The problem of evil in the world

the-big-questions-quoteA survey was taken to ask people what they want to know from God if permitted to ask Him one question. The lead question? “Why did God allow so much suffering and evil in the world?”

When he was an atheist, C.S. Lewis was troubled by this question. He said: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.”

Atheist Richard Dawkins used a similar argument: “If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies…are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would neither be evil nor good in intention…In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason init, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, nor purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” (River out of Eden).

If this is an accurate picture of the universe, why should anyone value human life or abhor evil? Who is qualified to declare some things to be good and moral; others to be bad and evil? Why should someone expect to find meaningful existence in a universe of blind physical forces? What place does justice have in such a world? Why is there deign and purpose?

Troubled by such questions, atheist C.S. Lewis asked, “How had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist-in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless- I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality-namely my idea of justice was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.” (Mere Christianity)

But we continue to seek meaning, discover purpose and define good and evil. And, we find ourselves drawn back to the possibility of a designer, a creator, a lawgiver, and a judge.

Yet we struggle to understand how such a being relates to a world of suffering and evil. If God is simply on the sidelines helplessly observing the chaos, He is not worthy of worship. If he is blamable for the moral evil in the world, other problems arise. This is where we must turn to Scripture for a better understanding and in it we find two truths repeatedly emphasized.

  1. An absolute, unconditional, sovereign God who transcends the created order and yet condescends to it as the personal creator, judge, and savior.
  2. Human responsibility and accountability to God as Creator, Judge, and Savior.

Without these two truths, you will not understand the Bible, or make sense of the world. I am not suggesting that this is easy to understand, nor am I suggesting that all mystery is removed. Some mystery remains, yet it remains in the context of a number of sobering points of clarity.

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably, ordained whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (Westminster Confession)

“At no point whatsoever does the remarkable emphasis on the absoluteness of God’s sovereignty mitigate the responsibility of human beings who, like everything else in the universe, fall under God’s sway. We tend to use one to diminish the other; we tend to emphasize one at the expense of the other. But responsible reading of the Scripture prohibits such reductionism.” (D. A. Carson)

Explaining the two truths about God:

“Many Christians today think that if human beings are to be thought of as morally responsible creatures, they must be free to choose, to believe, to disobey, and so forth. But what does ‘freedom’ mean? Sometimes without thinking about it, we assume that such freedom must entail the power to work outside God’s sovereignty. Freedom, we think, involves absolute power to be contrary, that is, the power to break any constraint, so that there is no necessity in the choice we make. If we are constrained to choose a certain option, if what we decide is in fact utterly inevitable, then how could it be ours? And if not truly ours, how can we be held morally accountable?” (D. A. Carson)

Some examples from the Bible:

In the crucifixion of Jesus, “Herod and Pontius Pilate and the rest conspired together; they did what they wanted to do, even though they did what God’s power and will had determined beforehand should be done. That is why many theologians have refused to tie ‘freedom’ to absolute power to act contrary to God’s will. They tie it, rather, to desire, to what human beings voluntarily choose.”

“Joseph’s brothers did what they wanted to do; Herod and Pilate and the rulers of the Jews did what they wanted to do; the Assyrians did what they wanted to do. In each case, God’s sovereignty was operating behind the scenes: the human participants, to use the language of the early Christians, ‘did what God’s power and will had decided before hand should happen.’ But that did not excuse them. They did what they wanted to do.” (emphasis mine)

“Taking this a step further, suppose God had not been sovereign over the conspiracy that brought Jesus to Calvary. Would we not have to conclude that the cross was a kind of afterthought in the mind of God? Are we to think that God’s intention was to do something quite different, but then, because these rebels fouled up his plan, he did the best he could, and the result was Jesus’ atoning death on the cross? All of scripture cries against the suggestion.”

“Then should we conclude, with some modern theologians, that if God is as sovereign as the early Christians manifestly believed him to be so sovereign in fact that the conspirators merely did what God’s ‘power and will had decided beforehand should happen’ then the conspirators cannot reasonably be blamed? But that too destroys Christianity. The reason Jesus goes to the cross is to pay the penalty due to sinners; the assumption is that these sinners bear real moral accountability, real moral guilt for which a penalty has been pronounced. If human beings are not held responsible for this act, why should they be held responsible for any act? And if they are not held responsible, then why should God have sent his Anointed one to die in their place?”

“God is absolutely sovereign, yet his sovereignty does not diminish human responsibility and accountability; human beings are morally responsible creatures, yet this fact in no way jeopardizes the sovereignty of God.” (D.A. Carson “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” p.156).

Steve Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Evil in the world, Problem of evil, Sin, Sovereignty, Study of God, Suffering, Theodicy, Trials and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The problem of evil in the world

  1. Nicholas says:

    You’re very flexible and accommodating which is much appreciated. I just wanted to address some points…

    Atheist C.S. Lewis came up with the idea of right from wrong from society which created these concepts to maintain order. An ordered society based on common law developed to ensure safety and ease social tensions. For animals of lesser cognitive abilities than humans (let’s say wolves) murder is hardly considered unjust. It’s natural. There is no evidence to purport that morals are objective and certainly no evidence that states that morality is derived solely from religion. Morality is derived from social pressures. It’s institutionalized in our laws and our schools. It’s taught in our classrooms and churches.

    This tends to lead theists who want to understand atheism to nihilism. I’ve accepted the fact that existence itself may very well be meaningless in the grand scheme, but that does not mean that my life is meaningless. We exist. We impact each others’ lives for better or worse and we indirectly control the “fate” of future generations through our actions. That is purpose enough for me and for many atheists. Hence the term secular humanist. It’s not about the grand scheme. It’s about the past, present and future and what that means to human beings now and until the end.

    I would argue that your two truths are circular in logic. That belief in God is predicated by belief in God. It’s faith, I get that. I’m not here to repudiate you, though, just to converse and let you know I enjoyed reading your post! Thanks


  2. thinkpoint says:

    Why do we need this socialized morality? Can we speak absolutely about a superior morality– love is better than hate; peace than war? Is evil in the final sense only an illusion made up by humans? For there to be evil, there also must be some real standard of right and wrong. But if the physical universe is all there is, there can be no such standard. How could arrangements of matter and energy make judgments about good and evil true? So, there are no real evils, just violations of human customs or conventions? How hard it would be to think of murderers, for example, as merely having bad manners.

    Why DO so many choose hate over love? Why was the 20th century simultaneously the most advanced/progressive and the most violent of human history? (see: ). The worldview from scripture is built on four pillars: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. Each pillar addresses a specific reality of the world and a specific question innate to human hearts. Together they offer the most comprehensive and satisfying account of life in this world and hope beyond this world (see: ).

    Did the lives of the millions brutally murdered in the 20th century have meaning? By nature we are seeking creatures whether for rare artifacts or the right person, we search— sometimes as if life depends on it. Isn’t the pursuit of happiness our inalienable right? One more vacation, one more purchase, one more party, one more relationship, one more round of drinks or snort of cocaine. Like Dorothy, we’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz — only to draw back the curtain in disappointment time and time again. Perhaps for some this is how they view belief in God. Many have as their lifetime goal a search for a lifetime goal. Sometimes despising their own meaninglessness is the only meaning they discover. Perhaps we were meant for more. Maybe our humanity runs deeper than fleeting experiences in a temporal world. I conclude that we are truly transcendent beings and our search and determination to claim meaning bears this out.



  3. thinkpoint says:

    New York University philosopher Thomas Nagel, in his book, “The Last Word,” wrote the following: “In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning and design as fundamental features of the world.”

    “In truth, many academics are naturalists or atheists as much or more on the basis of such wish fulfillment as they are on the basis of any reasoning or evidence.” (Dr. Michael Murray). Conversely, “perhaps a God really does actually exist, and many humans–especially those not blinded by the reigning narratives of modern science and academia–feel a recurrent and deeply compelling ‘built-in’ desire to know and worship, in their various ways, the God who is there” (Christian Smith, “Moral, Believing Animals”).


  4. Reblogged this on Wisdomforlife and commented:

    What would you ask if permitted to ask God one question?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s