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    Nov 23, 2014

    Class 3: The Problem of Evil

    Series: Apologetics

    Category: Core Seminars, Apologetics, Evidence for Faith, The Problem of Evil


    Problem of Evil


    If you could ask God one question, what would it be? According to a poll of American adults, most people would ask: Why is their pain and suffering in the world? Augustine of Hippo asked the question a similar way: “If there is a God, why is there so much evil?”

    In his book reflecting on the problem of evil, C.S. Lewis summarized it this way: “’If God were good, he would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God either lacks goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain in its simplest form.”(The Problem of Pain)

    Today, we will discuss the what we philosophically call “The Problem of Evil.”

    II. What is “The Problem of Evil”

    Practically, the problem before us today typically sounds like one of these others questions:
     If there really is a good god, why is there so much evil in the world?
     Why a Hitler and the Holocaust? Stalin and Mao? A September 11th?
     I can’t possibly believe in a god who would allow __X__ to happen.
     If God can really do anything, why doesn’t he get rid of evil?
     We ask –“Why Lord?” – when our experience and our knowledge of who God is do not seem to line up
     It's not fair that people suffer unjustly.

    The famous utilitarian philosopher, John Stuart Mill, summarizes these questions in a philosophically:
    “If God desires there to be evil in the world, then he is not good. If He does not desire there to be evil, yet evil exists, then He is not omnipotent. Thus, if evil exists God is either not loving or not all-powerful. Evil casts a shadow over God’s love and power. This is no small dilemma, and answers to it are exceedingly difficult.”

    What is at stake as we consider this question – at least to unbelievers – is the idea that God can not be all-powerful or that he cannot be all good. This is the problem that we will try to reconcile this morning, and we will conclude that despite evil in the world, God IS all-powerful and that He Is all good.

    III. Common Solution: Theodicy

    the•od•i•cy [thee-od-uh-see] –noun. A vindication of the divine attributes, particularly holiness and justice, in establishing or allowing the existence of physical and moral evil.

    Let me start by giving you a brief overview of a few common solutions:

    The question of the origin of evil has not been answered completely and satisfactorily by ANY system of thought. But, most systems have attempted to answer it.

    A. Evil is Unreal – just an illusion

    Charge: Evil is an illusion – it is not real (non-Christian and Eastern Mysticism).
    Since evil is just an illusion, the way to overcome it is mind over matter. (Buddhist)

    1. Breaks down and falls flat with human experience.
    2. Why would God allow such illusion to overtake us?
    3. (Insert Scripture)

    B. Evil is just good in disguise (Taoism)

    Charge: From God’s perspective, all things are good, even though they may seem bad from our point of view (Romans 8:28)

    1. Romans 8:28 does not say that all things are good, it only says that all things will work for good – for a select group of people (the elect)
    2. Evil out of which God brings good is real evil. From the betrayal of Judas comes the redemptive act of the cross, but that in no way minimizes the wickedness of Judas' act.
    3. "Evil is good" fails because it obscures the real difference between good and evil. It is an implicit denial of the reality of evil.

    C. Dualism: God vs. Satan (Star Wars, Ying & Yang)

    Charge: God really wants good, but Satan thwarts his purposes and wants evil.
    There exist two ultimate and opposing forces which are equal in power and eternality. This view lets God off the hook by making the existence of evil eternally independent of Him.
    1. Excludes the possibility of redemption of evil: if evil is equal in power to God, God has no way to overcome it.
    2. Also fails logically. God cannot be omnipotent if he is in true conflict with Satan (cannot have two absolute beings at the same time).
    3. Finally, it fails Biblically. Satan is not equal in power to God; in fact, he is subject to God (Ps 115:3, 135:6; Job 1:9-12)

    D. We must have evil in order to appreciate good

    Charge: To appreciate health, I must first understand sickness.
    To appreciate righteousness, I must first understand wickedness.
    It appears weighty because we do experience the intensity of appreciation by way of such contrasting experiences. Example: I do appreciate health after I've just been sick.

    1. If the experience is necessary for the appreciation of good, then God would have to experience evil in order to appreciate good as well (but: I Jn 1:9/ Insert Scripture)
    2. This approach really just falls back to the "evil is really good in disguise"
    3. Doesn’t make sense with what the Bible teaches about Heaven and Hell – Humans experience one or the other only and eternally.
    4. (Insert Scripture)

    E. Evil is just relative (post modern)

    Charge: This is really not a theodicy as it doesn’t really seek to justify God – it really just seeks to eliminate Him. There is no such thing as good or evil; only how you feel about it matters.
    There are only social convictions or preferences that masquerade as real values.

    1. What does it mean that it “matters” how you feel about something?
    2. When we talk about what "matters," we imply good or evil, right or wrong.
    3. For example, what of the teaching that terrorism, mass murder, genocide, infantacide, mass gassing of humans, and bombings are all morally neutral because they are just a matter of perspective?
    4. (insert Scripture)

    F. Open Theism: (“Christian” compromise)

    Charge: Attempts to explain God’s Sovereignty and man’s choice.
    God created the world but didn’t know or determine all the outcomes.
    God does not know the future but exists in time and reality.
    He can “predict” the future since he knows people so intimately.

    1. What of the teaching that Jesus was God’s plan from before all time?
    2. What of clear teaching that God has all things in His hands?
    3. This view robs God of His Glory.
    4. (insert Scripture)

    The problem remains: how could evil originate with a good God who created the world?

    IV. The Biblical Conundrum

    So what is the solution?

    In one sense, there certainly are answers in the Bible about this, but in another sense, there is not a crisp single sentence answer that is tied up with a bow. We just to not have perfect resolution of this issue as Christians. What I can do – however – is to provide the Biblical perspective for the “Problem.”

    As we have talked about before, our knowledge is limited, our minds are fallen. But just because cannot understand some real things fully, does not mean we are unable to understand those things truly. (Example: the Trinity). So, in that sense, we don’t have a “solution” in the sense that we can make perfect sense of evil, suffering and pain in this world.

    The complete full answer has not been revealed to us by God. So can we trust in a God who has not revealed this to us in full?

    YES. Absolutely. We trust God because of what we do know and what God has revealed to us.

    Imperfect Example:

    A father tells his son playing in yard to drop down on all fours and crawl through mud toward him. Son wonders why and asks. Father demands obedience. Son obeys and does so. When at his father’s feet, his Father shows him the deadly snake that was hanging in the tree above where the child had been standing. When in God’s presence one Day, we will see things from his perspective and may understand more fully. Until then, his thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

    V. We Can Trust God As He Has Been Revealed To Us

    1) God is the all-powerful governor of His Universe

    Psalm 115:3 – “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”

    Genesis 1. God spoke and the worlds were created.

    Colossians 1. “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

    2) God is in control of every aspect of His creation

    Ephesians 1:11 - “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”

    Psalm 33:15

    3) God even orchestrates the sins of man to glorify himself (yet is not tainted by them)

    Exodus 4:21 – “The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”

    Consider the actions of Pilate. The Pharisees. Judas.

    4) Yet, God is never blameworthy for evil that occurs. Those who commit evil are to blame.

    James 1:13-14 – “When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”

    5) For God is good and holy, and he hates evil

    Habakkuk 1:13 – “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

    Revelation 4 – “Day and night [the creatures around the throne of God] never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come”

    6) God judges us. We do not judge God.

    Romans 9:19-21—“One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”
    Consider the example of Job (chapters 38-41). God’s first question to Job puts things in perspective: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”

    7) God will use evil for an ultimate good purpose (which we may not now fully understand): a “greater good” [may change wording so as not to confuse with a utilitarian “greater good”]

    Genesis 50:20 – “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

    Consider the crucifixion of Jesus. The worst tragedy of human history is the brutal murder of the only perfect man to ever live. But this injustice is also the most glorious event of human history – God’s sacrifice of his Son to ransom a people unto himself. Friends, if the ultimate evil can result in the ultimate good, God can use lesser evils in other places and times in history – even in our lives – for our good.

    God’s ultimate purpose is NOT to provide happiness for man, but rather to glorify Himself. Man’s chief end is “to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.”

    Scripture does sometimes show how God has used evil to advance His purposes (three examples):

    1. Displaying His mercy and justice
     Romans 3:26, Romans 5:8, Romans 5:20-21, Romans 9:17

    2. Redemption – Christ’s sufferings on our behalf.

    Paul sees his sufferings for the church and the spread of the gospel as similar to Christ’s sufferings.
    Anytime we witness and are reviled we are suffering for the glory of Christ.
     Christ (1 Peter 3:18), Paul (Col 1:24), Believers (2 Tim 3:12)

    3. Shock value to unbelievers that can gain their attention and promote a change in heart.

     We as humans have a tendency to forget God when things are going well. God can use pain and suffering to accomplish this. God may use pain as a megaphone to rouse a deaf world from our complacency.
     Deuteronomy Chapter 8
     “I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition...when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease...At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be at all times, I remind myself that toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ.” C.S. Lewis
     Zech 13:7-9, Luke 13:1-5, John 9

    4. Fatherly discipline of believers
    • Romans 5: “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
    • Hebrews 12: 5-11: “5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
    "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
    6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."[a]
    7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

    VI. We Should Trust the God Who Has Revealed Himself


    Our hope of Heaven is captured well in Revelation 21:1-4:

    “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

    2.) EXPERIENCED EVIL – Christians’ “Answer” to the Problem of Pain is Found in Jesus’ Death on the Cross

     Where is God in a world of pain and evil? His answer is the Incarnation. The Word, Jesus, became Flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus knew fatigue, hunger, sorrow, and pain. His friends aged, grew sick, and died. He was betrayed by a friend. He entered into all out human agony and bore all the pain of our sin on his very self.

     Peter Kreeft: “Many Christians try to get God off the hook for suffering. God put himself on the hook, so to speak, on the cross.”

     (Kreeft) “It’s significant that most objections to the existence of God from the problem of suffering come from outside observers who are quite comfortable, whereas those who actually suffer are – as often as not – made into stronger believers by their suffering.” Why? In large part because they follow One who was a Suffering Servant, who was despised, rejected, beaten, and killed.

     So, friend, the answer to suffering is not an answer at all. It’s the Answerer, Jesus himself.
    o It’s not a bunch of words, it’s the Word made flesh.
    o It’s not a tightly woven philosophical argument alone, but a person. A Man of Sorrows.

     The answer to suffering is not just an abstract notion, because the problem is not abstract; it is real and personal. And in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we find a real and personal answer. When we cry out, God, where are you? We need to look with eyes of faith to the cross.

     John Stott: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross….in the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?........There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering.”

     Peter Kreeft: “People aren’t getting away with [evil.] Justice delayed [in God’s economy] is not necessarily justice denied. There will come a day when God will settle accounts and people will be held responsible for the evil they’ve perpetrated and the suffering they’ve caused. Criticizing God for not doing it now is like reading a half a novel and criticizing the author for not resolving the plot.”
     Romans 3:26
     In the Scriptures, God promises us that in the future He will be totally vindicated and we will be fully delivered from all evil.
     The wicked will no longer prosper and the righteous will no longer suffer.
     We will see the certainty of God’s victory. (Ps 73, Ps 37)
     The proud will be brought low and the humble raised to greatness (Isa 40:1; Matt 25; Luke 1:51)

     Romans 8:28, 35-39 – “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."[a] 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


    Scripture doesn’t answer our inquiry with a philosophical solution to the problem of evil. We can not finally address non-Christians and others with an answer that will put all their philosophical wonderings to sleep.

    Nor, will our experience of suffering ever be removed. Jesus is the model of the Suffering Servant who triumphs over the world.

    The truths that we talked about today give Christians the ONLY satisfactory answer to the Problem of Evil and they give us assurance and motivation to keep trusting and obeying God despite this problem of evil.

    “…these were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us…” Hebrews 11:32-40

    Appendix: Another important question

    What is the origin of sin?
    1. God created all things and they were good
    2. God gave humans (and angels) free will
    3. Sin is rebellion against God – responding to God’s call and promises in a sinful way
    4. God did not create evil but allows evil

    Excellent John MacArthur article on the subject:
     Summing it up, there is no external cause of sin, okay, outside the creature.
     There's no force floating out there that God created. It is the absence of perfection. There is no deterministic cause and effect; that is to say, some fatalism. It's just choice.
     Within God's decree, he allowed for that choice, knew those choices would be made the way they were made, planned that into the decree in order to display both his grace, his wrath, and to put a final and eternal end to sin.
     And as Martin Luther said: "The devil is the Lord's devil. He functions within the sovereign purposes of God to achieve the things that are in the eternal decree of God for the salvation of sinners, the damnation of sinners and the ultimate triumphant destruction over evil."