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Theodicy - The (Supposed) Problem of Evil

** Note: The following discussion is incomplete. When I approached this subject, I wrongly believed that I could address a few simple issues in a brief manner. As you will see, the issue of theodicy is quite complex. So, I present the following even though it is incomplete and preliminary. However, I do not know when I might get back to the subject, so I have placed it here so that it is addressed on this site.

Theodicy (Greek: theo-God, dicy from dike-God) is a specific branch of theology and philosophy that attempts to reconcile the existence of evil or suffering in the world with the belief in an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God. (Modified from Wikipedia.com.)

When natural disasters, such as, the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in December 2004, occur, many people ask the question, “If God is good and omnipotent, how can such disasters occur.” Not too many years ago, a popular book was titled Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? When a young child dies or contracts a crippling disease, the same question is asked. Christians should be ready to have an answer for such questions. Indeed, as with all questions of cosmology, such questions should begin with the character of God.

The issue of theodicy is answered differently for Christians and non-Christians because God has revealed Himself in His Scriptures. The unbeliever does not accept the truth of God’s Word, so we will begin with the non-Christian. But, even these categories have not been carefully separated.

Issues for Non-Christians (The Unregenerate)

1. The issue of God granting life and opportunity to those afflicted or killed is rarely, if ever raised. Virtually every person about whom the issue of theodicy is raised had been given life itself and an opportunity of life before the “bad” happened. They had people to love and to love them in return. They had opportunities for education, growth, helping others, and sharing their lives. The older they were at the time of the “bad,” the more of these wonderful opportunities did they have. Should not God get the credit for their existence and these opportunities for them before the “bad?”

2. About what God is the person who raises this question talking? The person who raises the question of theodicy should be asked about what powers exist in the universe. If they invoke some belief in deity, they should be asked about the powers and characteristics of that deity. The God of Christians is virtually always the God about whom this question is raised! Why? First, there is the knowledge of God in all men, as discussed in Romans 1. Second, there is really no other God who is known to mankind Who is both good and powerful. (I am not assuming that everyone would accept omnipotence. Also, I am equating the God of worshipping Jews to the Christian God.)

The person asking the question should be asked, “Who is this God about whom you are speaking?” There are only two possible answers: (1) the God of the Bible (Christianity) or (2) their own fuzzy concept of God. Now, if they want to blame the God of the Bible, then they must accept all that the Bible says about Him. If they pick and choose His characteristics as they please, then they have created their own God, not the God of the Bible. So, they should be shown that they are blaming a God that only exists in their own minds or the minds of others who have also created their own god.

If they want to blame the God of the Bible, then they have to accept all that the Bible says about Him. And, we will come to those issues concerning Christians.

3. What is “good” and what is “bad?” By definition, these issues involve ethics. Virtually every culture around the world has some issues of right and wrong that differ from others. And, probably no two people on earth agree on every issue of ethics. So, a person who asserts that which is “bad” cannot be consistent with a “good” God, has made major assumptions about what is “good” and “bad.” If follow-up is carried out with victims of these “bad” situations, there are amazing stories of the “good” things that occurred later. So, an immediate assumption that a disaster is truly “bad” is just that, a major assumption, if not arrogance in an attempt to understand God.

Would we understand “good” without the presence of “bad?” I play golf. What if every shot went in the hole? Would that be “good?” What if everything that I attempted was successful? Would that be enjoyable? What if I lived forever, would I appreciate good health? If everything were “good,” would that not be “bad” without some contrast of the opposite?

4. Why should anyone posit a “good” God in the first place? C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain raises the question why we should posit a good God at all. With all the good, bad, and ugly that takes place in every life and culture on the planet, why not posit a whimsical god? Why not posit dualism, the competing forces of both good and evil? Why is not the question asked in the face of pain and disaster, “Why does an evil god not cause more problems for mankind?” But, that question is never asked. Why? If we are going to challenge the deities, should not that question be asked equally often?

I believe that this latter question is not asked comes from unregenerate man’s war with God. When he asks why bad things happen to good people, he is really saying that God does not meet that person’s own standards of “good.” Therefore, God is really cruel. The person can rationalize his own avoidance and criticisms of God by showing to others how “unfair” God is. But, “unfairness” demands a standard to which one can appeal. And, no person lives up to his own standard, much less that of others. (See regeneration.)

5. To posit a God who is good, but limited in power to prevent all “bad” from happening, is to overthrow any hope of stability in the universe. If God is so limited in power, then anything could happen to anyone at any time. What hope of tomorrow or any future can be derived from that position? Unless one posits an omnipotent God, only despair is the logical conclusion.

Issues for Christians

1. Definitions: “good,” “evil.” “Good” is whatever God does. If God “ordains whatsoever comes to pass, “ then everything that happens is “good.” If God is omnipotent, then “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

1. Good cannot exist without its contrast of evil. Good is a relative, it gradually moves over into to evil, and evil moves over into good. They both exist along a spectrum. For example, would “good” be for no one to have disease and death?

2. “Evil” is relative. For most, eternal life on this earth would be intolerable. In the animal world, they feed off one another. If the death of one for the life of another, an evil?

3. Difficult cases make bad ethics. Biblical ethics are principle-based, not determined by the situation. To posit the most extreme situations in life, unnecessarily makes moral decisions and issues of “good” and “bad” more complex. For example, how many people will ever have to make decisions of who lives and who dies in a lifeboat? How many people will face the issue of extreme suffering vs. euthanasia?

4. God promises special grace to those who suffer and are His children (Romans 8:28).

5. Abortion of children per se is an evil. Abortion of the next Hitler is a good. Abortion of the next prodigy like Beethoven is an evil. The problem is that we do not know these future events when abortions is done. Thus, all abortions are evil.

6. The unregenerate hate God. They would kill Him, if it were in their power. They are not open-minded to ascribe any act of God to be good. So, they will not accept any argument towards God that argues for a good.

7. Sometimes an “evil” brings greater “good.” Joseph told his brothers that “they intended evil” but God intended their salvation (Genesis 50:19). Without Joseph in Egypt during the great famine, Israel as a nation may have starved to death. At minimum, their families would have been decimated.

8. “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” Any god that is worthy of worship should behave in a way that men cannot comprehend. Why worship a god who thinks no higher than men on earth? Such a god is not needed. What would be the difference i worshipping such a god or worshipping men? (This argument could have been added to those for the unregenerate above.)

9. “Evil” exists in several categories. Each has differing moral considerations: (A) the evil that comes from man’s accidental harm, e.g., automobile accidents, (B) man’s irresponsibility and immorality, cirrhosis of the liver in an alcoholic, (C) man’s intended evil towards other men, as the ruthless killing of dictators, and (D) natural disasters which formerly were called “acts of God.” (They are still given this description by some insurance policies.

10. Cosmology, first principle, etc. Ultimately, there can be only one cause of everything. Even if several causes are postulated, one would have to dominate unless all were postulated to be equal. If equal, they would only cancel each other. God causes everything that happens, but He is without sin since whatever He does is right and good. And, He is not the author (proximate cause) of sin or evil.

11. Does one really want final and ultimate justice? If God punished all evil, no one on earth would be left alive. As C. S. Lewis stated in Mere Christianity, everything a person thinks and says over a lifetime that he “ought” to do, but does not, would condemn himself. Thus, no one lives up to their own standards of right and wrong. How much less do they live up to the standards of a higher being?

12. If life is meaningless, as many atheists and others posit, then nothing can be considered either “bad” or “good,“ because nothing really matters. Any concept of good or evil must include purpose or lack of purpose in anyone’s life. If there is no purpose, both evil and good are meaningless.

13. The presence of bad and evil does enhance the good. For a few day after recovering from an illness, one feels great! Then, he begins (again) to take his health for granted. But, the contrast of illness with good health, when recognized, makes good health that much better. The person who narrowly escapes a disaster, often begins to live more for a purpose and meaning than before the disaster happened. Thus, on a lesser level, “good” has come from “bad.”

14. Philosophers cannot agree on what is right and wrong. How can they blame God, if they don’t even know what “good” and “bad” are?

15. How to define good and evil is not that complicated. It is the same as deciding what is right and wrong. We can appeal to ourselves, a majority vote of some kind, or we can yield to the opinions of an authority. (Actually, there are only two: yielding to an established authority or always choosing by self. The “established authority” ought to be the Bible.)

16. After God had created everything (and before the Fall), He called it “very good.” All the “bad” came because of the sin of Adam and Eve.

17. Is it “good” for me to get angry when things don’t go my way, IF God is truly Sovereign and Providential? Does not this anger reveal the degeneracy of my own self? Am I not placing myself in the position of God to judge what he has caused or allowed to happen?

2. For the believer, Romans 8:28

A. The elect achieve a higher state because of evil (sin, the Fall). Man was “created a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8), but in glorification, the elect will be over (“judge”) angels (I Corinthians 6:3).

B. The death of infants and children is no worse than that of an older person. The problem is that death has to occur at all. “The last enemy is death.” Definition of death, as separation.

C. Suffering is a part of the curse of death.

D. The devil as a cause of evil, but even there, he is limited in his actions by God, as in the book of Job.

E. God is the ultimate, not immediate (author) cause of everything that happens (Isaiah 45:7; Ephesians 1:11; Westminster Confession of Faith 5:4, 6:1).

1. To state that God “permits” evil is to lessen God’s omnipotence and degrades His Providence

2. The best of all possible worlds (Leibniz and John Piper)

3. CS Lewis: how does one postulate a “good” god from evil in the world?

A. Untimely deaths and suffering. Why do people never postulate the length of life that so many people who die early or by tragedy have lived before they die? Cannot God be praised for (1) life itself, and (2) the life that He did allow them to live.

5. Understanding intellectually does not mean that one does not struggle with his emotions. The depth of anyone’s suffering should not be minimized. Even when we know that those close to us are in heaven with Jesus, we miss them and ache at their absence. Understanding and having the peace of God do not always go together.

6. Some might contend that true “free choice” must include the choice for evil. If one were not free to chose evil, then “free choice” would not really exist. Or, if one could only choose the good, then choice would be restricted (not free). See the website of Greg Koukl.

However, I do not agree with this argument. Man is predestined in his choices, whether from being programmed by his genes and his environment from birth onwards or by God’s predestination. Only Adam and Eve were completely free to choose between good and evil. The Westminster Confession of Faith (9:2) states that they had free choice. Man after the Fall is only able to choose evil--he can do no good (as far as pleasing God). That is, he is totally unable to choose anything good apart from regeneration.

Why is free will necessarily a “good” thing? By this line of argument, it is “good” that Hitler, Stalin, Chiang Kai-shek, and Pol Pot had “free choice” to murder millions?

8. Weak argument towards the unregenerate? Would you choose a god (1) whom you could understand?

9. The attempted escape of theodicy into “open theism” where God does not predestinate all things or the predestinates by foreknowledge (“seeing the future”) demeans God. If the future is fixed, then man is predestined by some other cause than God. The only ultimate power in the universe is God (omnipotent). He is the ultimate cause of everything, but mostly works through secondary agents.

10. The great theological issue is the fact of death itself, not when it occurs. The child who develops leukemia and dies strains our heart far more than the 85-year-old man who has lived a fully and healthy life. But, even if the child did not develop leukemia, he would eventually die sometime. Everyone dies sometime. Why? Quite simply, death is the curse of God (Genesis 2:17). Death is the last enemy (I Corinthians 15:26). The great tragedy is that everyone must die, not when it happens.

11. God purposes discipline and suffering for His people. See Hebrews 12.

 

References

See Wikipedia on “Theodicy.” They list several solutions to the problem of theodicy, many of which are unbiblical and/or illogical.

 


 

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