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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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
2. For the believer,
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
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).
state that God “permits” evil is to lessen God’s
omnipotence and degrades His Providence
best of all possible worlds (Leibniz and John
3. CS Lewis: how does
one postulate a “good” god from evil in the world?
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.
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
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
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
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.
See Wikipedia on
“Theodicy.” They list several solutions to the problem of
theodicy, many of which are unbiblical and/or illogical.