How can God be good if there is so much bad?
Around 300 BC the Greek philosopher Epicurus stated the following:
If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able to, then He is not omnipotent.
If God is able, but not willing, then He is malevolent.
If God is both able and willing, then where does evil come from?
If God is neither able nor willing, then why call Him God?
This succinct statement of the problem of evil has come to be known as Epicurus’ Paradox, and for those who are struggling with the God of the Bible, this issue is one of, if not the major stumbling block. Of course, the problem of evil is not unique to Christianity/Judaism – every religion must face it. The humanist/atheist will explain that because there is no God, the universe is amoral by nature. After having stated this they supposedly can relax because their religion seems to provide a simple answer for this perplexing question. But they have the same problem in a different form – if humanity is simply the accidental product of time and chance, existing in an amoral universe, how would humans have ever have developed a conscience distinguishing between good and evil? Why would good and evil even be an issue? That is a much more difficult dilemma to resolve, but here we will focus on the problem of evil in the context of Christianity.
The Bible teaches that God is omnibenevolent (all-loving), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful), but the problem of evil calls all of these into question. If we take the Bible to be true, then we must confront Epicurus’ paradox and answer it. This topic and area of study is so important that a special name has been given to it – Theodicy – and it is especially important in our current intellectual climate in which humanists and atheists routinely state that God in general and Christianity in particular are a danger to society, and perhaps even the chief danger (e.g., Christopher Hitchens in god Is Not Great, Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, and Sam Harris in The End of Faith). This claim is rather silly given the horrendous human rights record of humanistic/atheistic regimes (the Communists in Russia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, and the Germans under Hitler) where more people were tortured and killed than in all of the other wars of history combined. Atheist claims are also well-countered in books such as David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions, but IMHO, it also necessary to state your Theodicy in a summary form. All of the ideas that follow come primarily from two sources: The End of Christianity by William Dembski, and The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis; what follows here is essentially the “Cliff Notes” version of those books – please read them for a fuller appreciation of this subject.
The Origin of Evil
Where did evil come from? Pantheists would say that God contains elements of both good and evil (He is not omnibenevolent, and is impersonal and/or detached). Gnostics would say that God is good but sometimes is defeated by Satan (He is not omnipotent/ omniscient). Communists and socialists claim that capitalism, corporations, and the profit motive are the source or evil. But the Bible states that the source of evil is wrongful desires of the human heart. Every person is therefore a potential source of evil. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and slanders. These are the things which defile the man.
But if everything that God created was good, how did things go bad? God gave humanity a free will capable of making moral choices, and with that grant came the possibility of choosing evil instead of good.
The essential element of Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden was getting her to distrust God – to believe that He was holding back on her, and screwing her out of something that she and Adam should rightfully have had. Satan, speaking through the serpent, certainly helped plant those doubts in her head and egged her on, but it was Eve herself who made the choice to pick the fruit, and it was Adam’s choice to eat it. In an act of rebellion they disobeyed a divine command, and declared that they no longer trusted in the goodness of God.
Some would see Adam and Eve’s disobedience as a small thing – a tempest in a teapot – but it was a rebellion nevertheless. As the quote from Jesus above indicates, the spirit of rebellion metastasizes like a slow-growing cancer. A few years later Adam and Eve’s oldest son Cain became the first murderer in history. After losing out to his younger brother Able, Cain killed him in order to get even. A baby seems to be so innocent, but Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were all at one point babes in their mothers’ arms.
The angel Lucifer had done essentially the same thing ages before. He also rebelled against God and so became Satan, the Devil, and the great enemy. But even though they were tempted by Satan, Adam and Eve made the choice, and therefore God held them and the human family responsible.
Why can’t we have heaven on earth right now?
Some may ask, “Why do we have to wait? Why can’t we have heaven on earth right now?” The answer is that suffering and death were not a part of the original plan; they were and are God’s response to human evil, because of His justice. The Apostle Paul explains:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it… We know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now… For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it… For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
God knows that “all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and therefore he is the only being in existence who is truly worthy of ultimate kingship. Nevertheless, he invites us climb the mountains with him, and that is why he is so concerned with justice and morality; sin cannot be tolerated because like a poison gas it pollutes his kingdom and renders us unfit to be there and to act as his representatives. Lucifer, the great angel of the morning, was tempted by God’s power and sought to overthrow him. Thus Lucifer became Satan, the great enemy, who is the source of the lies, conspiracies, and temptations with which the earth is filled. God will not permit any “little satans” in his heaven to trash it as Satan has done to our world.
Why does God allow Satan and evil to still exist?
Some may ask, “If God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he just crush Satan now? Why allow evil to flourish?” IMHO, the answer lies in the fact that without struggle there is no glory. Stories are always based on some form of conflict, and without conflict there is no victory. As Frodo says to Sam at the end of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings:
I fought for the Shire and the Shire has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger; someone has to give them up — lose them — so that others may keep them.
The Return of the King
We are forgiven and made free only by the blood of Christ, and if our trust and hope is truly there, we can assured of being able to one day stand before God and enter heaven to live with him. As Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised.
At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in and put on the glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of us will still be alive… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory