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!
The New NAMB: Part 5
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