The Problem with the Problem of Evil

Recently a colleague asked my opinion about a theological explanation for the origin of evil. Many Christian writers answer this question by appealing to free will. They argue that the potential for evil is a necessary concomitant to free will. God wanted humanity to love him freely and so necessarily permitted the possibility of choosing evil.

While this may be true, I find little comfort in this argument. I cannot think of any statement in Scripture which confirms the widespread assumption that God was especially anxious to protect the free agency of those who worship him. This seems to be a human rather than a divine concern.

 For my part, I do not think the Bible answers this question about the origin of evil in a way that elimnates the tension we feel. It is clear that the Bible separates God and evil. Evil does not originate with God. Yet God’s redemptive plan anticipated the existence of evil. He incorporates the evil actions of “free” agents.

Unless we take the radical position of those who claim that God’s knowledge is limited, I have to conclude that God decided to set something in motion out of which evil eventually sprang. He is not the source of evil but evil would not exist if he had not chosen to create. God will destroy evil in the end but does not spare what he created from its effects. There are many casualties who suffer the consequences of someone else’s evil choice. They do not “deserve” what they experience.

 The Bible does tell me that God is not evil. That he is greater than evil. That he has born the brunt of that evil himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And that he “subverts” evil so that what others intend for evil somehow works to further his ultimate purposes. I do not know how this can be so. I do not think I am supposed to understand it or explain it. It is something I affirm. Not a very satisfying answer to the modern mind which feels it is owed an explanation for everything.

What do you say when you are asked how a good God can permit evil to exist?

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Published by

John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

2 thoughts on “The Problem with the Problem of Evil”

  1. Good thoughts. How does anyone know what evil or good is without God? What is their standard? It may also be asked how does God love people at all given how much evil they do?

  2. As a Christian, I have an absolute standard of right and wrong by which to identify evil. How does the atheist identify the evil he is complaining about? As a social convention? As an inconvenience?

    From Greg Bahnsen:

    … it is crucial to the unbeliever’s case against Christianity to be in a position to assert that there is evil in the world — to point to something and have the right to evaluate it as an instance of evil … the problem of evil turns out to be, therefore, a problem for the unbeliever himself. In order to use the argument from evil against the Christian worldview, he must first be able to show that his judgments about the existence of evil are meaningful — which is precisely what his unbelieving worldview is unable to do.

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