Romans 11:33-36

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.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Problem of Evil

There are five basic approaches taken by theologians to resolve the problem of evil. The first considers God as not powerful enough to conquer or eliminate evil. This approach is expressed as one of two manifestations. Arminians see God sovereignly limiting His own powers to allow for the existence of evil while dualists see evil as eternally co-existent with God and therefore equally as powerful. Either view sees God as finite and impotent concerning evil. Both see God as incapable of holding the thread which suspended the sinner over the pit in Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.

Instead of limiting God’s power, the second approach maligns God’s knowledge. They claim that if God had known man would have chosen evil, He would have acted to prevent it. As with all Arminian views, in the quest for the unfettered free will of man, man’s freedom is lost. Following the logic of the open theists posited in Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible, God would have destroyed or not even created man had He not been surprised by the fact man would rebel against Him. According to their line of thinking, there is no way He would have made the mistake of creating Lucifer had He known then what He knows now.

A third approach for resolving the problem of evil is to limit or redefine God’s goodness. As opposed to the Arminian views espoused above, this is the view of the Hyper-Calvinist. Ironically, Hyper-Calvinist views were not even held by the namesake of the system, John Calvin. As is the case with most extreme theologies, the original beliefs were distilled and distorted by the originator’s later disciples. This view credits God as not only allowing evil, but creating it. The system destroys God’s goodness by making Him the author of sin and evil.

Another basic approach is to deny the presence of evil altogether. Whereas earlier mentioned approaches had dualistic characteristics, this one is distinctly monistic. As with many eastern religions, evil is seen as an illusion that can be overcome by inward reflection. Like the cave dweller in Plato’s Republic, what we see in the world is merely shadows or forms of the transcendent ideal.

The final approach is consistent with reality, but more importantly, the Bible. The ultimate resolution of the sin problem is eschatological. Erickson sees evil as a necessary possibility for creatures to truly be responsible. Notice he avoids making God the author of sin by using the descriptor, “possibility.” To say that evil is necessary pits God as the positive pole of a dualistic universe and removes the hope of an eternity free from evil. Man without the responsibility to choose between obedience or rebellion is less than man – he is an automaton. Man as the sole arbitrator of good and evil is more than man – he is autonomous. Neither extreme is true. God, in His sovereignty, gives man the responsibility to choose between good and evil. God's sovereign plan includes and is over all human choices from before the foundation of the world. His plan encompassed the fact that man would rebel to the point of brutally killing His Son, yet He loved man enough to create him anyway. Man’s depraved choices have warranted God placing a curse upon the earth. Briars, thorns, disease, storms, and natural disasters are a result of the original sin of Adam and Eve. Each individual sin committed from that time forward has resulted in manifold pain and suffering. The cumulative weight of the sins of mankind coupled with the curse God placed upon the earth combine to explain all forms of sin and evil in the world today. When looked at in that light, it is miraculous that there is any good and beauty in the world at all. God’s grace is amazing!

3 comments:

  • meinHerrundmeinGott says:
    December 6, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    Can there be a mixture of the last two in which we both recognize the moral responsibility of humanity and qualify evil? Augustine held that evil was the privation of good. Evil is no mere shadow, but it has no absolute being as good does since evil does not exist in the being of God. Yet, where the good benefits of God are not present, the real result is evil. It is something, just not an absolute something. Romans 12:21 says "do not be overcome by evil,[as if evil were a "something" by which to be defeated] but overcome evil with good." This is no battle between equals. Good is because God is. Evil is where created beings choose other than what God would choose. Evil, as real as it is, will end.
    Could it be that humans, created "posse non peccare [with the ability not to sin]" chose to sin and are therefore 100% culpable for sin, and that this fall has bent and twisted all subsequent humanity in that there are none who seek God or His goodness? And that in Christ, evil has no real (which should be read "permanent")power over believers? I do wonder how hell plays into this view of evil. Can hell be described as the place that God has "given over to its own, self-willed privation/denial of the good God?"

  • Jim Drake says:
    December 10, 2011 at 10:53 AM

    I think the danger of most of our definitions of evil comes when we either minimize or maximize its "realness". As opposed to the monist, evil is not an illusion--it is quite real. But, as opposed to the dualist, evil is not necessary--there will come a day when evil is completely destroyed.

    Our Western culture tends to assign an anthropomorphic quality to evil. Instead of evil being seen as an action or attribute, it is seen as a personality with its own will and character. Does evil happen? Or do sinful people do evil things?

    In Genesis 6:5, the wickedness God saw was "of man". The continual evil was "every intent of the thoughts" of man's heart. Man's intents were evil. Man's thoughts were evil. Man was behaving wickedly. Because of that, God brought the flood as judgment.

    We have a tendency to see the unimaginable suffering and destruction of the flood as being in-and-of-itself evil. The Bible doesn't portray it that way. Neither does the Bible dualistically pit a good, saving, loving New Testament God against an evil Old Testament God of judgment and destruction.

    The Bible's portrayal of evil is consistent. Evil is an action or behavior rather than a being. It is not self-existent. Neither is it caused or created by God. It has been judged by God. It has been atoned for by Christ on the cross. While God's wrath will eternally be poured out on those who have rejected His Son, evil actions and behavior will cease to exist after the events of Revelation 20.

    With this in mind, we would have to say that hell itself is not evil. Hell is a place of God's active wrath being poured out on those who have refused the atoning sacrifice of Christ for their evil actions and behavior.

  • Jim Drake says:
    December 10, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    Let me clarify the question, "Do sinful people do evil things?". The evil actions of people are not simply a legalistic list of "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots".

    Jesus boiled it down to its essence in Matthew 5:48. Anything less than the perfection of God is evil. Becuase of that, in-and-of-ourselves, "evil things" are all we can accomplish. Even our best attempts at righteousness are evil.

    Since we cannot accomplish righteousness on our own, it has to be accomplished on our behalf. Upon salvation, Christ not only takes our sin, He gives us His righteousness. Those who reject His righteousness and attempt to achieve their own righteousness will be judged according to their evil intents, thoughts and behaviors.

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