Can you explain how evil exists in the world without either compromising God’s goodness, His omnipotence, and/or implying dualism? For instance, in Isaiah it is written “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things,” (45:7) willed into existence by God “I have spoken and it will bring it to pass; I have planned and I will do it,” (46:11) even those things that are considered to define evil in chapter 14. Genesis 2 describes all of God’s creation as good, because He is good (Jas. 1:17; Matt. 7:11; Ex. 34:6; Ps. 107:8; Mark 10:17-18). God is described as omnipotent (Rom. 1:20; Gen. 17:1; Job: 42:2; Ps. 21:13; 71:18; 145:11; 147:5; Eph. 1:21; Col. 2:10). Additionally, God is described as eternal (Isa. 45:17; 57:15; Ps. 45:17; 52:9; 90:2; Hab. 1:12; Deut. 33:27; Luke 1:33; Heb. 13:8; Rev. 4:9-10) so it is arguable that human will cannot be considered responsible for evil because of His omniscience (Heb. 4:13; Acts 15:18; Jo b 12:13; Prov. 2:6; Ps. 147:4-5; 33:13-15) and aseity (Jn 5:26; Acts 17:24-25; Dan. 4:35; Ps. 115:3; Job 42:2), infinity (Ps. 147:5; 145:3; Job 5:9), not dependent upon the sequential progression of time. Lastly, given His moral purity (Ps. 145:17; 1 Sam. 6:20; Ps. 89:35; Amos 4:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16; Heb. 7:26) goodness (Jas. 1:17; Matt. 7:11; Ex. 34:6; Ps. 107:8; Mark 10:17-18), and omnipresence (Rom. 8:9; Matt. 6:9; Jer. 23:23-24; Ps. 139:7-12; Acts 17:27-28; Jon. 1:3, 10) in His creation, does evil exist? If so, how without contradicted any of these qualities, and what is its source in His creation by ex nihilo and characterized by order, not chaos? Consequently, if evil does exist, how does this not imply God is composite instead of simple with regard to His attributes?
You ask one of the most fundamental yet difficult questions about Christianity. I am copying and pasting half a dozen questions and answers below to show how often I am asked similar questions and to back up the short answer I am giving here. Hopefully they will help.
Here is the bottom line biblically/theologically, as I see it. Everything God created is good–it is very good (Genesis 1:31). One of the “good” things that God created is humans with free will. Biblical evidence supports the idea that angelic beings also have free will. God is about love. God is about relationships. Love gives a choice. In fact, without choice, love is a meaningless word. We were created because God wanted to love us and wanted us to love him. So he gave us a choice. That is why the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was in the garden. The choice had to be real and not just symbolic. We chose to rebel. We chose to disobey God. We rejected God’s plan and his will for our lives and thus evil came into the world. Does God create evil? No. Does he allow it? Yes. Does he give those who choose to reject him over to the evil they choose? Yes, sometimes. God is omniscient and all-powerful. God also foreknows what will happen. But, God purposefully “limits” his power and sovereignty to the extent that he gives us free will. God is not the creator of evil, but some of his creatures do evil. I suppose we could blame God for that, but, personally, I am thankful to God that he created me and that he gave me a choice. I appreciate the way Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic theologian put it: “God, therefore, is the first cause, who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their actions from being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary; but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them, for He operates in each thing according to his own nature.” In other words, God’s sovereign will is not compromised by his giving us free will.
Dualism is false theology. It certainly is not consistent with the Bible or with anything we know about God from the Bible. God is not “composite.” The existence of evil is consistent with God’ sovereignty, love, power and justice because God chose to give those he loves the choice as to whether or not they will return that love, and thus evil exists. As you will see below in the Q & As, no other world view can successfully explain the existence of evil. Only the Christian world view successfully explains the problem of evil. If this is not sufficient, please send me another question, as I understand that I have not addressed all the issues you raise.
How do you explain the question of evil from various world views?
Editor’s Note: This question and answer are taken from an exam by Randy Hroziencik, a student in our ARS Apologetics Certificate Program. It is used by permission.
In your own words, try to present the “explanation” of evil from the point of view of at least three other world views other than Christian theism. Also, provide what you see to be the Christian “explanation” of the problem of evil, explaining why you believe the Christian response is to be preferred.
Some of the more prominent non-Christian worldviews for dealing with the problem of evil are as follows:
Docetism & Eastern Mysticism: Docetism is a variation of Gnosticism that denies the reality of the physical creation; only the spiritual realm is real while the material realm is merely an illusion. Docetists maintain that evil is merely an illusion, and one should make every attempt to be cognizant of that fact. This approach is essentially the same as that of the Eastern religions in general (e.g., Hinduism and Buddhism’s concept of maya), and has filtered down to the “New Age” movement (Western Mysticism) and its offshoot’s Christian Science and the Mind Science’s in general.
Dualism: The approach of Dualism maintains that evil is independent of the good God – there is a “good” god and a “bad” god who may or may not be equal in power. Evil exists because of the evil god’s influence upon the natural realm.
Naturalism: The naturalistic approach emphasizes the role of evolutionary forces in the problem of evil. Evil exists because we humans perceive evil as being the bad things that result from our evolutionary past rearing its ugly head, e.g. “struggle for survival” and “nature is red in tooth and claw.” As a race of biological-only beings, we have not yet evolved to a state of peace and tranquility – if that is even possible.
Postmodernism: This “evil is relative” approach holds that there are no universal standards of good and evil, and therefore what one thinks is evil may not really be evil. This is, of course, nothing but postmodern philosophy which also has a somewhat strong connection to naturalism.
Stoicism: Stoicism maintains that everything which happens in nature is the result of the impersonal forces of the material universe, over which we have no control. The Stoic tries to control the only thing that we human beings can control: How we react to the situation at hand. Through emotional self-control, the Stoic deals with the problem of evil through “mind over matter”: If one doesn’t mind the problem of evil, it won’t matter. Once again, there is a strong connection to naturalism in this worldview.
Only the Christian worldview can adequately make sense of the problem of evil. Christians may state with confidence the following:
Evil is not an illusion, as Docetism, Eastern Mysticism, and the New Age-Mind Sciences teach. Our emotional and cognitive abilities are too powerful to believe the lie that evil is not real.
Our inherent “God-hardwiring” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 – God has “set eternity in the human heart”), the obviousness of intelligent design (Romans 1:20), the scriptural doctrine of one God and his powerful but limited (in fact, created) enemy, and the philosophical and science-heavy arguments for one supreme Creator-God (including “Ockham’s Razor”) points to one God and a limited enemy of God, not a dualistic theology.
Determinism, through the impersonal forces of nature, cannot account for what happens in our lives. Nature is clearly not all there is.
Moral relativism fails when viewed in the light of Scripture.
God is in control of the universe, and he has gifted us with the ability to make free will choices. Therefore, the impersonal forces of nature do not solely account for what happens in our lives and the universe as a whole.
The three theodicies, or manners of dealing with the problem at hand, are the free will, soul-making, and natural law approaches:
Free Will Theodicy: The free will theodicy entails that the decisions which sentient, thinking beings sometimes make are evil in nature, and as a result of these decisions evil is perpetuated in the world. The biblical record describes the problem of evil having originated within the angelic realm, and then spread to humanity in large part due to the influence of Satan upon the first humans.
Soul-Making Theodicy: The soul-making theodicy maintains that evil exists for the purpose of exercising our ability to make proper moral choices, teaching us valuable lessons so as to develop our moral character and bring us more in line with how God intended us to be. Only by struggling against evil can we as human beings develop ourselves to be more Christ-like.
Natural Law Theodicy: The natural law theodicy maintains that the things of this material world have the capacity to bring us either pleasure or pain, depending upon how they are used. God has created a world in which the laws of nature are unchanging (barring miracles) and as a result people should know what to expect in a given situation: Wooden bats and bullets hurt or even kill when used as weapons, and these are consequences that people understand and they must be taken into consideration when making moral-behavioral choices. Our physical environment is such that it provides for the best possible means of both testing and developing our moral behavior, and therefore compliments the two previous theodicies.
Despite this theologically well-reasoned approach to addressing the problem of evil, the honest Christian believer must maintain that at the end of the day, the problem of evil has a very strong emotional component to it that cannot be so quickly explained theologically. No matter how many times I offer these explanations for the problem of evil – either for others or even just for myself – I am still cognizant of the fact that from an emotional perspective, the problem of evil is simply beyond human understanding. We may be able to get glimpses of enlightenment into this issue, but we will never understand it adequately while alive on the earth.
Help! I am losing my faith over questions such as Why did God allow evil?
What do I do? I am 19. I have been a Christian for 3 years now and just recently I have started asking myself some very tough questions which in turn has left me very doubtful of my faith and left me oftentimes in despair. The questions include: Couldn’t God have saved us another way? Why did God allow evil to enter the world? Did God create evil? These question have left me paralyzed and in despair. I question my faith, and that leads to anxiety and deep sadness. I don’t want to fall into indifference and give up. I even wonder if I am elect because I am even asking these questions. I fear that through these thoughts I may lose my faith completely but I keep asking for grace and understanding. I don’t expect these questions to be answered but it would be nice to know if anyone else has gone through this and what I should do to get through this season. Is it wrong to ask these questions? The fact that I have pondered these questions amongst others so long has led to a spiritual apathy. I love God but I find it increasingly harder to stay in the faith. I can’t even approach the Bible anymore because my mind is so tainted.
I am glad you wrote. First of all, there are excellent answers to all your questions. In fact, all of these have been answered at my web site and you can find the answers for yourself by doing a search.
Second, it is definitely not wrong or sinful to question your faith. One important way we grow in our faith is to question it. The Bereans (Acts 17) questioned what Paul said, to see if it was true. The doubts you are now having, though scary, are necessary to your long term growth as a believer in Jesus Christ. Please do not give in to fear, but face your questions (which seems to be what you are doing).
Third, you are apparently from a Calvinist background, in which you were taught some sort of predestination and election of the saints. I would suggest to you that you might want to question this teaching, which I believe is not Biblical. God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). The question is not whether you are of God’s “elect” but whether you will choose to put your faith in him. I believe you can. All are “predestined” for salvation. The question is whether we will accept that predestined place in heaven and choose salvation over rebellion against God. I will suggest some material on this topic below. Please do not take my word for it on this one.
Let me get you started on finding answers to your questions. First of all, there is a book I published titled “Field Manual for Christian Apologetics.” It is available at www.ipibooks.com. You might want to pick up a copy. Second, there are notes, power points and audios at my web site on this topic which I believe will be helpful. Let me suggest you go to the power point section of my web site and look for two power points. One is titled “Answering the Hard Questions.” The other is titled “Power Point on Christian Theology”. Also, there is the power point “A Defense of Christian Theology. I also suggest the power point and notes on Preservation and Predestination. If you go to the ARS store (link on the front page) you will find an audio series on Christian Theology as well as a lesson titled Answering the Hard Questions. I believe these will get you started on most of the questions you raise in your question. Please do me a favor. Check out some of these materials. I am guessing that they will not answer all your questions. After doing this, please come back to me with the two or three questions which are still nagging you and I will deal individually with those questions.
Question: Why did God place the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden?
This is a good question. Of course, we do not have a direct answer to this question, either in Genesis or anywhere else in the Bible. Yet, I believe that from what we know of God elsewhere in the Bible we can make a very probable guess. It is about free will. God gave the entire garden to Adam and Eve. They had a great relationship with him. God’s intention was that Adam and Eve would love him and he would love them and their children. The think about love is that live requires a choice. Love cannot be forced. Therefore, Adam and Eve had to have a choice to either love God or to not love God. This “knowledge” included knowledge of forbidden things. Eating of this tree opened a “Pandora’s Box” of possible evil choices. Bottom line, God’s plan is love, but love requires a choice. God gave Adam and Eve a real choice. Not just a symbolic one. When they chose evil, evil came into the world and, unfortunately we all have followed the example of Adam and Eve. We, too, have eaten of this fruit, only to a much greater extent than did Adam and Eve that day in the garden. I believe that the story of Adam and Eve in the garden represents what really happened. Whether it is partially symbolic of what happened or a realistic account is not really the point. The main point is that Adam and Eve represent all of us who, as accountable adults have done, which is to rebel, reject God’s will and chosen to sin–therefore losing our innocense.
If God hates sin, and if he know all before it happens, why did he allow evil to occur?
God cannot and will not tolerate sin. “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) If this is so, then why did God allow sin to occur? If he is all-knowing, before he created the world, didn’t he know that sin would occur? If he hates sin, and he is the creator of all things and knows all, why did he let it occur…? Also, why did God create Hell? I don’t understand why God would allow evil to occur?
This is the problem of evil. It is one of most difficult questions one can ask about biblical Christianity. In essay on the Christian world view (http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/index.php?option=com_custom_content&task=view&id=5125) I provide the following answer: (more comments on this question below)
6. Although all God’s creation, including the physical world is good, evil does exist. Such evil is the result of freedom of will given to created beings and their subsequent decision to use that freedom to “sin” (defined as transgressing the will of God).
This brings us back to Genesis. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of us. God gave us everything for our pleasure and enjoyment. Why? Because he loves us and because he wants us to love him. But what did we all do? We rebelled and chose to do things which are unholy. As Augustine put it, evil is not a thing in and of itself. If it were, that would be dualism. Rather evil is good which has been corrupted by free moral agents. Something which was created for good purposes is turned for evil. Nothing God created is evil, but some of what God created is capable of doing evil. God gave us a choice. He asks us to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19), but many of us choose rebellion. The physical laws which are discoverable by science are not the only “natural laws.” There are moral laws as well, and they are as inescapable as the law of gravity. Rebellion against God’s holiness produces suffering in this world (Exodus 20:5-6), both on those who sin and on those around them. This is the answer to the “problem” of pain, suffering and evil.
7. Because of God’s justice and his holiness, those who choose to rebel against him will ultimately be judged and separated from God for eternity.
Not only does our choice to rebel and to sin bring on temporary physical and emotional suffering in this life, it also brings judgment in the world to come. “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10) “’The Lord will judge his people.’” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31). God cannot be mocked. He is patient and kind, and he wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), but “the wages of sin is death.” Again, as with all the qualities of God, this fact is unavoidable. God does not change or compromise his holiness. It has been said that God does not send people to hell, but he accepts their choice to rebel and be eternally separated from him.
8. The solution to evil and its eternal consequences is provided by God through the atoning substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
This is the essence of the gospel. As was prophesied, “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) “By his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). God’s holiness and justice were not superseded or violated in this substitutionary death. “He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26). Biblically, this is a theological fact. How does this affect one’s world view? If this is true, then everything is different. Suffering makes sense. The existence of evil makes sense. Our innate and universal sense of justice makes sense as well. Yet, we can live as free men and women, not using our freedom as an excuse to do evil, but using this gift of freedom to love and serve others (paraphrasing Galatians 5:13-15) without living in constant fear of judgment when we fall short, as we inevitably will do.
You are right that God will not tolerate sin. Yet, he created us, knowning that we would rebel. Why? Because he loves us. Love gives a choice. God created us because he wanted to love us and he wanted us to love him. Either God gave us a choice or he did not. Clearly he did. God’s foreknowledge is not predestination. God knows what we will do, but he dies not cause us to do evil. I suppose one might argue that, if were going to sin, it would have been better if we had never been created. Personally, I do not agree with this. I am thankful that God created me. God does not do evil and he does not tempt us to do evil, but he allows us a choice, and we chose to do evil.
The problem of hell is closely related to the problem of evil. God’s justice is as real as his love. God’s justice is not something that any of us ought to fool around with. The wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23). This is part of God’s justice. Let me be honest with you. If it were up to me, the wages of sin would be to lose our reward in heaven, but not to be sent to hell. However, I believe that God does not choose to send anyone to hell. It is our choice which sends us to hell. Eternal punishment is hard for us to accept, but the same God who created us, who sent Jesus for our salvation, who inspired the Bible, tells us that rebellion against him will bring about punishment and separation.
Does Isaiah 45:7 teach that God creates evil?
Someone gave me this quote from an Artscroll Torah……Direct from Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I the Lord do all these things. ” I checked the translations that I am familiar with and none of them said “create evil” but he said “Ra” is never translated as disaster or calimity – it is always either bad or evil. common example – Yetzer HaRa – not an “inclination to do calmity, but inclination towards evil or badness. My translations say otherwise…..I don’t get it! Are our texts different? Isaiah 45:7 NASB 7The One forming light and creating darkness,Causing well-being and creating calamity;I am the LORD who does all these. NIV 7 I form the light and create darkness,I bring prosperity and create disaster;I, the LORD, do all these things. NKJV 7 I form the light and create darkness,I make peace and create calamity;I, the LORD, do all these things.’ HCS 7 I form light and create darkness,I make success and create disaster;I, the LORD, do all these things.
A good rule of thumb, given the overwhelming evidence for the inspiration of the Bible, is that when we interpret difficult passages, we should assume that a difficult to understand passage should not contradict clear and well established doctrines in the Bible. This is probably why the Bible translators have used words such as disaster or calamity rather than evil as the translation of ra. Now, I am definitely not any sort of expert in the Hebrew language. However, the Bible is clear that God does not create evil. He has no part in evil. It is no wonder that the biblical translators do not have God creating evil. Another suggestion is to look at the Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah 45:7. Here is the Septuagint. ego o kataskevasas fos kai poiisas skotos o poion eipivin kai ktison kaka ego kyrios o Theos o poiov tauta panta The meaning of the word ra is determined, not by any one commentator (such as the one you read who said it is always translated as evil, which is simply not true!) Below are some of the translation of ra in the Bible, according to BDB Biblical Hebrew Dictionary:
– evil (Gn.6.5)
– unpleasant, giving pain, misery (like in Gn.47.9 “days of trial and hardship”, or Pr.15.15)
– distess, misery, calamity (Nu.11.1, Ex.5.19, Gn.48,16)
– sad, unhappy (Pr.25.20)
– vicious, unkind (Pr.26.23)
– wicked (Ec.12.14)
etc., etc So, the translation of the word depends on the context. The person who says it always means “evil” almost certainly has an ax to grind and is not to be trusted as an unbiased person. Passages which show God does not create evil include: James 1:14-151 John 1:5 and many more.
John Oakes, PhD