The Problem of Evil
A third category of paganism is mystical eastern religious paganism. In a lot of mystical eastern thought evil or suffering or sin is just an illusion, it is not reality. It is in the new age movement to some degree in places, that this isn't the real world. We can even see some of this in Platonism, because Platonism thought that you have an ideal world which is where ultimate existence is and this world is just a shadow world, and so ultimate reality is somewhere else. They reduce evil; it is not real in some sense. In the eastern variety of thought, when you come along and say that evil doesn't really exist, what have you done? You have trivialized it. It is not real, it's just illusion. And when you come along and say that evil is normal you've also reduced it, it is not as significant, and you are not dealing with it as the Bible deals with it. One illustration of this in our modern world is the environmentalists who come along and in their thought man is the real enemy of the environment and man is really evil. So let's think about this from the Christian perspective. Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and God explains the consequences of that in Genesis chapter three. It changed all of nature radically. So we say to the environmentalist, Yes, you're right. Man is the cause of tremendous environmental disaster. But wait a minute, they don't want to go that far. They want to blame man but they don't want to take evil and sin to the same level of destructiveness that the Bible does. That is going way too far. So they diminish their understanding of the depths and the extremes of evil.
When evil becomes normal there is no longer a basis for distinguishing between good and evil, and anything goes. Furthermore, when sin is trivialized, when you start reducing the significance of sin and the impact of evil and its depth and depravity what also happens is you trivialize the need for salvation, and also the means of salvation. So man doesn't really have a constitutional defect, he is not depraved through and through, needing a savior to die on the cross as a substitute; what man needs is just some help. He is not dead, he is sick. Now he can pull himself up by his own boot straps because he really doesn't have the problem the bible says that he has. Also, when sin is trivialized, when you diminished the depths and depravity of sin and evil, then the need for sanctification is trivialized and the means for sanctification is trivialized. Man can do it himself, he can help himself out, he just has to perform some good works. So in human viewpoint what we see in our first observation is that evil is eternal. The implication of that is that evil is normal.
The second observation is that if evil is normal then we are all victims and man isn't responsible because we are just products of our environment. And the environment is screwed up, it is just a natural thing, we are just products of environment and it is not our fault. Let's go our and justify this. We are going to find the gene for alcoholism, the gene for drug abuse, the gene for homosexuality, and we are just going to blame it on to the universe. That is just the way it is and so man isn't responsible. And there you have the foundation for modern victimology. That affects how you look at everything in life. As a matter of fact, how you view evil is important to every arena of thought. If you do not treat evil the way the Bible treats evil, if you do not look at man the way the Bible looks at man, then you are going to have a skewed theory of economics—man's relationship to man, a skewed view of social relationships, of marriage (e.g. when marriage is viewed as a relationship between two people instead of a relationship between a man and a woman). This is just the result of trivializing evil and making evil normal.
What we see here is that there are ultimately two different views of reality. This was clearly spelled out in a book by Thomas Sole called "Conflict of Visions." That is, that basically you can determine the difference between liberals and conservatives because liberals do not view man as being constitutionally evil and conservatives do. And he traces it all the way back to the Enlightenment to demonstrate his case. People have to recognize that, that everything that is coming out of the liberal left in this country today is antagonistic to reality because of the very foundation not only of theological liberalism but political liberalism is a view that man is inherently good versus inherently evil. You cannot be a consistent Christian and a Bible believing Christian and not deal with the fact that every aspect of human society is permeated by the fact that he is a fallen creature. You can't have a legitimate consistent view of literature, economics, politics, law, science—any discipline that man puts his mind to is ultimately comes back to something about man's sociology, psychology—if you are not dealing with man as a fundamentally flawed creature, fallen, constitutionally changed by sin. If you aren't, then you are not in the realm of reality. And anything you build on that is not in the realm of reality.
In contrast to that we have looked at divine viewpoint when we saw that in Genesis 3:7ff we have the beginning of sin and evil. Then we have seen in Revelation 22:3 the statement that there will no longer be any curse, and in Revelation 21:4 that He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there will no longer be any death, etc. This is a direct counterpoint to the human viewpoint view that evil is eternal, for the Bible says that evil is bounded, restricted, and is contained by God. There is a starting point and there is an ending point. There is resolution.
So in answer to the pagan position of eternal and normal sin we see in the Bible sin is not normal, that the present world is abnormal and not the way it ought to be. And that is, again, evidence of our own being created in the image and likeness of God. In John 11:35, why is Jesus weeping? It was not because Lazarus had died. It was because He saw all of these people in misery. It is His compassion. He sees that man is an abnormal state. He is having to go through what god never intended for him to go through initially, and that is, death and disease and destruction and sorrow and misery. Man was not designed for that initially; that is the consequence of the fall, of sin. So we see this tremendous picture that we don't see in any other kind of religious system of a God who incarnates Himself as a creature and encounters and experiences the consequences of sin, and demonstrates His compassion for that.
A second counterpoint to human viewpoint which claims that man is just a victim to what is naturally there, in Christianity and the Bible we see that man is responsible, it is his decision that has brought sin and suffering into the world, and man has a responsibility that goes far beyond anything that the non-Christian would ever want to put on the back of man.
The big question that usually comes up in a discussion about the problem of evil is: You say that there is a reason for God to allow sin and suffering in the world, what could possibly justify God allowing evil to exist in human history and all of this sin and suffering and destruction? First of all, there are a couple of hidden assumptions in that question. There is an assumption that a) we know the justification, or b) can know the justification. That is, once again, the creature dictating to the creator in that chain of being. If you have a human viewpoint chain of being concept then the creature can understand God, but if you have God outside that circle with that creator-creature distinction then man can't understand everything in the mind of God because God is incomprehensible. God being incomprehensible does not mean God being irrational. To say that we can't comprehend the answer does not mean that the answer is not rational, it means it goes far beyond our ability to comprehend it now in this life. God has a plan; He has just not disclosed to us everything that is in that plan.
The Bible gives us sufficient revelation. It gives us enough information to answer the question but it doesn't give us comprehensive knowledge, it doesn't tell us everything there is to know about the problem or God's reasoning for allowing sin, suffering and disease to take place. And why is that? Because it calls upon us to trust Him, to understand who He is and to rely upon Him in the midst of those horrible circumstances, and to know that if God resolved the problem as much as He has then He can resolve all the other details. Because He has solved the greatest problem we will ever face at the cross the rest of the sin-evil problem is simply mopping up the minor details.
What we see in this question is that man wants an answer. Man wants to understand why it is that there is sin and suffering. That in and of itself is an important thing to observe because that is evidence of man being in the image and likeness of God. We have this sense of oughtness, of right and wrong, that this isn't the way it ought to be. We have talked about how man was created in the image of God. We saw that there were certain attributes of God which correspond to certain things in man. For example, God's integrity in which He is absolute righteousness, the standard of His character. He is just, and that is the application of those standards. Veracity has to do with truth and reality, and that corresponds in man's make-up to the human conscience. There he has certain norms and standards. Those norms and standards before the fall reflected God's norms and standards in his righteousness and justice; after the fall they became distorted and perverted and he still has a conscience, indicating that there is a remnant there, a residual of His image. That is what Paul deals with in Romans 2 among the Gentiles, because they know there is right and wrong even if their sense of right and wrong is not correct. The fact that they know that there is right and wrong is evidence that God exists and that they know that God exists. God has omniscience, and corresponding to that man has finite knowledge. Because man has standards and because he has knowledge we know that man is a rational creature, and with this inherent oughtness he knows that things aren't the way they are and so he is seeking an answer.
The creature may want to know an answer but the creature is finite, limited, and he can't understand all of the answer. The Bible never tries to give a comprehensive answer to the question. In fact, the Bible says that you're wrong to try to find a comprehensive answer; you're just an arrogant creature whining in self-pity. What we see in Job is great example of biblical counseling. Job starts off giving us what is going on behind the scenes, and that is the angelic conflict dimension of suffering and evil. We have pointed out that when God restored the earth after the angelic fall He restricted the angelic evil from the new creation of Genesis chapter one, so that there was no evil in that new universe of Genesis 1:2ff. But once man succumbs to Satan's temptation then there is an intersection of angelic evil with the human environment, and the human environment now comes under the domain of Satan who is the prince of the power of the air and the god of this age. What we see in Job is the background of this and how there is this intersection. What we have to realize is what we see in Job chapters one and two is that the interchange between Satan and God is unknown to Job. This is off-stage. Job has no idea what is going on, he is just living his life, obeying God. He is said in the text to be upright, he's righteous, he is not sinning. Even when all these things that are happening to him at the conclusion of Job chapter one he did not sin or charge God with wrong. Job is an upright man. What happens to him is not the result of anything he does, any decision he has made, or any defect in himself. He is living in a fallen world and that is one reason we have sin and suffering.
God says He is going to make a testimony of Job. He is going to teach us some things and gives Satan permission to test Job, but in a limited way. After the initial disasters Job tears his robe, shaves his head, falls to the ground and he worships God. He is not at this point into self-pity, he is not whining, not crying, is not self-absorbed. He is focused on God; he is using doctrine. Then Satan is allowed to test Job in terms of health testing in chapter two. From here Job starts going on his pity-party. In chapter three he is deploring his birth, wishing he had never been born because life is so miserable. Then we have Jobs friends come along and they all tell Job that the reason why he is going through suffering is just because he made bad decisions, and he is a sinner and deserves all this. Job knows that is not right, but ultimately he gets to a point where he wants an answer from God. And he is doing the same thing that arrogant people do, whether they are believers or unbelievers, and they say: God, I want to know why. God gives Job and answer in chapters 38-42, and the interesting thing is that God doesn't answer the question. Notice the counseling technique here that God uses. God doesn't put His arm around Job. God, as it were, takes out a face cloth and slaps Job in the face with it. He gets Job's attention. He says, Job, you've been hit with a lot of suffering. Get over it and get your mind on the Word and what is really going on here, and quit asking these stupid questions. This is not our picture of a loving compassionate God, because we have a screwed up picture of who a loving and compassionate God is. God is compassionate in that He wants us to think correctly, not in terms of arrogance and self-absorption. So as Job is asking and demanding from God an answer to his suffering problem God appears to him in a whirlwind (Chapter 38) and begins by asking a series of rhetorical questions that are designed to point out Job's limitations; that he just has a finite mind and he really can't comprehend the mysteries of the universe. He tells Job to stand up and take it like a man. Finally, Job gets the point: that he doesn't need to know the answer, he just needs to trust God who controls the situation. In the first six verses of chapter 42 is Job's recognition of his own limitation. "I have uttered what I did not understand"—I am just an arrogant, ignorant creature; I should not have asked those questions. Job recognizes that the creature is limited; he is not going to know the answer to everything and that it is arrogant to expect an answer.
Part of the reason is that evil and sin is so complex and profound that we diminish it. One of the ways that we understand the depths, the dimensions of sin and depravity is by looking at the solution. The solution is that the eternal, holy, righteous God of the universe sends His Son to become a creature. He has to set up a plan that takes basically four to five thousand years to work out before the people on the earth are ready for His Son to appear—Galatians 4:4, "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son …" That means that it took four thousand years to prepare mankind, fallen creatures, to receive the savior. That means He was taking them through a learning process which involved giving man the opportunity to try every conceivable solution and see that they failed. Every solution to man's problems were tried in the ancient world, and there was an expectation of some sort of Messianic deliverance even among the Gentile pagans at that time when Jesus appeared. They were ready; the world had been prepared. The penalty was paid at the cross and that becomes the foundation for the redemption of the whole universe, and this is referred to by Paul in Romans 8:19-23, and the curse doesn't get rolled back until the second advent. It is not completed until the end of the Millennial kingdom when there is the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. There is the complete destruction of the present universe because it has been irreversibly marred by sin. It can't be eternal; it has to be destroyed.
Our conclusion is that after we understand the dynamics of the cross and how the sin and evil problem is resolved at the cross, then even though we sit out here in our lives and we still deal with the problems of birth defects, war and famine, and all these other problems, we know the solution has been here. And if we can trust God to solve the problem at the cross, then He can solve eventually all these other problems and there will be a resolution. So when we are the innocent victims of suffering we know that the judgment of the Supreme Court of heaven will bring proper resolution for every injustice, for every piece of suffering and disease in human history.