The question haunts human minds: “If God is so good, why does He allow evil?” In view of the extreme injustice that occurs in the world, many view this difficulty as the most substantial challenge to Christianity, and some take it as evidence that God does not exist. If God is all-good, then certainly He desires to eliminate evil; and if God is all-powerful, then certainly He is able to elimate evil. For some, the fact that evil persists at least demonstrates the inaccuracy of the Christian concept of God, and at most casts doubt on the possibility of any God at all. Philosopher J. L. Mackie insists, “the existence of apparently unjustifiable evil means that some other god or no god may exist, but the traditional God could not exist.”
Folk singer Robbie Fulks expresses this objection in his song, “God Isn’t Real”:
A world filled with wonder, a cold, fathomless sky
A man’s life so meager, he can but wonder why
He cries out to Heaven its truth to reveal
The answer: only silence, for God isn’t real.
Go ask the starving millions under Stalin’s cruel reign
Go ask the child with cancer who eases her pain
Then go to your churches, if that’s how you feel
But don’t ask me to follow, for God isn’t real.
He forms in his image a weak and foolish man
Speaks to him in symbols that few understand
For a life of devotion, the death blow he deals
We’d owe Him only hatred, but God isn’t real.
Go tell the executioner of the power he can’t defy
Go tell his shackled victim of the mercy on high…
Then go to your churches, go beg, pray, and kneel,
But don’t ask me to follow, for God isn’t real.
From Fulks’s song, we can deduce the logic of argument:
- If there is evil, then there is no all-powerful and all-good God.
- There is evil.
- Therefore, there is no all-powerful and all-good God.
Fortunately, by challenging the assumptions lying behind the first two premises, the problem of evil proves itself to be a mere problem of perception, and not a sustainable objection to the Christian faith.
The first premise—“If there is evil, then there is no all-powerful and all-good God”—contains two faults. First, it assumes too much. On what grounds does one know with certainty that an all-powerful, all-good God cannot coexist with evil? In Bible, when Job experiences great tragedy, God answers him—essentially—by saying, “I’m God and you’re not” (Job 38-42). The explanation for some events is simply beyond our comprehension, and we must trust the Maker of the universe to act justly. Second, the premise ignores another possibility. What if an all-good and all-powerful God has perfectly good reasons for allowing evil to exist? While there is no “one size fits all” biblical answer for the existence of evil, consider the following list of possibilities:
- Punitive: suffering consequences helps maintain the moral order.
- Educational: we mature through times of suffering.
- Probational: suffering proves the genuineness of faith.
- Revelational: through suffering, we come to know God more fully.
- Redemptive: suffering on behalf of another is an act of great love (what Christ has done for us!)
- Satanic: evil occurs because of the fiendish work of a supernatural being.
- Eschatological: God will be more greatly glorified for having allowed evil and defeating it in the end.
So, the first premise of the logical problem of evil fails because it disallows other legitimate scenarios.
The second premise—“there is evil”—can be challenged head-on as an example of “worldview borrowing.” From where does the objector obtain the notion that evil exists at all? The naturalist has no means for maintaining evil as a static moral category, because there is no supernatural, transcendent moral order. Everything is natural, and what we perceive as moral is merely the social outworking of the “survival of the fittest.” Likewise, the postmodern, employing extreme perspectivalism and individual autonomy, can resort only to saying, “What is evil for you may not be evil for me.” It seems, then, that one can only maintain evil as a stable, universal moral category from within a theistic worldview. The problem of evil, therefore, is no problem at all for Christianity. The reality of evil actually supports belief in God, because theism is the only worldview that can admit that evil truly exists.
So, perhaps a better logical syllogism would flow like this:
- If evil exists, then an all-good and all-powerful God must have reasons for allowing it.
- Evil exists.
- Therefore, God has reasons for allowing evil to exist.
Outside of unwinding the flawed logic of the perceived “problem” of evil, a two more thoughts should be offered. First, consider the mercy of God in allowing evil. All of us want God to eradicate the evil in the world—the evil done to us. Few, if any, of us, though, want God to eradicate the evil inside of us—the evil done by us. In some form or fashion, every person is a perpetrator. For God to eliminate evil from the world, he would need to eliminate us—all of us. Indeed, the fact that God bears with us despite our evil is evidence of His great mercy.
Second, not only can Christianity uniquely explain the existence of evil (the Fall in Genesis 3 in addition to list mentioned above), Christianity also uniquely claims that God will finally defeat evil. In the incarnation of Jesus, God experienced and confronted evil. In the resurrection, God in Christ conquered evil and its deathful consequence. At Christ’s return, He will vanquish evil altogether. The saints will be perfected and cosmos renewed (Rev 19-22).
C. S. Lewis concludes, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”
Dr. Chuck Fuller comes to Anderson University with 13 years of experience in pastoral ministry, serving churches in Kentucky and Indiana. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from Campbellsville University, and an MDiv and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary field of study for the Ph.D. was in Christian preaching, with additional studies in systematic theology and philosophy. Before arriving at AU, Dr. Fuller was pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and adjunct professor of Christian preaching at Boyce College of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Additionally, Dr. Fuller has served on committees and boards of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Married to Jessie, Dr. Fuller and his wife have two children–Kaylen Marie and Ian Charles. Jessie holds a Bachelor of Bible from Ozark Christian College, with a concentration in deaf ministry. Currently, Jessie works as a stay-at-home mom and brilliant culinary artist.
Homiletical theology comprises Dr. Fuller’s primary research area, as demonstrated in his recent book, The Trouble With “Truth Through Personality”: Phillips Brooks, Incarnation, and the Evangelical Boundaries of Preaching. Dr. Fuller also presented a paper, titled “The Pulpit at the Precipice of Heresy,” at the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Homiletical Society.