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A New Perspective on the Problem of Evil

Doug Erlandson

Anti-theists[1] often present the following dilemma for Biblical Christianity:
If God is totally good, omnipotent, and omniscient, why is there evil in the world? A totally good God would want to prevent evil if He could. An omniscient, omnipotent God certainly has the ability to prevent evil. Therefore, God is either not omnipotent and omniscient or not totally good.
This dilemma is called the "problem of evil," and both theists and anti-theists have debated it for many centuries.

The Anti-theist Cannot Generate the Objection

Anti-theists sometimes argue that the problem of evil shows the logical untenability of theism. This demonstration usually runs as follows:
(1) A totally good God will prevent all the evil that He can.

(2) An omniscient, omnipotent God can prevent all evil.

(3) Evil exists.

_________________

Therefore, either God is not totally good or not omniscient and omnipotent.

The theist has a ready response. A being is not morally culpable in allowing preventable evil if he has a "morally sufficient reason" for so doing. The theist, then, can offer the following counter-argument:
(1') A totally good God will prevent all the evil that He can unless He has a morally sufficient reason for permitting its existence.

(2') An omniscient, omnipotent God can prevent all evil.

(3') Evil exists.

__________________

Therefore, God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting the existence of evil.

Let's suppose that the anti-theist objects that the theist has not demonstrated that God has this morally sufficient reason. The theist can counter this by arguing that the anti-theist cannot even generate the so-called problem of evil.

To talk meaningfully about morality the anti-theist must assume that an objective foundation for morality exists. If he does not (that is, if he is what is sometimes called a moral subjectivist ), he must logically admit that one foundation is as good as any other. Thus, he cannot object to a foundation on which God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil; even worse, he cannot even justify the premise, "Evil exists." If, on the other hand, he claims that an objective foundation for ethics exists, we must press him to give his reason for this. Can there be an objective foundation without a Supreme Lawgiver?

Many anti-theists have tried to find one. For instance, Immanuel Kant proposed his "categorical imperative." According to Kant, an act is morally right only if a person is willing to make that act a universal law. In other words, suppose that I want to steal my neighbor's baseball card collection. I can determine whether this act is moral by asking myself whether I would be willing to abide by the principle that everyone should be allowed to steal his neighbor's baseball card collection. Because moral and social chaos would follow if this principle were universally adopted, my act cannot be universalized and is therefore immoral.

Utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill and his spiritual descendants have proposed a different foundation. They argue that an act is moral if it leads to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Still others have appealed to intuition or conscience as a foundation for morality.

While it would be possible to refute each of these alleged foundations individually (since they all suffer from various internal difficulties), a conclusive refutation of all of them is available. It has to do with the nature of the foundation itself.

Let us call the foundation F. F (e.g., the categorical imperative, greatest happiness principle, etc.) cannot itself be part of the system of morality. If it were, it could not serve as the foundation of the system. Rather, F must be a statement (or statements) about the moral system (such statements are sometimes known as metaethical statements ).

At the same time F does not appear to be a statement about a state of affairs (or states of affairs) in the world. If it were, we should expect general agreement on whether it is true or false. At the very least, its proponents should be able to tell us how its truth or falsity could be determined. Metaethical statements, however, are typically open to great dispute. For instance, many people reject the categorical imperative and the greatest happiness principle.

Perhaps F is true by definition. (Kant seemed to treat his categorical imperative in this way.) Competing ethical systems, however, have conflicting metaethical statements. Therefore, if these statements function as definitions, they appear to be arbitrary.

The only remaining alternative is that F consists of statements of preference. Any system of morality which they uphold, then, is entirely subjective. The proponents of such a system cannot rightly question the moral rightness or wrongness of any action. When they do, they are merely expressing their preferences.

If the anti-theist were truly honest he would say nothing more than, "I personally don't like the idea of God allowing evil" or "evil is determined subjectively." He has no right to say anything more. In particular, he has no justification for asserting that a totally good God would not permit preventable evil.

Traditional Theodicies

Although the anti-theist has no grounds for his objection to the Biblical view of God, it is still important for the theist to try to determine why a totally good God would permit evil to occur. Attempts to do this are called "theodicies."[2]

Certain "solutions" are not open to the Biblical theist -- namely, those which deny one of the attributes of God or those which deny the existence of evil. Therefore, we can immediately rule out the following:

Evil is an illusion: The Bible does not shy away from evil or treat it as unreal. Therefore, the Biblical theist must take its existence seriously.

God is not totally good: According to the Bible, God is altogether righteous.[3]

God is finite: So-called "theistic finitism" posits a deity who is good but unable to eliminate evil. The Bible clearly teaches that God is both omnipotent[4] and omniscient,[5] and, therefore, any resolution along these lines must be rejected.[6]

None of the above theodicies really addresses the problem of evil. Rather, they dodge the problem by avoiding its parameters. Hence, we may discard them as sub-Christian responses. Other theodicies, however, attempt to take seriously the Biblical view of God and the world. We may classify these as follows:
Metaphysical Theodicies: These point to a feature or features in creation or in man which make the existence of evil inevitable. The assumption is that the very act of creating results in evil.

Free Will Theodicies: These claim that God gave man free will. Man misused his free will to do evil. The evil in the present world is a result of his ongoing misuse of his freedom.

Greater Good Theodicies: God has permitted evil to bring about a greater good which could not have come about without the existence of evil. The specific good in question varies from theodicy to theodicy. Often several "greater goods" are cited.

Some might contend that there is a fourth type -- best-possible-world-theodicies. However, no one that I know of has argued that the present world is the one with the least amount of evil that God could possibly have created (though Leibniz has sometimes been misunderstood as holding this view). Rather, proponents of this view hold that God created the world best suited for bringing about some greater and otherwise unattainable good. Thus, best-possible-world theodicies become a subspecies of our Greater Good category.

Let us now look at the problems with each of these solutions.

Rejecting Traditional Theodicies

Critique of Metaphysical Solutions:

Certain of St. Augustine's proposals typify this way of thinking. Augustine argued that evil is merely a lack of good (privatio boni). To capture the flavor of this argument, I will quote fairly extensively from Augustine's Against the Epistle of Manicheus:
Everyone sees, who can see, that every nature, as far as it is nature, is good; since in one and the same thing in which I found something to praise, and he found something to blame, if the good things are taken away, no nature will remain; but if the disagreeable things are taken away, the nature will remain unimpaired....If then, after the evil is removed, the nature remains in a purer state, and does not remain at all when the good is taken away, it must be the good which makes the nature of the thing in which it is, while the evil is not nature, but contrary to nature....This shows that the natures, as far as they are natures, are good; for when you take from them the good instead of the evil, no natures remain.[7]
A bit further on he tells us:
For who can doubt that the whole of that which is called evil is nothing else than corruption? Different evils may, indeed, be called by different names; but that which is the evil of all things in which any evil is perceptible is corruption. So the corruption of an educated mind is ignorance; the corruption of a prudent mind is imprudence; the corruption of a just mind, injustice....Again, in a living body, the corruption of health is pain and disease; the corruption of strength is exhaustion; the corruption of rest is toil....Enough has been said to show that corruption does harm only as displacing the natural condition; and so, that corruption is not nature, but against nature. And if corruption is the only evil to be found anywhere, and if corruption is not nature, no nature is evil.[8]
And finally:
But if anyone does not believe that corruption comes from nothing, let him place before himself existence and non-existence...then let him set something, say the body of an animal, between them, and let him ask himself whether, while the body is being formed and produced, while its size is increasing, while it gains nourishment, health, strength, beauty, stability, it is tending, as regards its duration and permanence, to this side or that, to existence or non-existence. He will see without difficulty, that even in the rudimentary form there is existence, and that the more the body is established and built up in form, and figure and strength, the more does it come to exist, and to tend to the side of existence. Then, again, let the body begin to be corrupted; let its whole condition be enfeebled, let its vigor languish, its strength decay, its beauty be defaced, its framework sundered, the consistency of its parts give way and go to pieces; and let him ask now where the body is tending in this corruption, whether to existence or non-existence; he will not surely be so blind or stupid as to doubt how to answer himself, or as not to see that, in proportion as anything is corrupted, in that proportion it approaches decease. But whatever tends to decease tends to non-existence. Since, then, we must believe that God exists immutably and incorruptibly, while what is called nothing is clearly altogether non-existent; and since, after setting before yourself existence and non-existence, you have observed that the more visible object increases the more it tends to existence, while the more it is corrupted the more it tends towards non-existence, why are you at a loss to tell regarding any nature what in it is from God, and what from nothing; seeing that visible form is natural, and corruption against nature? The increase of form leads to existence....the increase of corruption leads to non-existence, and we know that what is non-existent is nothing.[9]
If we set this in its neo-Platonic context, we can see what Augustine is saying. For the neo-Platonist, "being" or "existence" stands at one end of a scale and "non-being" and "non-existence" at the other. God is true Being. Finite things participate in being, but because they are distinct from God they always tend toward non-being. However, insofar as they continue according to their nature (e.g., to the extent that apples continue to be what apples should be -- juicy, crisp, and the like), they will not tend towards non-being in any pernicious way. When something departs from its proper nature (e.g., when an apple becomes mealy, shriveled, and wormy), it becomes "corrupt" and tends toward non-being.

Augustine is equating being with goodness and non-being with evil. Evil is not a thing at all, and complete evil is simply non-existence. Augustine has shown (to his satisfaction) that evil does not really exist.

Augustine recognizes a problem with this. Why couldn't a sovereign creator make finite beings that would all continue according to their true nature, never deviating toward corruption and non-being? To this, he responds:

What harm, you ask, would follow if those things too were perfectly good? Still, should anyone, who admits and believes the perfect goodness of God the Father, inquire what source we should reverently assign to any other perfectly good thing, supposing it to exist, our only correct reply would be, that it is of God the Father, who is perfectly good. And we must bear in mind that what is of Him is born of Him, and not made by Him out of nothing, and that it is therefore perfectly, that is, incorruptibly, good like God Himself. So we see that it is unreasonable to require that things made out of nothing should be as perfectly good as He who was begotten of God Himself, and who is one as God is one, otherwise God would have begotten something unlike Himself.[10]
Augustine has now introduced his ex nihilo implies corruption theme: Anything created out of God's nature would be God Himself. Anything which God creates distinct from Himself must be created out of nothing (ex nihilo). However, any being created ex nihilo, although good because created by God, cannot be incorruptibly good. It must tend toward corruption.

God has thus been absolved from responsibility for evil. Having chosen to create, He had to create being that tended toward corruption. The only other option was not creating at all.

What about this theodicy? First, the privatio boni theme seems to be based on a series of confusions. In a Biblical view of reality, something either is or it is not. It doesn't tend toward being or non-being. Moreover, we use words such "good" and "evil" to describe properties which entities possess or lack, not, as Augustine does, to describe the relative being or non-being of the thing itself. An apple is "good" if it is crisp, juicy, and sweet. An apple is "bad" if it has brown spots and is mealy. Finally, "badness" and "evil" do not imply something's tendency toward non-existence. To be a bit facetious, a good apple is more likely to be eaten and hence cease to exist than a bad apple. A rusted-out car doesn't cease to be a car. It may be undrivable, but until someone dismantles it, it is still a car.[11]

More to the issue of moral goodness, a person is called good or bad on the basis of his attitudes and actions, not his being. We call him good if he does what is morally right and bad if he does what is morally wrong. His tendency toward being or non-being (if such were even possible) has nothing to do with our evaluation.

More crucial, however, are the implications of the ex nihilo theme. Augustine has not shown why a being created ex nihilo cannot be perfectly though finitely good. We may agree that the goodness of any being created by God will not begin to equal the goodness of God. But from this it does not follow that a finitely good being must be subject to corruption. Even if Augustine could show this, he would still need to show why corruptibility must lead to corruption. Why couldn't an omnipotent, omniscient God create beings that would never actualize their tendency toward corruption?

But let us say that these questions can somehow be answered. There awaits a further difficulty for Augustine -- and I believe for all purportedly orthodox metaphysical solutions. A central theme of Scripture is the realization of the New Heavens and Earth. The Bible regards these as distinct from God Himself. We may therefore raise the following dilemma: If inherent in any created world is the tendency toward corruption, consistency demands acknowledging this tendency to be part of the final stage of the New Creation. This flies in the face of all Scriptural testimony. If, however, we acknowledge that the New Creation will not have this tendency found in the old, then we have admitted that God can create a world not subject to corruption. Why didn't He do so in the first place?

One final problem: Scripture places responsibility for evil on man. However, if evil is a result of the very nature of man or the world as created by God, man is exonerated. He is and always has been the helpless victim of conditions beyond his control. In a nutshell, metaphysical solutions see evil as a metaphysical problem. The Bible, by contrast, regards it as an ethical problem.

Critique of Free Will Theodicies

Though presented with varying degrees of sophistication, free will defenses may be distilled in the following summary:
God created Adam good, but with freedom to obey or disobey Him. Adam used his freedom to disobey God. However, giving Adam (and by implication his descendants) free will to choose good or evil, obedience or disobedience, is of sufficient value to outweigh the resulting evil.
This argument rests on three assumptions:
(1) Man has free will.

(2) Free will is of sufficient value to outweigh the resulting evil.

(3) Free will must result in evil.

For the sake of discussion, I will assume the truth of (1) and (2). The crucial assumption is (3). What about it?

Freedom to choose does not necessarily mean that we cannot always choose the same alternative. Does my always choosing chocolate ice cream over vanilla show that I do not have free will? No. I may consistently choose chocolate for a variety of reasons -- taste preference, owning stock in the Hershey company, to be different from my wife, and so forth.

Perhaps the assumption is not that free will must result in evil but:

(3') God could not give man free will and at the same time ensure that he would use his free will always to choose good rather than evil.
Underlying (3') is a further assumption:
(4) Not even God can ensure the result of a genuinely free act.
Without (4), the free will defense is vitiated. If God could have ensured the result of man's free choices, He could have created Adam with free will while at the same time ensuring that he would always use it to do good.

However, (4) makes free will entirely inconsistent with Biblical theism. If God cannot ensure the results of the free acts of men, God does not have complete control. He is no longer the sovereign Creator who foreknows and foreordains all according to His good pleasure and will (Eph. 1:11). Man has genuine autonomy and God must helplessly watch man wreak havoc with creation.[12]

But this is not all. Once we assume that free will means the autonomy of man from God,[13] we are faced with the consequence that God cannot ensure the triumph of good over evil in the life to come without quashing man's free will. If man will have free will in the coming life, there is always the chance that he may use it to do evil and once again fall. If, however, free will theodicy advocates admit that man will not have free will, we must wonder about its value. If it is of such great value that God would give it to man despite the consequence of evil, we would think that man would retain this in his state of eternal bliss. Either way, the free will defense faces a most unwelcome result.

Critique of Greater-Good Theodicies

Many greater-good theodicies have been proposed, but none more influential in recent years than that developed by John Hick in Evil and the God of Love.[14] We may briefly summarize its main features as follows.

According to Hick, God's purpose in creating the world was to create beings who would enter into a personal relationship with Him. Love, trust, and faith are crucial to such relationships. Since these cannot be established through coercion, the created being needed relative autonomy from his Creator.

Thus, God could not simply reveal Himself in His full glory. Doing so would destroy the possibility that His creatures would come to worship Him of their own volition. Initially, then, God had to create human beings at a relative distance from Himself. (Hick calls this "epistemic distance.") This in turn means that they had to be placed in a less than perfect world.

Moreover, man needs to develop moral worth and build his character. One who has come to perfection through the struggle of overcoming evil will have greater moral worth than will a primordially perfect being. He will also have acquired virtues such as courage, sympathy, fortitude, and compassion along the way.

Thus, when asked how God can permit evil, Hick answers: God has made this world a place of soul making and character building so that He may bring us to a state of love and trust in Him.

Has Hick solved the problem of evil? To begin with, it is difficult to see just why faith and trust could only be formed in a world in which evil abounds. In Evil and the God of Love and elsewhere[15] Hick defines faith as the loving and heartfelt acceptance of the person and work of God. We may grant that the idea of faith implies the conceptual possibility of its opposite. This does not mean that the opposite is necessarily realized. In fact, the Biblical theist must hold that Adam had faith and trust in paradise at the time when lack of faith and distrust had not yet come about.

Hick, of course, argues that faith is not really faith if it is compelled. This is why he claims that God creates man at an "epistemological distance," in a world of mixed good and evil. But the whole idea of trying to compel faith makes sense only where lack of faith and distrust are the normal conditions. Where faith and trust are normal -- as in the Garden of Eden or glory -- we would not need to worry about the possibility of faith being compelled, and all this talk would be irrelevant.

Suppose that Hick insists that faith and trust are possible only in a situation in which the normal condition is lack of faith and distrust (i.e., in the world of epistemic distance) and not in a Garden-of-Eden setting. We may then ask this question: Will the glorious future state be one of epistemic distance or not?

If Hick answers in the affirmative, then that state will contain good and evil. Man will still distrust God and lack faith in Him. This is hardly the eschatological realm to which Hick thinks God is leading us.

If Hick answers in the negative, then on his definition faith and trust will not be present in that realm. In fact, the very moment we come into it and God's presence is overwhelmingly manifest, we will be said to have come to Him through "coercion." Further, one is left to wonder why God would place us in this vale of tears to gain faith and trust if they will no longer be found in heaven.

If on the other hand, Hick admits that faith and trust are possible in a Garden-of-Eden setting, then this present vale of tears isn't necessary after all.

In sum, the first response leaves Hick with all sorts of undesirable consequences. The second destroys the very basis of his theodicy.

We may raise a similar dilemma for Hick's claim that the sin and suffering of this vale of tears are necessary to develop virtues such as courage, sympathy, compassion, and fortitude. Would Hick be willing to admit that these are of sufficiently great value to our character that we will have a use for them in heaven? If he doesn't, we are left to wonder why God put us in this vale of tears to develop them. If he does, and evil is necessary for their development and exercise, it would seem that evil will abound in heaven so that we can exercise them.

We may generalize these criticisms and apply them to all greater-good theodicies. Take any greater good, G, (e.g., a faith relationship, courage, or anything else). If G is of such great value as to outweigh the evil necessary to attain it, G should be of value in the life to come. For example, why go through such great evil to gain courage if we are not going to have a chance to exercise it in the New Creation? But if evil is necessary for G, we should expect to find evil in the New Creation so that we may exercise G there as well. If evil is not necessary, we are left to wonder why God permits evil in the first place.

A Biblical Perspective

All the theodicies examined so far are fatally flawed. This is because of their common assumption -- that God created the world specifically to bring about the best state possible for man. All the talk about man's greater good, the value of freedom, or whatever, points to this as the underlying assumption. However, if one makes this the starting point of his theodicy, he will never answer the problem of evil in a way that accords with Scripture. Moreover, his theodicy will be subject to the sorts of criticisms that I have presented. For, he will be trying to do what cannot be done -- justifying God on the assumption that His chief purpose in creating the world is for the good pleasure of man.

Scripture, however, does not proceed on this assumption, and neither should the Biblical theist. He needs to adopt a new perspective. His theodicy must rest on the presupposition that God's purpose in creating this world is to most fully manifest His glory and that the world He created accomplishes this purpose.

God's glory is manifested through His various attributes. Scripture repeatedly speaks of four attributes which bear crucially on the problem of evil -- righteousness, justice, mercy, and grace.[16] It is hard to see how these attributes could be fully displayed except in a world in which man willfully fell from primordial goodness into sin, brought evil on himself, and God redeemed him from sin by grace alone. Let us consider this for a moment.

Certainly an omniscient and omnipotent God could have ordained that mankind would faithfully keep the divine law. The righteousness and justice of God would have been displayed as He rewarded Adam and his posterity for their faithfulness. Even His mercy and grace may have become known, for Adam and his descendants could have been taught that their preservation in righteousness was due to the sustaining power of God and not their own strength.

Nevertheless, righteousness and justice are more fully displayed when not only is good rewarded but evil punished. Mercy and grace are more perfectly manifested when the recipients are utterly unworthy. This is precisely what happens when God manifests His mercy and grace to the lost sinner by saving him for the sake of Christ. A righteous Adam may have had an abstract understanding of the ideas of grace and mercy. The unrighteous sinner who is drawn to Christ experiences God's grace and mercy in a much more profound fashion: "He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy" (Rom. 9:23).

Grace and mercy are also more wondrously displayed in a world in which man's fall resulted in spiritual death, not partial impairment. A spiritually sick person might claim a hand in restoring himself to God's favor. Only a once-dead person who has been restored to divine favor will see the extent of God's mercy. In Ephesians 2:4-5 we read: "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)." Grace and mercy, to be perfectly displayed, require man's redemption from a spiritually helpless position.

We may go further. It is hard to see how the relevant attributes could be adequately displayed in a world in which all were elected to salvation. Justice, for example, requires punishment for sin as well as reward for righteousness. Some argue that eternal punishment is inappropriate for finite sin. However, what I find unclear is the view that sin committed against the most high majesty of God, though done by finite creatures, deserves finite punishment. One can easily argue that sin committed against the eternal commands of the infinite and majestic God requires proportionate, that is, infinite and eternal punishment.

Nor does it seem possible that mercy and grace could have been fully displayed in a world in which God elected all men to salvation. If all men were saved in Christ, then, although not strictly of works, salvation would be a matter of birthright and not grace. (The Barthian idea of God's elective grace being universal destroys, if not election, the grace it seeks to preserve.)

I contend, then, that the Bible offers an explanation for evil quite consistent with what it says about God's glory, particularly as it is manifested in His attributes of righteousness, justice, grace, and mercy.

To recapitulate: God has ordained evil in order to display to all creation, and in particular to humanity, His glory in a way otherwise impossible. Namely, He has ordained man's fall and the resulting evils to demonstrate His righteousness, justice, grace, and mercy as fully as possible.

Countering Objections

The foregoing is just a sketch of the new perspective which the Biblical theist must adopt as he approaches the problem of evil. It is not a complete theodicy by any means. Nevertheless, I anticipate several objections may be raised against it.

First, one might argue that I have made no distinction between moral and natural evils (e.g., earthquakes, floods, famines, etc.). We must remember, however, that for the Biblical theist there is no natural evil strictly speaking. For him, the world itself was profoundly affected and shaken at the time of the fall. Ultimately, then, all "natural" evil is a result of the antecedent moral evil of man.

A second and related objection is that I have given no explanation for why God does not appear to distribute natural evil on the basis of sin. Sometimes the godly suffer while the wicked prosper. A full answer would extend our discussion beyond its intended parameters. A brief response must suffice. First, Scripture indicates that God blesses the godly and visits the wicked with calamity in this life (see in particular Ex. 20:5-6 and Deut. 28). Moreover, whatever prosperity the wicked enjoy is short-lived from the eternal perspective (Ps. 49 and 73), and whatever suffering the righteous suffer will pale in comparison with their future glory (Rom. 8:18-28). Finally, none are righteous, and all are deserving of wrath. Therefore, whatever good comes our way is due solely to God's grace.

One might also object that I have not fully demonstrated that the purpose of God in creating the world ought to be first and foremost to manifest His glory. My theodicy is based on what Scripture says about God's purpose in creating; full exegesis is beyond the scope of this essay. However, I challenge anyone to demonstrate that the primary purpose of God in creating the world ought to be for the overall pleasure and benefit of man. This, too, is an assumption. The Biblical theist takes his from Scripture. From where does his opponent's come?

A similar objection is that the account I have given profoundly shifts the meaning of "good" and "evil," "right" and "wrong," particularly as these terms apply to God. God, it seems, is justified no matter how much evil He ordains. Moreover, the very concept of reward and punishment on the basis of grace and not merit seems to fly in the face of our ordinary moral intuitions.

Once again, however, this is a matter of Biblical assumption. The Biblical theist is not operating on the assumption that an act is right if it leads to the greatest pleasure of the greatest number of people. In fact, he appears committed to saying that God's actions, no matter what they are, must be morally right.[17] This assumption is derived from Scripture, which clearly argues that God's goodness is never questioned (cf. Rom. 9:19ff.).

Finally, one might object that the Biblical theist will convince no one but other Biblical theists with this theodicy. Precisely. However, unless one can show that the problem of evil by itself places the theist in a logically self-contradictory position (which I argued at the outset it doesn't), this is all the Biblical theist really needs to do. The road of traditional theodicies is strewn with the corpses of those who have tried to do the impossible. By starting with the assumption that God must create a world designed for the greatest good of man, they have offered theodicies that collapse under their own weight and compromise the very theism they wish to defend. As far as I can tell, the new perspective I have sketched does not do this.

But shouldn't theodicy try to do more? No, for the primary purpose of theodicy is not to convince the anti-theist of Biblical theism but to show that given the presuppositions of Biblical theism, the existence of evil is not inconsistent with an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect God. Conversely, the only way in which evil provides counter-evidence to the God of the Bible is through prior acceptance of anti-theistic presuppositions.


1. I use this term to refer to anyone who disavows the view of God presented in the Bible and formulated in the Ecumenical Creeds of the church. An atheist or agnoxtic is an "antitheist" but so is someone who believes in a finite deity.

2. "Theodicy" comes from two Greek works, theos, meaning God, and dikei, meaning justice. A theodicy is an attempt to defend the justice of God in the face of evil in the world.

3. See e.g., Ps. 119:137; 145:17; II Tim. 4:8; Rev. 16:5.

4. See e.g., Gen. 17:1; Job 42:2; Is. 26:4; Dan. 2:20.

5. See. e.g., I Chron. 28:9; Job 12:13, 22; Ps. 136:5; Is. 46:10; Dan. 2:20.

6. Theistic finitism includes not only the views of E.S. Brightman of the Boston Personalist school (in vogue at the turn of the century) but Manichaenism (i.e., two equiprimodial deities, one good, one bad) as well.

7. Augustine, "Against the Epistile of Minicheus Called Fundamental", tr. Richard Stothert in Nicence and Post-Nicence Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) Vol. IV, p. 148.

8. Ibid. p. 147.

9. Ibid. pp. 149-50.

10. Ibid., p. 149.

11. The example of a rusted-out car was given by Norm Geisler on The John Ankerberg Show a few years back in an attempt to explain how evil could arise in God's good creation. Apparently, he accepts the ex nihilo implies corruption theme.

12. Attempts have been made to formulate a type of Biblical theism which does not assert God's total soveregnty but gives man the ability to act in ways which even God cannot control. Two formulations of this can be found in Ronald Nash, ed., Precess Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987). They are David Bassinger's article, "Divine Power: Do Process Theists Have a Better Idea?" and Clark H. Pinnock's article, "Between Classical and Process Theism". I believe that neither of these articles demonstrates the internal consistency of "free will theism" or its compatibility with the Bible.

13. This is not the place to examine whether free will implies autonomy because this is not germane to my purposes. I do not believe it does. Briefly, I would say that an act is free if it arises not from external force or compulsion against one's will but if it is done according to one's will. This is certainly how we use "freedom terms" (e.g., "free", "freedom", "free will", "liberty") in ordinary speech, and insofar as Scripture by implication addresses this issue, this seems to be the Scriptural concept of freedom as well. Moreover, I find the idea of autonomous free will to be not only contrary to Scripture, but philosophically incoherent as well. If what characterizes a free act is its lacking predetermination (whether by the decrees and power of God or not), then the paradigm of acts of free will should be those that appear most random and senseless. But we seldom regard such acts as acts of free will. On the contrary, what in ordinary language we call acts of free will are often precisely whose which appear most ordered and done with good and sufficient reason.

14. John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (New York: Harper and Row, 1966). For instance, in this Philosophy of Religion (Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1973).

16. Among those passages which speak of the righteousness of God are: Ps. 119:137, 145:17; II Tim. 4:8; Rev. 16:5. His justice is spoken of in Deut. 32:4; Rev. 15:3; Ps. 48:11; Rom. 2:6-9. Scripture speaks of God's mercy in Ezra 3:11; Ps. 57:10; 80:5; Tit. 1:4. God's grace is proclaimed in Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9. These attributes are described in their relationship to one another in Ex. 34:5-7. The above passages, of course, are just a small sampling of those which speak of these attributes.

17. Thus the Biblical text espouses what is sometimes called the divine command theory of morality (viz., and action is right because God commands it).


Doug Erlandson (Ph.D. philosophy; Johns Hopkins University) is a free lance writer and previously served as an instructor of philosophy at the University of Nebraska.
Copyright © by Covenant Community Church of Orange County 1991
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