Problem of Evil

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Epicurus' Trilemma is a famous attack on the existence of God typically attributed to Greek philosopher Epicurus, and quoted by David Hume in the 18th century, which argues, as quoted by Stanford University[1]:

  1. "Is God willing to prevent evil but unable to do so? Then he is not omnipotent."
  2. "Is God able to prevent evil but unwilling to do so? Then he is malevolent (or at least less than perfectly good)."
  3. "If God is both willing and able to prevent evil then why is there evil in the world?"

At a personal level we tend to wonder "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?" But rather than refuting the possibility of God, such questioning establishes God's existence as fact. For if good and evil do exist, so that some people are good and others bad, and if there is injustice and inequity in this life where evil people prosper while good people are horribly treated, then justice can only occur if there is a final judgment to reward the good and punish the evil, a life after this one for such judgments to take place in, and a Judge of all, God. Evil occurs because of Satan's control, mankind's disobedience, and God's reluctance to intervene so that He can determine which are good or bad while allowing everyone a chance to repent and turn to righteousness.

Presumptions Examined

Presumption 1: God has to know the entire future

Summary

God can be all-knowing of all that exists in the sense the Bible speaks of, and capable of knowing parts of the future as clearly evident from prophecy, without necessarily always having known what would occur. The Bible speaks of God being surprised and disappointed by the actions of human beings which would not make sense if God had inherent knowledge of the future. (Genesis 4:9-11, 6:6) The Bible also speaks of God looking down on mankind to see what is occurring (Psalms 14:2), which is consistent with knowledge based on decision rather than inherent without choice.

Detail

It should first be pointed out that God can be all-knowing in the sense of having all knowledge that exists, without knowing everything that will occur. God can be all-knowing in the sense of having all knowledge of what is occurring, without being omniscient in every way we can imagine.

That God is omniscient in the sense of having all knowledge of the present is definite. 1 Samuel 16:7 makes clear that God examines hearts. Job 28:24 states that God looks to the ends of the Earth and sees everything under Heaven. Proverbs 15:3 states that God looks in every place, at both the evil and the good. Job 34:21 makes clear that God looks at the ways of men and considers them, and Jeremiah 16:17 makes clear that the evil of men is not hidden from God. Hebrews 4:13 specifically states that no creature is hidden from God's sight, but that all are utterly clear before God. Job 26:6 states that even Hell and destruction are nakedly visible before God. Psalms 139:7 specifically states that God will see no matter where we go, even if that is in Heaven, Hell, the depths of the sea, or the blackest darkness. The Bible states that in God are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Colossians 2:3. Psalms 44:21 states that God knows the secrets of the heart, and Psalms 94:11 the thoughts of man. So God most definitely has all knowledge of the present.

The Bible also makes clear that God has the ability to see the future, and even speaks of having determined things before the beginning of the world. 1 Corinthians 2:7 states that God created hidden wisdom before the world for Christians. Jude 1:4 states that evil men were long ago ordained to condemnation. 1 Peter 1:2 states that Christians are chosen by God beforehand through God's foreknowledge. Ephesians 1:4 specifies that God chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in love. 2 Timothy 1:9 states that God gave us a holy calling in Jesus before the world began. Titus 1:2 states that God promised eternal life before He began the world. 1 Peter 1:20 states that Jesus was preordained before the beginning of the world. Numerous instances could be given of Biblical prophecy and God giving people a glimpse of the future.

However, did God from the beginning examine all the future held? If so, how is this to be reconciled with a God who acts surprised and grieved by the evil choices of His creations? The Bible gives several occasions of being sorry for making decisions, not because of evil doing of course, but because His creations were so disobedient. In Genesis 6:6-7 for example, God states He is sorry He'd made man on the Earth. In 1 Samuel 15:11 God states He is sorry He set up Saul as king because of Saul's disobedience.

The problem with this is that it assumes God has always been all-knowing of every little future detail (including Satan's rebellion and mankind's sinfulness, even the specific decisions of individuals to commit evil), which isn't necessarily the case. Even if God has the ability to know the future (which He does), that doesn't mean He chooses to always use it. After all, if God didn't have the ability to not know it, He wouldn't be all-powerful. The Bible calls God omnipotent (Revelation 19:6) but not omniscient regarding the future. Just because prophecy and seeing the future are displayed in the Bible, doesn't mean God sees all the future, or saw it originally. Just because God has all knowledge and wisdom that exists, and sees everything that occurs, doesn't mean He knows everything the future holds.

There are several problems Biblically with assuming God knows everything. Why would God look down from Heaven to see if anyone understood and did good, if He already knew? (Psalms 14:2, also referenced in Romans 3:11) And why would God plead with the wicked to change their ways if He knew they were incapable of doing so, and had predetermined destinies? (Ezekiel 33:11) Given Psalms 14:2, it appears evident God's knowledge is conditioned on His looking, and choosing to know it, just like with anyone else, not by inherent knowledge of all that ever happened and will happen. A God with all knowledge of the future does not appear to be Biblical.

Psalms 14:2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Ezekiel 33:11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

Ezekiel 18:30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
31 Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.

Presumption 2: God created or helped create evil

Summary

The Bible declares that God created all things good in Genesis 1, and Jesus stated that the existence of evil in God's creation is caused by an enemy, Satan, sowing it there to sabotage God. (Matthew 13) Biblically Satan is the "god of this world" which is why "all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (2 Corinthians 4:4, Matthew 4:8-10, Acts 26:18, Ephesians 6:12, John 12:31, 2 Timothy 3:12)

Detail

Biblically, Genesis 1 repeatedly says God created all things good. Satan is portrayed as causing the downfall of creation through trickery, and gaining control over mankind through sin (Hebrews 2:14-15), as well as control over the world. (2 Corinthians 4:4, John 12:31) God is seen as doing damage control, trying to return mankind to Him. Likewise with tares in the Church, Jesus said in a parable that they get planted by Satan, not God. (Matthew 13:28)

Matthew 13:27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Matthew 13:37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Biblically, Satan is the "god of this world" who controls it, not God. Satan controls people by default, not God. (Acts 26:18)

2 Corinthians 4:4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

Matthew 4:8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

John 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.

Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

Free Will

Why did God make humans capable of sinning? While God could have made humans without free will, they would have been robots incapable of doing good. God created us for a relationship with Him, and as automatons we would have been incapable of loving Him or other people. To remove free will to prevent sinning would further nullify the reason God created us in His image in the first place, to be like Him in freely executing justice and righteousness. Capacity to do evil could not be removed without removing capacity to do good as well.

Presumption 3: Evil is unlinked to humanity

Summary

The critic infers that God can remove evil without affecting humanity, yet Biblically humanity and Satan are the primary causes of evil. The whole reason for the Flood was that mankind was propagating unmitigated evil and corrupting all creation. (Genesis 6:5) To bring in new heavens and a new Earth God must remove those who cause evil or they would simply continue harming others and the new creation would become corrupted like this one is. Salvation is the solution because through faith in Jesus we are made new creations that are changed within to begin doing good rather than evil by being freed from sin. (Romans 6:22) Thus when asking why God allows evil the questioner is actually asking why God does not destroy them and all mankind, because mankind is the source of evil.

Detail

Logically, humanity is with Satan the source of evil. That is why God sent the Flood, humanity had become so evil they were corrupting all Creation. Hitler is just an extreme example, humans hurt each other and mistreat each other all the time. Even if God brought in Heaven, He could not allow most humans to enter it, because they'd just mess it up like they have this one, continuing the propagation of evil while harming each other and God. Only by destroying humanity can God destroy evil.

Genesis 6:5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

Isaiah 66:22 For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain.
23 And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD.
24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.

Salvation is not an answer because it forgives people, but because it changes their natures from tendency toward doing evil to tendency toward doing good through loving God and other people. Only because one's nature is changed can one's proclivity towards evil be sundered, can a person be forgiven, and can they be allowed to enter God's new creation. By asking why God does not destroy evil, the questioner is actually asking why God does not destroy them.

Matthew 18:3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

John 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Romans 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.

Romans 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

Galatians 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

Revelation 21:27 And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Conclusion

God is not the author of evil or the god of this world, Satan is the god/prince of this world who has led it to do evil. The concept of omniscience critics of the Bible want to attach to God does not match the Biblical concept of a God who was sabotaged by an enemy that planted evil in His perfect creation. (Matthew 13:28) It does not match the God who pleads with the wicked to change their ways and do what is right. And the critics who ask why evil is in the world are actually asking why God does not destroy them for Biblically we ourselves are the doers of sin who perpetuate it, not God. Indeed, God intends to destroy this world and bring in new heavens and a new earth while separating into punishment those who did wickedness in this life because our entire race is evil and became so in the Garden of Eden. Satan and humans are the cause of evil, something of a plague upon creation, and the only hope for humanity's redemption is making them new creations in Christ through the Gospel of Salvation.

References

  1. Russell, P. (2005). Hume on Religion. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.