January 09, 2011

the problem of evil (some reflections)

today I listened to a leading Reformed theologian (Augustinian/Calvinist) attempt to shed light on the philosophical "problem of evil". it was actually a very disappointing message as he gave no response/answer at all. He just admitted it was a problem and no Christian had ever successfully given a satisfying response to the issue. Really? Did this theologian not read C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain? Of course he had, but he wouldn't want to admit that a non-Reformed Christian thinker might have something valuable to say on the issue. A more recent effort would be Is God to Blame? by Greg Boyd (a simplified version of his scholarly Satan and the Problem of Evil). Again, Boyd isn't Reformed, therefore not mentioned. How about the early Christian apologists (2nd and 3rd Century). He didn't mention them either - and yet, a number of them gave a response to why there was evil in the world, even though God is all-powerful and all-loving.

You see the so-called problem of evil is a much bigger problem (insurmountable) when one's theology attributes to God a concept of sovereignty that makes no genuine room for the exercise of creaturely free-will. Or a concept of God that believes everything that comes to pass is somehow part of his "unconquerable will" (to quote St. Augustine, the first Christian to EVER suggest these pagan concepts). If we somehow have to appeal to God's mysterious decrees (or "secret plan" as Calvin put it), looking for a divine reason behind everything, then YES, the problem of evil is a massive problem. It is massive because essentially God Himself is the cause of the problem. To put it plainly, if you dig deep enough, God is the author of evil in the universe of the God of John Calvin and St. Augustine. There's just no other conclusion if you take their theological concepts to their logical conclusions. Not only that, but because they also assert (how I do not know) that God is all-good and loving, they therefore somehow must assert that the existence of evil is somehow an expression of that goodness and love. strange theology indeed.

thankfully, we don't have to find the source of evil in the world as somehow being sovereignly decreed by God. we can instead find the source of the problem in the misuse of the free will of God's creatures. that is what the early Christians did, that is what C.S. Lewis did and other "responsible" modern-day apologists. I say "responsible" because the other concept of God is a gross misrepresentation of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

why is there evil in the world? because people (and angels) have chosen it and continue to do so in the exercise of the own free wills. is God's will being done when we choose to disobey His will? absolutely not! Augustine was completely wrong. God's will is being opposed, thwarted and disobeyed millions of times each day. Every unloving act, selfish deed, slanderous word, rape, murder, etc. are all examples of His will NOT being done. But this is the world HE CREATED. A world where free creatures, can exercise their freedom for either good or evil. To stop each act of evil, would be for God to withdraw the gift of that freedom.

As C.S. Lewis so profoundly puts it, "God willed the free will of men and angels in spite of His knowledge that it could lead in some cases to sin and thence to suffering: i.e., He thought freedom worth creating even at that price."

In other words, the ONLY possible universe where love could be possible is one in which real choices can be made. It was worth the risk for God to create that world. One day He will put a stop to evil and suffering; they are only a temporal realities, not eternal ones for His children.

In other words, God had nothing to do with evil's entrance into the world. And He has nothing to do with it when it happens each and every day. However, He is so good, that He works to bring beauty out of suffering and pain. He is in fact so good at bringing good things out of suffering (which is a testimony to His unfathomable love and heart of redemption) that people 'mistakenly' think that somehow He must have been behind the evil in the first place. No, it wasn't being "allowed for a purpose" as the softer, modern-day version of Calvinism would have it. Evil is evil. Darkness is darkness. And "God is light in whom there is NO DARKNESS AT ALL".

So, there is a satisfying answer to the age-old problem of evil. That is, if you have the Biblical (non-Augustinian/Calvinistic) understanding of the God of love and why He created free creatures in the first place.


  1. as this horrendous evil has happened with the shooting of the congresswoman and the death of several others, including a 9 year-old girl, the Augustinian/Calvinist must respond that somehow it was part of God's plan. The adages will be given - "God's ways are not our ways", "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away", etc. and they will all misrepresent our God who despises such despicable acts of lawlessness! In other words, God did NOT allow this for a purpose. The only sense in which we can say He allowed it, is in the sense that He created free creatures who exercise their freedom. He allows that volition because it is by definition what it means to be free.

    And yet, we all intuitively know (because we have been created in the image of a good and loving God) that this carnage is an abomination to God, that it could never have been His will and serves no ultimate purpose whatsoever. Such an act is inspired from hell and God had nothing to do with it.

    Will He work to bring good out of it? Of course, that's what Redeemers do. His ability to redeem evil situations, says nothing whatsoever about His authorship of them.

  2. I therefore suspect there will be mostly silence from the Calvinist voices in our country. The most brazen of them will utter something, but the majority will say nothing about "God's Secret plan" or His "unconquerable will" in the wake of this tragedy - because of how painfully insensitive it would be to do so. this was neither part of His plan nor an expression of His will in any way, shape or form!

  3. How do you explain Acts 2:22-24 and Acts 4:24-28?

    Or Ephesians 1:11, that ALL things happen according to the counsel of His will?

    What about Job? And all the evil that happened to Him? And his admonition in Job 1:20-21?

    I'd think your arguing from emotional rather than an exegesis.

  4. @Keith. Job has been MISREAD for centuries. As if somehow Job's theology is being "endorsed" by the Lord. At the end of the book, BOTH Job AND his friends are rebuked by the Lord. Job was rebuked for his lack of understanding. He had wrongly attributed his misfortunes to hand of God. In other words, the cause/effect is far more complex than either Job or his friends were aware of. People who appeal to Job have to be extremely careful because they are incredibly selective when quoting Job (i.e. the Lord gives and the Lord takes away is a favorite) but some of Job's other affirmations DON'T get as much attention - i.e. "what profit do we get if we pray to him" (Job 21:15), or the Lord "mocks at the calamity of the innocent" (Job 9:23) or "...God pays no attention to their prayer" (i.e. the wounded) - Job 24:12. Job is selectively quoted/used to serve a theology that was introduced into Christianity by Augustine.

    For a fuller response to Job - consider this essay:

    As for the Scriptures you referenced, I'll let a far more capable theologian respond.

    Acts 2 & 4 - http://www.gregboyd.org/qa/predestination-free-will/verses-in-question/what-about-acts-223-and-428/

    Ephesian 1 - http://www.gregboyd.org/qa/open-theism/how-do-you-explain-ephesians-1-and-predestination/