The Problem of Evil
We now want to look at the problem of evil, the problem of sin and death and suffering. How do we as believes handle this problem? This is considered by many non-Christians to be the Achilles heel, the weak point in Christianity. How can you as a Christian claim that you believe in a loving, good, righteous God and have all this horrible sin in the universe? This is the problem that plagues many, many people. We often address this from just a personal and more practical level. Usually the question about pain and suffering is couched within more personal experiential terms when somebody is in the midst of some horrible circumstance. They often ask, Why did God let this happen? Why did God cause this to happen to me? When a person asks you that question they are going to ask from one of two perspectives. One is from the framework of their own personal hurt. They are in a position of suffering and misery and they really are looking for answers. The other way is they are challenging you. How you handle the question really depends on being able to perceive where the person is coming from. Are they looking for an answer in the midst of their own personal pain or are they simply challenging you like, How can you as a Christian really believe in a loving, caring God when there is so much pain and misery in the world? That is the practical side of the question, but we can't get in to the practical or experiential side of the question in answers to that question if we don't deal with the more intellectual formation of the argument. It relates to the essence of God, primarily focusing on His righteousness, His love, and His omnipotence. Those are the three elements of God's character that are really challenged.
Here is how the argument usually is structured. If God is good, then He must not be powerful enough to control all the evil, injustice and suffering in the world, since it continues. Or, if He is powerful enough to stop all this injustice and suffering then He must not really be a good God. The underlying argument here is an assumption that there is no overriding purpose great enough that would justify God to allow sin and suffering and evil to exist in the world. This whole question reveals that this problem is one of the most important problems raised by just about anybody at some point in their life, wondering why bad things happen to good people, or why bad things,, suffering or whatever, happens at all. But we must recognize, too, that the very fact that somebody raises this problem hints at the solution to the problem itself. The fact that people do not naturally accept a world full of injustice, suffering, disease and death, and say that shouldn't happen, this ought not be the way it happens, then they are making a moral judgment. And that moral judgment contains within it a reference to some sort of universal absolute, some concept of a universal good that they are appealing to, and in that they are recognizing that despite the fact that they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness they expressing the fact that it is not right, that something inside of them is testifying to the fact that this isn't right.
The modern unbeliever recognizes that there is something irrational here, that they have to find meaning somewhere but they can't just live as if there is meaningless existence, and yet on the other hand they can't really come up with an answer to why there is suffering and pain in the world. So there is a certain level of outrage at the very existence of evil, and that is a clue that we can point out that they must have some standard of the way things ought to be and that there is some standard of goodness.
The problem of evil, of sin, pain and suffering is clearly recognized by the writers of Scripture. The Bible deals with the reality of evil in a way that is more real and genuine than modern writers. A modern writer who has rejected God, operating on atheism, operating on naturalistic presupposition, will talk about how there is evil and injustice in the world, but he can't really talk about injustice to the extreme that a Christian can because it is so overwhelmingly pessimistic and depressive that he just can't go there. So as believers, when we are dealing with someone who is presenting something more of an intellectual challenge to God and to Christianity can use that like Judo, when you use their momentum against them. The problem is better handle by turning it back on them.
The writers of Scripture clearly recognized the depth of the problem of sin and suffering. This is something that is real, we can't just step past it and not emphasize it. Psalm 40:12, "For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me." Romans 8:22, "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." Everywhere we look as a Christian we see evidence of this problem of sin and suffering and death. And only as a Christian do we have the answer for pain. The unbeliever says that there is no God but he constantly appeals to some sort of absolute through using words that are universal: "nobody should ever do that," or "everything" or "all," or "all/that values are relative." Paul argues in Romans 2 that the very presence of the conscience, that there is a sense of right and wrong, is a sign that they understand that they are a fallen creature. That is evidence of their negative volition and their suppression of truth, and that is a point that we need to highlight.
There are always only two ways to answer questions about life: either the biblical viewpoint or human viewpoint. The Word of God expresses one consistent, harmonious answer from Genesis to Revelation. It touches everything in life. It gives us a philosophy of history, political theory, legal theory, ethics, basics for understanding economics and labor. The Bible talks about everything, it gives a framework for every area of thought. It is directed to man so that man can know how they can with a divine viewpoint approach to reality continue to exercise dominion over every aspect of creation. But the human viewpoint way is multifaceted, there are lots of different types of human viewpoint solutions. Even though human viewpoint may have different manifestations to it, it still expresses the same basic viewpoint that man is trying to explain reality apart from God, and he is suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness, according to Romans 1:18ff.
We hope to show from here on into the next couple of classes that it is only the Christian God and the Christian view of sin and suffering and evil that will allow us to explain and understand the existence of evil. In fact, all of the alternative positions to position of a loving, omnipotent God controlling evil are difficult to live with. It is impossible to live with any of the alternatives. What we are going to see is that the only really adequate explanation for the existence of suffering is by postulating a God that is loving and a God who is omnipotent. That is the only way to explain it. So the way we want to approach this is by utilizing our strategy of trying to throw the issue back on the human viewpoint challenger rather than addressing the challenge head-on, which is: How can you believe in a God who allows all these things to happen? Let's throw the question back at him and say: Assuming that you are right for the moment, how do you explain the existence of suffering and disease and pain and evil? By doing that we can help the unbeliever who is challenging us to understand about the reality of pain and suffering and evil and the fact that there is a loving, omnipotent God who will ultimately bring resolution to the problem. Every other solution to the problem ends up with some sort of hopeless, dark, depressing or pessimistic view of reality that people just can't live with. That is why we live in a time when we have such a plague of drugs and alcoholism. People have been left hopeless without God and the only way to dull the pain is by pursuing drugs, entertainment, fun activities in life, anything to distract them from the emptiness of existence as it is described by modern thinkers.
To review what we have learned from the Bible so far
1) First of all we know that in the beginning we have an eternal, righteous God, and that the God of the Bible is distinct from any other god that is ever postulated by any human system. The God of the Bible is both personal and infinite. As a personal God He is able to have a relationship with each individual human being. As an infinite God in all of His perfections He is over and above everything in the creation. So he is able to rule the creation. Other terminology that is used to express this, synonymous with being a personal God, He is a God who is immanent. This means that God is present in every part of His creation all the time. He is involved in His creation in every aspect of His creation. It is the opposite of the idea of transcendence. Transcendence means that God is over and above and beyond everything in His creation. God is both immanent and transcendent, He is a personal, infinite God who stands over His creation. The implication from that is that God is in control ultimately of what is going on in human history. Jesus Christ controls human history.
2) We have learned that God created a perfect universe. He created this perfect universe initially in eternity past. In eternity past there was the initial universe inhabited only by the angels, and there was no sin.
3) Then there was the first fall, the fall among the angels, the fall of Lucifer that is described in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Then there is a judgment on the universe, then God restores the universe, and there is a second creation or restoration that takes place. This is a perfect environment, and in some way God protects, ropes of this new restored creation so that there is no influence of sin or evil from the angelic fall on this new restoration. The only influence that is going to come is when Satan utilizes the serpent to tempt the woman. But this is a perfect environment that they are in. There is no evidence of any prior fall, no evidence of sin, no destruction, no disease, no death, there is nothing negative. It is an environment of absolute perfection.
4) The effects of the human fall transcend the human race. In Romans 8:22 we learn that the whole creation groans under the curse of sin, so that Adam's decision to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil didn't affect just the human race, it affected all of creation. It changed the dynamics of physical laws. It is at that point that suffering and disease and deterioration enter into all of the natural world. Furthermore, we have another clue in the Bible, in Revelation 22:3, "And there shall be no more curse." What we learn from this is that sin and evil and disease and death and destruction are bounded in a biblical world view. They are limited, they are finite, there is a point where evil begins and there is a point where evil ends. There is a point where death and destruction begins; there is a point where death and destruction will end. There will be resolution to the problem.
The human viewpoint perspective as to how they explain the existence of evil: In the Babylonian creation myth, their creation epic which describes the early gods and goddesses, their interaction and how they created all of the universe and all of the living things on the earth. In that creation myth they are going to reveal how ancient man having rejected the truth of God is going to try to explain where evil came from. There is no mention of how pain began, it is just there from the beginning. What the text shows is that from the very beginning of the Babylonian conception of reality there is already pain and misery and chaos. It is interesting that in all of these ancient myths there are certain elements of truth which have survived. The evolutionary perspective of history is that religious beliefs were developing and they went through these primitive stages and they ultimately developed into a higher form of Judaism and then Christianity. But in the Bible, what there is is a deterioration, a decline. You start with the absolute and then as men are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness these myths often contain vague shadows and memories of the truth of Genesis.
In all of the ancient cosmogonies there is always something there in the past but there is no explanation of how it came into being. Furthermore there is no explanation of how evil or death or destruction comes into being. It is there from the beginning. There is pain, there is misery, there is warfare among the gods from the very beginning. There is no explanation of sin and evil. What that tells us is that in human viewpoint systems evil is eternal; it is natural. Sin and suffering don't have a beginning, they are always there. If you stop and look at evolution, what is the basis for advance in evolutionary theory? Survival of the fittest. Survival implies struggle. Therefore if you are going to advance in the Darwinist evolutionary system there has to be struggle, there has to be survival. Survival means that something has to die and something will live. So disease, death and destruction are not only normative, they are the means for advance. And if you are going top be consistent as an evolutionist, as an atheist today you have to think that sin, suffering and disease is good. War is good; famine is good. You can't go anywhere else with it, you are trapped by the logic of your own position. So in all human viewpoint approaches to evil when you are trying to deal with someone there is the need to put them in that trap and make them realize they don't have the solution for evil. For them evil is normal, evil is unbounded, eternal.
The first conclusion that we have based on this is the idea that we see in the pagan/human viewpoint of evil is that evil is infinite, unresolved, normal and natural. It never ends. There is no basis, then, for making any sort of morality statement. There is no basis for making any sort of judgmental statement. If evil is normal, then how can you say it is not good. If evolution proceeds on the basis of suffering and disease and destruction, how can you say that is not good? You have to put the pagan in the position of realizing the tension of their belief. The unbeliever, the pagan, cannot live consistently on what he claims to believe. When it comes right down to it there is this tremendous discord in what he believes.
In contrast, the biblical view of evil is that evil has a beginning and an end. It is finite. It began by a decision by a creature, either Satan or Adam. It is resolved. There is ultimately judgment at the great white throne judgment where God is going to bring ultimate justice. If there is not justice in this life there will be justice in the future. Evil is judged and it is restricted and confined and punished to the lake of fire. And all sin, suffering and death is viewed not as normal but as abnormal. People know that inherently. As soon as they say it shouldn't be that way they are affirming a biblical view, but they don't have a right to say that. To even affirm something as being wrong means they are illegitimately buying into a Christian world view of absolutes.
The second conclusion is that when you look at the pagan view of evil—suffering and pain being eternal, normative and going on forever—is that this is the way things are, that I am not at fault when I commit a crime, when I sin, when I do evil things, because that is just the way the universe is. In other words, it is the basis for the ultimate rationale of victimization. Man did not originate sin. Sin and evil and destruction is not the result of a wrong moral choice, it is just the way things are in the universe. Therefore it is not my fault, it is the universe's fault. It is just the way things are.
They come up with all kinds of justifications to avoid responsibility for sin, but the Bible says that man is responsible and sin does have a beginning. But there is a resolution because the sin problem was paid for by Christ on the cross. And it is because of that payment for sin on the cross that the curse will be rolled back on creation eventually, that there is going to be a complete resolution to the problem of sin and evil. In every unbelieving system there is no resolution, therefore you end up having to justify sin.