In previous articles, we have seen that denials of God’s existence and biblical miracles rest on unreasonable, blind-faith assumptions or presuppositions. But, what about claims of contradictions in Scripture, the foundation of our faith? Do they rest on the same unjustified assumptions? Let’s see as we listen to Mr. A and Mr. C discuss “the problem of evil.”
Mr. A: The Bible teaches that God is perfectly good and always does good, correct?
Mr. C: Yes, that is true.
Mr. A: And God is all-powerful and can do anything He wants?
Mr. C: Yes, that is also true.
Mr. A: If He were all-powerful, He could prevent evil. If He were perfectly good, He would certainly prevent evil. But, evil exists, so God cannot be perfectly good and infinitely powerful. The God of Scripture cannot exist.
Mr. C: Mr. A, you have well stated ‘the problem of evil,’ a most difficult question. (Note, the following discussion here concerns moral evil, not natural calamities that are a result of the curse.)
Mr. A: Yes, the argument is logically valid because the conclusion follows the premises.
Mr. C: You are correct. But, that does not make the conclusion true, the premises might not be true. For instance, how do you know a good God will always prevent evil?
Mr. A: Because you say God is perfect.
Mr. C: Yes, but God’s ways are infinitely above us. Your premise excludes the possibility that God allowed evil for reasons beyond our understanding. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” Can God know things we cannot know?
Mr. A: Sure.
Mr. C: Am I fair saying you deny God’s existence because you cannot reconcile evil existing in a world created by an infinitely good and omnipotent God?
Mr. A: Correct.
Mr. C: I confess that I do not fully understand the origin of evil, though we know it began in the will of a created angel. Many explanations for its origin appear inadequate, or seem to make God dependent on evil to accomplish His purposes, contrary to God’s independence and holiness. But, as with miracles, human limitations prevent our understanding everything about an infinite God and His world. We can only know what He has chosen to reveal to us.
Mr. A: Isn’t that a copout, Mr. C?
Mr. C: No, it’s accepting our limitations and dependence on God, including His explanation of Himself and reality in Scripture. If I could unravel all mysteries, I would be God. Consider God’s rebuke of Job, ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ (Job 38:42).
Mr. A: Okay, we may not know everything, but someday we will. Still, if I cannot logically reconcile God with evil in the world, then God does not exist, because I know evil exists.
Mr. C: Mr. A, are you again saying something cannot be true if you cannot understand it, making your understanding the ultimate standard of what can exist or be true?
Mr. A: I don’t believe illogical things.
Mr. C: Could the answer be beyond our understanding? Is every possibility covered by your logical statement of the problem? Could God know something we do not?
Mr. A: Yes, if He exists.
Mr. C: You admitted limited knowledge concerning the contents of my antique box, but implied you know everything about the universe and beyond by denying God’s existence. And like your denial of biblical miracles, you make your understanding the ultimate judge of what can be true by denying the possibility of mystery concerning evil. You have again assumed the place of God, who alone solves every mystery. Mr. A, the Bible tells us this was mankind’s first sin—presuming our own understanding and will as ultimate.
Mr. A: Okay, Mr. C, what’s the answer to the ‘problem of evil’?
Mr. C: Only God knows, ultimately. But He has displayed His character in Christ, in His infinite love for sinners, in His hatred of sin, in paying the infinite penalty for our sin on the cross that we might be freed from condemnation. We know that moral evil began and only exists in the will of created beings. We know the world is cursed and that all suffering ultimately traces back to sin and its consequences. And, we know that God has remedied evil at infinite expense and suffering to Himself.
Mr. A: Too many people suffer for someone else’s evil. It is painful to see.
Mr. C: I would be careless to treat suffering lightly. Yet, I take great comfort in God’s perfect character revealed in Christ, in His promise that righteousness and perfect justice will ultimately prevail, that all unjust suffering will be more than fully recompensed, and all evil sufficiently punished.
Mr. A: I confess that I long for ultimate justice for people like Hitler or Stalin, but still find your answers unsatisfying.
Mr. C: Yes, mystery remains, but we accept our limitations and trust Him who has all the answers. He will explain more in heaven. Until then, He has clearly revealed His goodness and omnipotence. And, for reasons beyond our immediate grasp, He has allowed evil to exist. We know that the way God deals with evil shows His excellent character. And, while God can bring good from evil, He never does moral evil that good may result—He is holy. We also know freedom does not require evil, we will be most free in heaven where evil will not be an option. And we know the guilt of moral evil lies with those who commit it.
Mr. A: Let me know when you get a complete answer.
Mr. C: I pray that we’ll ask God together.
Scripture confronts our limited understanding with many difficult questions, such as the nature of the Trinity or God’s sovereignty and human responsibility—divine mysteries that logic in the hands of limited people cannot fully explain (though perfectly logical to God). Suffering reaches the depths of our soul and challenges us profoundly. Yet, we have great comfort in the perfect character of God as displayed in the person and saving work of Christ in defeating death and evil, and in God’s ultimate righteous reign over the universe when He makes all things right. Scripture reveals God’s perfect goodness and power, even as His ways are infinitely above our ways.
Of course, this brief treatment fails to address many issues concerning “the problem of evil,” including the various attempts to answer it. Yet, the core of the problem demonstrates that we are not God—a difficult truth for sinful humanity to embrace. To say God does not exist because I cannot understand a mystery makes my limited understanding the final authority or standard of truth, presuming the place of God Himself, the first sin ever committed and the heart of every sin since. The atheist may choose to repeat Lucifer’s error, but the Christian need not be intimidated by it, for unbelievers appealing to the “problem of evil” to deny God merely validate what Scripture says about sin, unbelief, and the fallen and our unwillingness to accept.
In Part Six we will examine the Triune nature of God and a Christian response to those who would appeal to mystery involved in the doctrine to deny the existence of God.
Unless noted otherwise, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995. Used by permission.
© 2017 Craig Biehl, adapted from Craig Biehl, The Box: Answering the Faith of Unbelief, Carpenter’s Son Publishing, 2015.
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