Friday, February 22, 2013

The Problem of Evil Isn't the Problem

One of the central issues that Christian theologians have been wrestling with since the Middle Ages is the Problem of Evil.  It is based on three assumptions about God:

1) God is omniscient (all-knowing).
2) God is omnipotent (all-powerful).
3) God is omnibenevolent (all-good).

If all three of these assumptions are true, why does evil exist in the world?

However, I don't think this is the central issue with those three assumptions.  The Bible itself suggests that they can't all be true, regardless of the place of evil in the world.

Let's assume for the moment that God exists, and that the Bible presents an accurate representation of his character.

The only way to heaven is through faith.  This implies that the most important thing in the world to God is that you believe in him and believe that Jesus is divine.  If you do not, you are condemned to eternal punishment.

The conflict with the three assumptions comes not in the existence of evil, but in the existence of non-believers.

Does God not know how to convince them he exists?  Then he's not omniscient.
Is God incapable of convincing them he exists?  Then he's not omnipotent.
Is God unwilling to convince them he exists?  Then he's not omnibenevolent.

I think the Bible provides a clear answer to at least one of those questions.  Regardless of omniscience or omnipotence, God is clearly not good.  In the Old Testament, he sanctions slavery, genocide and the abuse of women and children.  In the New Testament, he offers vicarious redemption, the truly twisted idea that I can wrong you and SOMEONE ELSE can forgive me for that, whether you do or not.

There is no problem of evil; there is no problem of non-believers.  The Bible resolves the issue quite clearly.


  1. The three assumptions you list do not necessarily imply that there can be no evil in the world. They can all be absolutely true and yet evil can still exist. I'll give you some time to think about it and see if you can figure it out.

    If you're stuck, let me know, and I'll give you a solution. Hint: consider the book of Job in the Bible.

  2. Evil isn't the issue; that's my point. If all three assumptions are true, why are there people like me who remain unconvinced that God exists (and will supposedly be punished for being unconvinced)?

  3. I believe there is a simple logical solution to the problem of evil. And the problem of the existence of non-believers is really a subset of the problem of evil. I'll be happy to present that if you're interested.

    Regarding your claim that "God is clearly not good", again we're back to the issue of morality. Based on your definition of morality, how can you say that slavery, genocide, etc. in the Old Testament are wrong? Based on your view of morality, how do you know they weren't right for that time and culture?

    I'll give you a bit more time to think about it, and then I'll be back (maybe not today, but sometime later this week) to lay out the Biblical view of these issues.

  4. Yes, I'm interested in your ideas on non-believers and evil.

    I can say that slavery and genocide are wrong because they violate my conscience. I cannot see how those things would be moral in the context of the Old Testament, so I would stand by the idea that they were wrong then as well.

  5. The solution to the problem of evil is really quite simple. The "problem" is really the result of another unstated premise, namely that a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent would not allow evil. But that premise is false.

    There are many reasons why God would allow evil. Let me cite a few examples from the Bible:

    1) The entire book of Job is a case study of the problem of evil (a behind the scenes look, if you will). It shows that God has reasons for allowing things, even though we may not understand them or realize them.

    2) The man born blind in John 9:1-3.
    1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
    2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
    3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

    3) God's Sovereignty in Romans 9.
    14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
    15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
    16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
    17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
    18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
    19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
    20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
    21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
    22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
    23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
    24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

    4) God's thoughts are above our thoughts (Isaiah 55).
    6 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
    7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
    8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
    9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    The bottom line is that God knows what He is doing, and if he allows evil, He has a good reason for doing so. If we question Him and say that something He did is wrong, we are putting ourselves in the place of God (that was the issue in Job). If God is God, who are we to judge Him?

    Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

    I understand that you view slavery and genocide as wrong. But based on your view of morality, what you think doesn't apply to the Old Testament times. If the society of that time agreed that those things were right, doesn't that make them right (for them)?

    This exposes a major problem with your view of morality. You have adopted a more consistent view that what you had before, but now you're "consistently wrong". Can you see how you a fixed standard is necessary? You already know what that fixed standard is--it starts with "B", ends in "e", and has "ibl" in the middle. I suppose you could pick a different fixed standard, but it would have other problems with it. I'm telling you, the Bible is the way to go!

  6. Right, but again, we're talking about the existence of non-believers, not the existence of evil.

    If there exists an all-powerful all-knowing all-good God who set up the universe in such a way that people get punished for not believing in him, why wouldn't everyone believe in him?

    Your responses really don't address that.

    No, I don't believe that owning another human being was right at any time in history just because some cultures did so. They may have thought it was right; I don't.

    And no, the Bible still doesn't provide objective morality, since everyone picks and chooses which biblical directives to follow and which to ignore.

  7. Romans 9:21-22, quoted above, specifically address the existence of non-believers. Read them again and let me know if you need further explanation.

    The Bible does provide objective morality. That people pick and choose or have different interpretations doesn't change the fact that the Bible is a fixed standard.

  8. Right, but if is a fixed standard is not applied in a consistent way, then it is effectively subjective, just as I've described my understanding of morality to be.

    I don't get how Romans 9:21-22 explains the problem of non-believers.

  9. As humans, our morality is indeed subjective. I don't claim to have everything figured out. I am willing to change my mind on issues.

    But do you remember back to our conversation on morality? At one point, you said that society's view of morality should gradually be moving toward true morality (a fixed standard of right and wrong). I believe that basic idea is correct, and that the fixed standard we should be moving toward is God's law in the Bible. That doesn't mean that we will all agree or that we won't have to change our minds about things. There will be different interpretations and applications. But the point is that God's law in the Bible is a goal to aim towards, both in terms of interpretation and application.

    Regarding Romans 9:21-22, the point is that God created everything so He can do with it whatever He wants for His purposes. I could make (or buy) two containers, one a pretty vase to hold flowers, and the other a bucket to use for mopping the floor. Both uses are "right", but they are for different purposes. Similarly, God created people for different purposes, some to demonstrate His mercy and glory, and others to demonstrate His wrath and power. Non-believers fall into the latter category. They are the mop buckets.

  10. When Christians reach that goal of following everything in the Bible (or at least, agreeing on which parts of it to follow), I will agree that biblical morality is objective.

    So your argument about non-believers is that God can refuse to convince them that he exists, in which case they are punished eternally, because he's God and can do whatever he wants. In that case, he's not omnibenevolent.

  11. DVD Bach,

    Why don't you become a Christian, and then you can help with that goal?

    How is that not omnibenevolent? Are you trying to be "god" again? If God says it is good, then it is good. That's the point about morality--God is the One who defines it.

  12. I've just explained why I think that's wrong. I don't have to be "god" to have my moral sensibilities offended by the biblical God. He does or order things I find horrible throughout the Bible.

  13. Exactly. That's why there are non-believers.

  14. Then he isn't omnibenevolent. He'd rather that I not believe in him, and consequently be punished for that.

  15. No, God is omnibenevolent. As I said before, He is the One who defines what is good and what is not. God is good by (His own) definition. I know you don't believe that, but that is the Biblical view, which is what I am defending. I would join you in attacking a "god" who is not good (by definition).

    He created you for a purpose, and He will accomplish His purposes in your life. That may include demonstrating His wrath and power by judging you for your unbelief (see the verses in Romans 9 above). I don't know that for sure. Perhaps God will graciously save you. He has done so for millions of others, including myself.

    But you may say, "That's not fair. How can God punish me for not believing in Him if that was His purpose for my life?" Read the verses above in Romans 9 again. He can do exactly that and be completely good.

    You may not like it, but you are not God. A "god" that is subject to the moral judgments of humans is *not* the God of the Bible. I would join you in dismissing such a "god".

  16. "God is good by (His own) definition"
    Convenient. Since I'm not bound by his definition, however, I can easily judge him as evil (which I do).

    "That may include demonstrating His wrath and power by judging you for your unbelief"
    Of course, that would do me no good if I were dead. He would still be refusing to convince me he exists, then punishing me for not being convinced.

    "He can do exactly that and be completely good."
    In his own opinion, and yours. But not mine.

    "You may not like it, but you are not God."
    I don't dislike that idea at all. If there really is a god as the Bible describes him, I am better than he is.

  17. Okay, you've made your point. You have answered your own question about why there are non-believers.