem of evil here because I don’t think enough apologists are talking about it. They sort of just put it off as a counseling issue, it’s a pastoral one, that you’ve got to talk to your pastor about. No. I want to talk about it here and now and with you because these are important how we think about and interpret God’s relationship with us. Interestingly enough, back in 2010, from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, it was discovered that people get angry at God all the time, especially about everyday disappointments, and interestingly enough, it’s not just religious people either. Atheists and agnostics also reported anger toward God either in the past or anger either just upon the hypothetical image.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t get angry at Thor for what Thor did. I’m not talking about the Marvel character. I’m talking about the mythological Nordic god. I don’t get anger at Zeus for whatever he did, so it’s interesting that atheists get angry even at the concept of God, which if He’s imaginary, why are you getting angry? So really I think it attests to the human condition here that if people are angry here at God, even the fictional god that they think does not exist, there is some hurt there and so I want to suggest that we consider where that hurt may have come from. Maybe it came from Christians dealing poorly with this person. Maybe they were hurt by Christians and so they shift the blame from those humans to God.
Again, really important why we understand, we have a rightly ordered mind if you will. We need to have a good understanding and a good attitude, a proper attitude toward God, so of course the question is “Well how ought we to have a proper attitude?” Well, there’s so much to say here. Consider the book of Job. Right? The book of Job is not only a theodicy, but it provides so much insight into human interpretation of evil so for example, Job doesn’t understand why God’s doing this to him. Job’s friends come along and say “It’s because you’re sinning”, but even the narrator tells us that Job’s a righteous man and the severe suffering he’s experiencing is not a result of his sin and so the friends misinterpret the situation. Again, they misperceive because they don’t have all the facts, even though we do, because we’re the audience, the narrator tells us that, and Job says “The Lord giveth and taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” We sing that song, contemporary worship song, and it was Matt Redman who wrote that song. I got bad news for you guys. That song is actually bad theology because when you read the book of Job you see where that theology leads him. It leads him to question God’s character and it’s so ironic, the sense of being so ironic because in theological discussion some camps are concerned about other camps view of the character of God as being arbitrary. Right?
It’s so often touted the mysterious will of God or it’s a great mystery we cannot know, and that’s used as a response to the objection that God’s being unfair here and so it’s interesting that this is what happens to Job. He thinks that God does whatever He wants and God is the result of the suffering that he has, but really it’s not the case. We see where it leads Job. It’s bad theology. Really, we need to be looking at the friend Elihu who comes along, that’s good theology. Ben Witherington of Asbury Theological Seminary,
“The word the Lord gives and the Lord takes away from the lips of Job are not good theology. They’re bad theology. According to Job 1, it was not God but the devil who took away Job’s children, health, and wealth. God allowed it to happen but when Job said these words, as the rest of the story shows, he was not enlightened about the true nature of where his calamity comes from and what God’s will actually was for his life, which was for good and not for harm.”
So the book of Job just provides a great example for us as to the different ways Christians interpret evil and suffering and not too many people today take the position of Job’s friends. Some people still do and we need to recognize that Job’s friends provided a general rule, what’s called the retribution principle. That’s a general rule. It’s not an exhaustive rule. Many Christians do take Job’s position and I want to warn against taking that view because it leads to bad theology and so we need to take the narrator’s position. A lot of people don’t realize that. We need to take the narrator’s position on the matter.
So I would encourage you to reread the book of Job all the way through and maybe you’ll come back looking back upon it saying “Wow. I never viewed it that way.” There’s so much more that can be said about this and we’ve got to some specifics today, the logical problem of evil, and the evidential problem, we’ve gotten to some specifics there, not so much about the evidential problem, and really we’ve just scratched the surface about the religious or emotional problem of evil. There’s so much more to say here, but Job’s a really important book to consider, the theology of that book. Just consider about how we relate to God, our views about the Bible, and the characters written therein. Are the characters extraordinary or are they ordinary? Are we supposed to be just like Moses or Gideon who were called by God to do something or were they extraordinary and that’s why they’re talked about in the Bible?
I’d like to posit to you that the vast majority of us are just ordinary people and so we’re not all going to have a burning bush experience or Damascus Road experience like Paul had and so those people had a specific purpose that God wanted them to do. That’s not to say that God doesn’t have purposes for us, but they’re more general perhaps. We’ve got to love people. We’ve got to visit the orphans and the widows and feed the hungry, so we’ve got our tasks to do here and so hopefully as I mentioned we’ll spend shows dedicated to just each of these categories, but that’s all I’ll say on this show today.
Just quickly here, we’ve got a quick question from the mail bag.
I’ve been having some interesting Facebook discussions with people. I’m quite active on there. I’m really trying to cut back though on my participation there, but I had posted some things from the Second Council of Orange of 529 and the canon that I had cited there was against a tenet within Augustinian theology there so the scholars generally agree here that the council did not provide a full endorsement of the theology of grace of Saint Augustine and so this canon here has brought some discussion on my Facebook page and so one fellow, Justin here, he’s asked me “Would I say that God is sovereign over peoples’ actions?” So do I believe in God’s sovereignty. I would say yes, of course I do. If you’re a Christian it’s clear that God is sovereign, but it’s almost just assumed or goes unstated what we mean by sovereignty and so some Christians believe that sovereignty necessarily entails that God has predetermined even the meticulous instance of anything that happens and I don’t think that sovereignty entails that God is the cause of everything by any means. When we consider how an Old Testament king was sovereign over his land, he had the authority to tell people what to do and I think we need to look at God as sovereign in light of those things. God is fully sovereign over all of creation and He has the authority to tell people what to do, command them what would be right and wrong, and we need to follow those actions, but some people don’t. They reject God’s sovereignty. They reject His authority, and they don’t follow His instruction and that’s the path to spiritual death and so yes, to get to Justin’s question, of course I think that God is sovereign, but please don’t confuse that for me giving an implicit endorsement of a certain view of sovereignty so it’s really important for those discussions to get into what someone means. Something that’s really close to my heart is defining our terms. We have words. There’s meaning to the words so we’ve got to really get to those meanings.
That pretty much does it for our show today. I’m glad that I could talk about categories of evil, the problems of evil and suffering, perhaps some of you have dealt with suffering in your own lives and I hope that you’ll consider some of my advice today. Reread the book of Job. Consider our perception. How we perceive God’s relationship to us. Maybe that’s mistaken. Next week I’m real excited. We’ve got Chris Date of Rethinking Hell. We’re going to be talking about the doctrine of hell. I’m sure we’re going to get into a little bit of discussion about his viewpoint, but at the very least we’re going to give a broad overview of the different perspectives on that.
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