Editor’s Note: The article below is written by Zack Ashmore. Zack is a high school student who is very interested in Christian Apologetics. If you want to contact Zack, let me know.
The Implications of Evil on Our World
The problem of evil is, historically, the oldest attack against Christianity. Sadly, it has caused people to not only doubt faith, but to turn from it. Great theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine struggled to find the answer to the problem apologists still debate today.
It is important to realize that although this argument appears to appeal to a logical basis, it is fundamentally emotional. Having suffered or witnessed tragedy, as all of us inevitably do, many cry out, "God, how could you let this happen!" In accordance with their human nature, they fail to realize that they, called to be Sons of God, are not of this world. They belong in the kingdom of God. Faced with the loss of a loved one, they do not see the light of eternal life, and thus, claim the world is unjust. They do not understand that good can come from suffering, as a phoenix rising from the ashes, to bring us hope for the life to come.
Throughout the centuries, many formulations of the problem of evil have been invented. The most common of which is this:
I. God created all of existence
II. Evil exists
III. God created evil
This formulation claims that God created evil along with everything else in the universe. However, it fails to provide an adequate definition of evil, assuming it is a tangible thing or an entity which fills the universe. Biblically, we know that God deemed all of creation good. "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Thus, evil is something which corrupts. It is something that has, like a parasite, taken what God has deemed good, and made it imperfect. Suffering and pain are the physical and emotional representations of such a perversion.
When God created us, He created in us the standard of perfection, a standard from which we unfortunately chose to stray. Rather than praising God’s kindness, man chose to rebel against his Creator, just as Lucifer and one third of the angels revolted in heaven. Since the fall of man, evil has been ever existent in our history. We are the ones responsible for the suffering that befalls us. Yet we need not fear this evil. For, "just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:18-19).
Another, similar formulation states:
I. If God is all-loving, He must desire to destroy evil
II. If God is Omnipotent, He must be capable of destroying evil
III. Evil exists
IV. An omnipotent, all-loving God logically cannot exist
The second formulation presupposes that an all-loving God is mutually exclusive with evil. It claims that God wouldn’t allow any suffering because He is benevolent and thus wouldn’t be able to leave us in pain and suffering, which are so often the direct result of evil in this world. The flaw in this sort of argumentation is that it is wholly anthropomorphic. By assigning human characteristics to God, it is logically flawed. No human can claim that if he were God he would certainly do X. How can a finite mind like our own attempt to correct the vastly superior mind of the infinite? Although we may know some things, which we are sure God would do (such as fulfilling his promises to us) we know very little beyond that. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).
This concept can be illustrated by a father and his innocent child. Suppose that the young baby requires a tetanus vaccination because he cut himself with a rusty nail. His father, realizing the necessity of the inoculation, takes his child to the doctor in order to preserve his son’s life. When he receives the shot, however, the son can see no good. He only realizes the pain in the moment and cannot fathom that this temporary pain may very well save his life. Perhaps our father is similarly inoculating us for the kingdom to come.
Another example lies in the biblical story of Joseph. When he lived with his family, Joseph was thrown into a pit and sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Although at the moment, Joseph was put through much physical and emotional suffering, he remained faithful to the Lord and became a just leader in Egypt. Had he not suffered the trials of slavery, under the hands of his own brothers, he would not have been able to glorify God to such an extent. Joseph later tells his brothers "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20). We cannot foresee the good which God plans from our suffering. In fact, we may never see the impacts we make in others’ lives.
Perhaps our current pain will allow either us or others to live eternally. As Christians, we should set our hope not on this world, but on the world to come. Describing the contrast between non-believers and Christians, Paul says, "Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 4:19-21).
It seems likely that our time in this world prepares our hearts and souls for the world to come. From the apostle Paul we learn to "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5: 2-4). Again James tells us to "consider it pure joy… whenever [we] face trials of many kinds, because [we] know that the testing of [our] faith develops perseverance" (James 1:2-3). By our hardships we are being prepared and transformed so that we may enter the kingdom of heaven. For this reason, Paul prays "that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). From scripture we get the sense of a process of character building which takes place in us until the time of our deaths, when we will become one with the Father. Our flesh will die and our perfect spirit, made in the likeness of Christ, will live eternally. Suffering is a necessary component of this process.
Consider this: in a world without suffering there could be no fear. And without fear, how could there be courage and the perseverance to carry on? In fact, there would be no morals and without morals how could there ever be anything to stand up for in this world? There would be no hate. And if there is no possibility of hate could there ever truly be love? Do you see how suffering develops the fruit of the Spirit? "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5: 16-17, 22-23). Sin yields suffering, and sin is that which opposes the Spirit. Therefore, suffering is a necessary component in order that the fruit of the Spirit might be manifested in our lives. For without something to oppose this fruit, could we ever dream to understand its meaning? In a world without war could we ever understand the joy of peace? In the absence of depression, could we fathom the notion of absolute joy? It is for this reason that we should count our suffering as a blessing and, therefore, hope for our future kingdom.
In counter to the concept of God having a logical reason for allowing evil, most will argue that there is just too much evil in the world. The error in this viewpoint, however is that it depends completely on perspective. If there actually were less evil in the world, there would be no way to tell the difference. The only way we can judge the amount of evil in the world is relative to the amount of evil in our history. In other words, there is absolutely no bright line, or no point at which we could judge that God would be any more probable. E.g., if only 5,999,999 Jews had perished due to the atrocities of the Holocaust and not 6,000,000, would we have even noticed a difference? If only Hurricane Katrina and not Rita had ravaged our shores, would we have declared a world of lesser evil? Clearly there is no absolute standard by which someone could judge the amount of evil in the world.
We can, however, compare the amount of evil in the world to the good, which fills it. Although the world may be broken and man has fallen, I firmly believe that there is more evidence of good than evil. When assessing the claim that there is no God, evident by so much evil, we must also evaluate the opposite. If there is so much good, how can there not be a God? The majority of people believe that their life is worth living. We know this because they persevere for some reason or another and do not take their own life. Since we can determine that life is worth living, it is also reasonable to claim that good outweighs evil.
Yet even if it did not, we can hope for the Glory of God and "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1). We may now be going through times of pain and hardships; however, when we die and Christ’s work in us is complete and our spirit is unified with Christ, we will experience joy and glory which we now cannot even imagine. Paul tells us that he "considers that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed… For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Romans 8:18,20). Paul is telling us that the suffering we are subjected to allows us to be freed from our bondage to sin. Great sufferings give us greater appreciation for joy, peace, love, hope, and all other things that are good. In fact, it may be the only thing that can awaken us to the presence of Christ in this world.
Free Will and the Choice of Hell:
Unable to understand the true nature of God, many wonder why He didn’t just simply create a world in which we have free will with the absence of evil. They assume that because of his omnipotence, He can create any conceivable world. Unfortunately this is simply not true. Although God is absolutely all-powerful, he cannot do the illogical. He cannot, for example, create a being more powerful than himself because he is already all-powerful. Similarly, He cannot cause two parallel lines to intersect. Neither can he make a round square. These things are simply not possible. They don’t make sense. Following similar logic He could not have forced man to follow His divine will. Christ tells us that if we love him, we will obey what he commands (John 14:15). Thus, had God forced Adam and Eve to obey Him, He would ultimately have been forcing them to love Him. Is forced love truly love? Absolutely not! Additionally, we know by his omnibenevolence, that He is all-good. It is likely that because of His supreme moral standard, He would want us to have the ability to choose. We can thus conclude that if God truly loved us He would give us the choice to love Him.
Because of His everlasting love for us, He values us for who we are. He truly values us intrinsically. He sees us as individuals and allows us to choose life with him or without him. He does not merely see us as an instrument for his purposes but allows us to choose. Hell, therefore, is not a place of eternal punishment and pain to which God just randomly sends people. Hell is the product of man’s own pride, and ultimately choosing to submit to the sinful nature to which all men are born as slaves. Men choose to be apart from God, and God, valuing their choice, grants them their wish.
Unfortunately, many unbelievers have a truly difficult time of understanding how "good people" go to hell and "bad people" can go to heaven. They metaphorically trip over this stumbling block primarily because of their worldview. As humans, the only way they can see someone is by their own actions. If a nonbeliever sees a person doing good works, such as compassion, kindness, charity, generosity, etc. he deems that person "good". Likewise, if the same man sees someone being cruel, unjust, slanderous, or hateful he deems that person "bad". Therefore, as Christians, we can come off as extremely judgmental when we say that people who have tried their hardest to change the world for the better may go to hell. We seem equally unjust when we tell unbelievers that murderers have the ability to be sons of God. From their point of view it would seem as though God is morally evil. It is very difficult to explain to them how these things can come to pass because the only thing on which they base their judgment is what they see. They believe people should be justified by works. Herein lays the fundamental difference between the nonbeliever and the Christian.
I will begin with the illustration of Abraham’s life. He was our forefather and did many great works before God; however, his good works were possible because of his faith in the Father. Paul explains in Romans 4:1-3, "If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’" Therefore, because Abraham had faith, his salvation was guaranteed as an obligation. Paul then goes on to explain that although Abraham was circumcised it was after he had faith in God. This work came from the faith he already had. So he was not justified by anything he did, but because he believed God. We know therefore, that we do not gain access into heaven because of anything we do, but because we have faith. God does not look at us outwardly as humans do, rather he looks into our hearts.
Paul further explains this concept in Romans, "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it but the sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature… So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members" (Romans 15,17,21-23). What Paul is telling us here is that we are actually transformed by the Holy Spirit. We are absolutely no better than anyone else. Thus, through faith in Jesus Christ and by His grace, we are saved. It is nothing we do, but the work Christ carries out through us.
Now that we are made right with God, we are freed from our sinful nature, but we are burdened by it. Although we must still live with this weight, it is no longer who we truly are. Our true identity is our inner self, our spirit, which has been made holy through our baptism in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when we sin it is not truly us who sins, but the flesh with which we live. Christ conformed us to His likeness and was crucified with our sin, our very flesh, on the cross with him. And so, a murderer who then proclaims faith in Christ is saved, because his spirit is made right with God. The "murderer", the sinful nature, is crucified with Christ on the cross, while the Son of God lives on. It is this separation between the flesh and the spirit, which unbelievers do not understand. When they hear that someone who has committed great evil can go to heaven they see the evil in the person also going to heaven. It is important to stress, however, the flesh of evil is condemned and the blameless part of the person lives on. God looks into the Christian heart and says, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." The flesh descends, while the spirit lives on.
The admittedly harder side of the coin is explaining how someone who tries their whole life to work toward peace could possibly be condemned. From a secular point of view this simply seems like nonsense. The idea that the innocent are punished and the guilty are acquitted does not seem logical at first. The answer, however lies in the fact that, as humans, we are all born as slaves to sin. That is, we are born with the sinful nature, which is our inherent disposition to sin. This does not mean we are held accountable for sins we did not commit, but that we are born with the tendency to sin. Though it is also true that when we are born we are deemed right with the Father, no human is without sin (except the Messiah). And any sin we make falls so short from the glory of God that we are cut off from the kingdom. It is only after we accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts then, that we are saved and made holy before God. Before we were held prisoner to our old nature, now we are servants to the Holy One. It cannot be any other way.
While some may claim such a judgment from God would be wholly immoral, it would in actuality be immoral for Him to justify the flesh. The unbeliever who does good works is not saved because he is still a slave to the flesh. His carnal master corrupts him and has caused him to fall short of the glory of God. His identity becomes one with the flesh and he, in essence, becomes the flesh. Thus, it would be wrong for Him to redeem anyone who still lives under the flesh.
It is, above all, most important that we must not boast in faith. We must not claim to be better than others but instead realize the truth. Had we been made righteous because of works, we would have something to boast about. Yet this is not so; it is the work of the Holy Spirit that allows us to be saved. We have not actually done anything which has caused us to gain salvation but it is Christ’s work and Christ’s sacrifice in us that allows our redemption to be possible. Therefore, we should be humbled because of this realization and should bring the Good News to all others, so that they too may rejoice in the fellowship of Christ.