The Problem of Evil–Part I

Posted: December 18, 2010 in Uncategorized

“Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then is he impotent.  Is he able, but not willing?  Then is he malevolent.  Is he both willing and able?  Whence then is evil?”–David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Introduction

John Frame has remarked that the problem of evil “is probably the most difficult problem in all of theology, and for many atheists it is the Achilles’ heel of the theistic worldview.”[i]  After much reading on the subject, that assessment may not be far off base.  The literary giant C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, looked at suffering and evil in the world before his conversion and said, “If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction.”[ii]  The depth of this problem is apparent from statements such as these.

Indeed, this is a hard matter to discuss for a number of reasons.  Not least of these reasons is the fact that evil surrounds us.  Every day we hear of dozens of accounts of evil and suffering.  We hear of the starving children in Asia and the continual warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We watch as loved ones suffer in a multitude of ways with no apparent relief in sight.  We gaze upon these things daily and wonder why a good, loving, and powerful God would allow the world to be in the present condition.

To even begin to make sense of these things we must first make some observations.

  1. This is no mere intellectual exercise.  We do not come to this subject lightly or to simply see who can devise THE answer.  Any wrestling with the problem of evil should be done so that we can make better sense of the world around us, the Bible, and God Himself.  Our whole existence is meant to make God famous.  As we make Him famous, people will have questions.  The subject of pain and suffering in a sin-filled world will definitely arise.  Will we stand ready to point people in a biblically healthy direction?  Wrestling with the problem of evil will require the use of the intellect, but it is no mere intellectual exercise.  It springs from a desire to know God, understand the world, and help people move forward with a biblical understanding of reality.
  2. This is an emotional issue.  I have already listed some of the evils that surround us daily.  That these evils are accompanied by emotions is obvious.  Add to that the fact that emotions run high when discussing theology in general.  When discussing difficult doctrines, emotions are stirred.  When discussing the hardest of theological issues, emotions can erupt.  Lack of tact, compassion, and tears must not mark the conversation.  I write as one who has shed more than one tear in the process of considering the problem of evil.
  3. I am no authority on the issue.  The truth is that I have had one class on this topic.  Now, it is true that I have thought through some of these things before.  Preaching and teaching, studying church history and systematic theology, and simply reading your Bible will cause one to deal with these issues at some level.  However, a single semester of concentrated reading and discussion hardly qualifies me, or anyone else, as an expert on the matter.  So, in what follows I acknowledge that I have much to learn and only want to offer the thoughts I currently have.  Much can, and probably will, change as I continue to read and study.

With these things in mind, we want to take the Epicurean Trilemma, as stated at the top by David Hume, and attempt to make sense of it.  Can one hold to an all-good and all-powerful conception of God while at the same time acknowledging that evil exists?  Let’s explore the question together…in subsequent posts.


[i] Frame, John.  The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing Company, 2002), 160.

[ii] Lewis, C.S.  The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1996), 13.

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