01/06: The Problem of Evil
The problem of evil can be defined as the difficulty a theist has with a non-theist advance on the basic justice of God in the face of evil. The standard Christian response is an inefficient explanation, either that one can not know these things (even Boettner backs off of his previously strong language concerning God’s sovereignty, admitting “it is not ours to explain how God in His secret counsel rules and overrules the sinful acts of men…”), or that the evil somehow doesn’t really exist ontologically, or that its existence is necessary for the existence of good in all its complexity or finally, that God, while good, is impotent. Various Christian theodicy’s have been put forth to vindicate God’s basic goodness in the face of evil. Not only do these arguments not answer the problem of natural evil, but applied to the Judeo-Christian tradition they ignore the Biblical assertions about God’s sovereignty. I intend to argue however, that there is an epistemological problem with the classical query into the so-called problem of evil; second, I intend to argue that the free will arguments are not sufficient to answer the query--ultimately showing that God can be both all-good and all-powerful in a world in which evil exists--being fully aware that such an assertion is a source of perplexity.
What then did I mean earlier when I asserted that there is an epistemological problem with the query into the so-called problem of evil? I mean to say that there is an intrinsic incongruity in the query precisely because it is not concerned with God’s interest. That is to say, the query is fundamentally unsuitable because it seeks to understand the reality of evil from a creature to creature perspective rather than a creature to Creator perspective. As such, the epistemology is exclusively concerned with man’s particular gratification such that it subjects God to any number of human utopian fantasies. Perhaps we struggle to appreciate a creature to Creator relationship because we are familiar only with creature to creature relationships. However, it seems to me that there are relationships that share the dynamics of a creature to Creator relationship that would be useful in understanding our realities in relation to our Creator and that we would be familiar with – such as the relationships we share with animals. It is noteworthy that we grant certain prerogatives to ourselves in this regard that we refuse to grant to God as a result of this epistemological fallacy; in the West for instance, we breed cattle, fatten them and then slaughter them for consumption while in many places in the East, cattle are revered as sacred. In the West for instance, we raise dogs and cats, domesticate them and protect them with the dictate of law while in many places in the East, dogs and cats are routinely captured, skinned and rotisseried for consumption. It seems a basic assumption that human beings have the prerogative to assign certain values upon the lives of lesser evolved life forms – and even to other humans in many instances. It seems to be the tendency of man to view himself as the cosmic protagonist even in the face of every theory of the universe instructing to the contrary. The reality is that the loss of a human life – or millions of human lives is a relatively small thing in the cosmic scope of things.
This epistemological problem fixes one’s thinking about the matter into a particularly errant direction. To suggest that human free will somehow answers for all the atrocity in human history--that it somehow exculpates God from obligation is puzzling; contra wise, it marginalizes God. For the atheist, it is insuperably difficult to wrap his mind around the possibility of an all-good God allowing evil under any circumstance – whether God has determined that by it men would develop maturity or whether evil has filled the vacuum left when God voluntarily recused Himself from managing the universe. For the atheist, who is an atheist as a result of the problem of evil, either God does not exist or He is evil! The atheist likely chooses the former and like the free will theist, assigns the ultimate culpability to man’s choices. That atheist and other pagans come to the same conclusion as the free will theist is noteworthy. It seems to me that free will ultimately makes God an absentee father, leaving children to their own vices and ignorance. It also trivializes choice: “our problem of understanding lies in our conception of freedom. We generally think of it as being absolute, unrestricted self-determination, but our self- determination [finds its basis in] the inner conditioning governing our judgments, inclinations, subconscious motivations and psychological states; physical states; external environment; the forces of evil and God.”
It should be pointed out that I do believe that humans are “free” agents, leaving room for human culpability with regard to evil. We see in scripture a sort of concurrence in which God at times accomplishes His will through the “free” determinations of men and angels. But ultimately, at the crucial point the burden of evil rests on God’s shoulders – not man’s! It is more reasonable to place one’s confidence in God to bear this burden of evil because He is immensely wiser than we are and He is able to right wrongs through the dispensing of reward and punishment. It is important to note that the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition is not only omnipotent and omni-benevolent, but He is omniscient; that is to say, all wise. In our tradition “wisdom is God’s companion” (Prov. 3:19; 8:22-31) and He claims it as His own and by it He interacts in human history. We can rest in His decisions despite appearances of rampant and senseless evil. God, with the highest possible degree of quality, justice and integrity, by the same wisdom He used to create the universe and absolutely holy – separate, lofty and superior – judgment, which will never fail, of His own determination completely free from constitutional or any other restraint and without susceptibility to change, has invested complete control over whatsoever comes to pass in earth.
It is comforting to know that God is infinitely wiser then we, qualifying Him to make these cosmic decisions. Comprehending at once all things that ever were or will be in their causes, conditions, successions and relations and knowing whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, God is managing a cosmic portfolio, the likes of which we can not begin to fathom. But not only this, there is an eschatological element that assures us further. Perhaps because we do not have anyone among us who can give witness of eternal experiences and perhaps because we have to continue living with the consequences of evils – both moral and natural – we are largely unable to appreciate the surpassing greatness of eternity such that an eternal reward would be understood as infinitely more then retribution for any human suffering. Equipped with an appreciation for eternity, any human would hilariously choose the greatest possible human suffering for any length of time if it meant the apprehension of eternal Heaven! Even if man were ultimately culpable for the burden of evil, how could he repay? Not to mention justification for natural evil. Even the capture and subsequent execution of Hitler could not requite the loss of six million lives. God can and will repay; He can right the wrongs. The eternal reward for those six million lives will for them, far outweigh and right the wrong of their horrible suffering. Likewise, for the perpetrators of these horrible crimes, only an eternal Hell that began the moment their hearts ceased activity will recompense and bring justice! There is a passage in the Bible which suggests that one eternal day, if you would, is equivalent to 1000 earth years. I am confident there really is no equivalent and that statement is perhaps poetic justice, however, using that equation a young boy who suffers from an incredibly painful ailment for every minute of his life and dies at 15 – the duration of his suffering would be equivalent to a mere twenty-one minutes in eternity. The moment time ends for him, a divine exchange is made in which God takes his 15 years of unbearable pain and all but erases it, replacing it with unimaginable pleasure that the lad will experience without end. Human sufferings, both psychosomatic and somatic, are swallowed up in the enormity of eternity! This is why the Christian writer could say “I reckon that our present suffering is not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” later adding that “death is gain.”
Pastor Cory Ruth