The Problem of Evil and the Bible (Part 3)

Illustration of Noah's Ark

II. God’s Response to the Spread of Evil in the World

            In the chapters of Genesis following the fall of humanity which we discussed in part 2, the author tells the story of the rapid and far-reaching spread of evil in the world. The first murder took place in Gen 4 when Cain killed his brother Abel,[1] and sometime thereafter all of humanity turned toward evil – “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart (Gen 6:5-6).” Because of this, God therefore decided to blot out all of creation – not just humanity – on earth in order to wipe evil off the planet via the flood. This flood in Gen 7 was the first action that God took to eliminate evil from the earth and he spared Noah – “a righteous man” – and his family along with two of every species on an ark which withstood the flood. From this, we observe (1) the pervasive impact and widespread effect that evil had upon the world, and (2) the first act of God to eliminate evil from the earth.[2]

In light of this, should not nontheists be glad that God responds to evil in such a way? Is this not one of their chief objections, that evil is in the world and needs to be eliminated? Not only is that the God of the Bible’s chief complaint about the world, but he also does something about it. Perhaps the nontheists have more in common with the Christian God than they know. Perhaps they both are on the same bandwagon, the same protest against evil. Perhaps they share some of the same values and concerns about the world. Sounds like they’d be good friends if you’d ask me.



[1] Note here that Abel is a righteous man who suffers evil for being right with God. This is the pattern for all those who walk with the LORD as I will argue below.

 

[2] This ultimately is a foretaste of what God will do at the second coming of Jesus, namely, banish evil and suffering from heaven and earth. Note that Jesus compared the end of the age to the days of Noah (Mt 24:37-39).

The Problem of Evil and the Bible (Part 2)

Stained glass of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Vienna, Austria, Europe

A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING

            As we move from introductory matters in part 1 to a biblical response to the problem of evil here in part 2, I will begin by first setting forth the four main points of my biblical theology of suffering as theodicy. Next, I will present these four points by briefly discussing select Old Testament and New Testament passages that substantiate and promote this theology of suffering while avoiding the pitfalls of proof-texting.

With regard to my four main biblical points, first, evil entered into the world due to the choice of humanity, not the choice of God: this was the origin of evil in the world. Secondly, the biblical witness describes how evil, suffering, and sin spread pervasively throughout the world shortly after its inception. Third, the Bible asserts that it is necessary for God’s people to endure evil and suffering in this world in order to inherit the goodness of the next. Lastly, the Bible foretells of the ultimate defeat of evil when Jesus returns to the earth to raise the dead, consummate the end of all things, bring the kingdom of God in all its fullness, and make all things new, the results of which entail no more suffering, pain, or evil.

I. The Origin of Evil in the World

Firstly, according to Genesis, suffering and evil entered the world when Adam and Eve disobediently ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:6). The Bible says that when they ate, their eyes were opened and they knew good and evil (Gen 3:7).[1] Thus, in a perspicuous manner, the Bible declares that humans are responsible for the problem of evil in the world, not God as many nontheists purport. However, someone would object, “Why did God allow both good and evil to be known in the first place? Why not just good?” This question will be answered as we move forward. For now, the point is simply that God indeed allowed humankind to choose for themselves whether or not they would know good and evil. However, God does not leave humanity in this place, subject to horrendous evils, but rather he responds and acts to eradicate this problem which we will explore in part 3.



[1] What did they know before? Did they know good and not evil? Or did they know nothing at all? Or only what God told them? This would require a more in-depth study and closer reading.

 

The Problem of Evil and the Bible (Part 1)

Tornado column in rural landscape

INTRODUCTION

            Throughout human history, mankind has been sullied by an inexorable plague called evil. It has penetrated all times and places and manifested itself in both humanity and the natural world. Undoubtedly, many of the great thinkers and philosophers of history have tangoed with this problem of evil, especially in its relation to the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly morally good deity. Today, most philosophers hold that the problem of evil stands as the greatest threat to theism. Many theists have responded but still a philosophically and theologically satisfactory solution has not been attained, at least according to nontheists. However, Michael Peterson points out in Reason and Religious Belief that this insufficiency should be reckoned on account of the theological basis of the argument, namely, restricted theism. He suggests that “a minimal or restricted theism could yield, at best, a minimal theodicy. Likewise, it is reasonable to think that theodicy, if it is going to have a fighting chance, and if it seeks serious explanatory adequacy, will have to draw upon the full resources of its own religious tradition (i.e. its key doctrines, scriptures, and wisdom of the believing community, etc.).”[1] Thus, in this paper, I will purpose a Christian theodicy that pulls from the resources of the OT and NT. Moreover, this theodicy will be more or less a biblical theology of suffering. I will first concisely summarize the problem of evil, particularly from the standpoint of the nontheist. Then, I will set forth a biblical theology of suffering as theodicy. Next, I will present and defend a possible objection to this theodicy. Finally, I will conclude by stating the upshots of holding this view. Overall, I will argue that the Christian Bible presents a strong, reasonable, plausible, and comprehensive case that responds to the problem of evil, namely, its origin, reign, and ultimate defeat in the world.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

To begin, I will briefly state the problem of evil from the standpoint of the nontheist. On the whole, the problem of evil deals with the question of, “How can a perfectly good, omniscient, omnipotent God exist, if there is so much evil in the world?” It can further be broken into two categories, namely, the logical problem and the evidential problem. First, the logical problem of evil views the two claims of (1) “a perfectly good, omniscient, and omnipotent God exists” and (2) “there is so much evil in the world” to be irrational. Those who hold this view think that this kind of God would not make such a world filled with evil, but rather would make a world of only goodness, or at least a world with more good than evil. Secondly, the evidential problem of evil does not think that theism is irrational, but rather that it is implausible. This is primarily because the facts of the world are that tremendous suffering and evil happen, and a benevolent God would not allow such things to happen. Thus, those who hold this view conclude that it is more plausible that God does not exist. However, as we will see, the Bible presents a strong, plausible, reasonable, and comprehensive response to both the logical and evidential problem of evil.

Part 2 coming next week…



[1] Michael Peterson, Reason and Religious Belief, 156.