Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Toward Solving The Problem: An Epicurean Ridle No More; Part 2

The Divine Purpose

            Norman Geisler sees this lack or malfunctioning of something as best described to the modern world as a “rottenness of the good.” [30] Nevertheless, the question “Can some purpose be seen in the evil that happens to people and around them?” is valid. The theist would be wise to search for some purpose or she might be tempted to ask Rabbi Kushner’s question, “If God can’t make my sickness go away, what good is He?” Who needs Him?” [31]  If there is truly a purpose for evil, it would seem the theist is obligated in some respects to attempt to find it.

The Origin Of Evil
It is imperative in understanding the purpose of evil to start with its origin. Jay Adams wrote, “To say that all evil is a result of the fall of Adam is perfectly true—but piteously inadequate. That response merely moves the question back a step: how could there be a fall? To suggest Satan is the cause of the fall, again, is true, but only pushes the inquiry back an additional step: how could the devil exist in a sovereign, good God’s world?” [32] This puts before the theist the issue of the origin of evil. In mainstream Christian theology, Lucifer is seen as Satan. (Although not in ALL mainstream Christian theology to be sure.) [33] In the Lucifer/Satan theory, Isaiah 7:12-14 shows Lucifer as the first of God’s creation to sin, causing him to become “The Adversary,” or Satan. It would seem that it is best to find one theological opinion on the subject at hand and stay with that thought, and the argument that follows is referred to as the “Free Will” defense. In the free will defense, a syllogism is presented that in its core essence relieves an all-good and all-powerful God of the burden of evil. The syllogism states the following:
1) A perfectly made, good creature can exist, (Lucifer)
2) With the power of free will,
3) Whom willed the finite good of the creature (himself)
4) Over the infinite good of the Creator. [34]

It is important to notice in this syllogism that no evil needed to exist a priori. [35] In other words, nothing caused Lucifer to sin but himself. God had created a perfectly good universe, with perfectly good creatures. God; however, made the possibility of evil a reality by creating the creatures free. Still, it was the creatures who made the possible evil actual. Lucifer was created, in some ways it would seem, as more than perfect; (if that were possible.) He was the most beautiful of God’s created beings (the bejeweled one who sung praises in the presence of the Father seen in Ezekiel 28:11-19) and—it would seem—he knew it! The original sin then, was pride. This allows for the possibility of the origin of evil in a good universe created by a good God, and in it then to see how the purpose from evil becomes clarified.
Purpose From Evil
Even John MacArthur, a self-described determinist, argues for the nature of this free will theodicy in solving the riddle of the purpose that evil entails. In an admittedly lengthy quote, MacArthur spoke on the purpose of evil in a sermon entitled The Origin Of Evil;
I believe that God allowed sin in order that He might forever destroy it.  As long as His creatures have any measure of freedom, as long as His creatures have intelligence, that is they can know and reason, that is they can process that knowledge toward behavior, and choice, that is they can choose what to do, as long as they have that capacity there is a potential for them to fall short of the standard.  Right?  To make the wrong choice.  Well it didn't take long for them to do it.  We don't know how long it was before Lucifer made the wrong choice before God…. (But) there is a choice and the potential of a wrong choice is there.  A measure of freedom is given to the creatures by which they can choose to honor God, by which they can choose to dishonor.  As long as that is there, then the reality, the potential reality of evil exists when the wrong choice is made. And I believe that once the wrong choice is made, then God goes into action and 1) He can demonstrate His grace and salvation; 2) He can demonstrate His wrath in judgment; and 3) He can then finally destroy evil.  It's almost as if God wanted evil to come to the surface so that He could excise it.  That's what's going to happen when the whole of redemptive history is complete, when all the saved are saved and all the lost are cast into the lake of fire, then death and hell are thrown into the lake of fire. What does that mean?  No more death and no more hell and no more judgment.  Why?  Because there won't be anymore (sic) sin.  And when you go to heaven, there's nothing there that smacks of a sinful world, right?   There's no more sorrow, no more sadness, no more sin, no more dying, no more death…(Thus) Scripture written by God always assigns the guilt and responsibility for all sin to creatures, never to God. [36]
            In other words MacArthur, it seems, believes that the purpose of evil is ultimately for the glory of God as He defeats it. Gilbert Meilaender see the purpose for evil in the same light. He wrote that “Suffering is not a good thing, not something one ought to seek for oneself or others. But it is an evil out of which the God revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus can bring good.” [37] He then goes on to write that if an attempt to make all suffering (i.e. evil) go away, that action might mistakenly lead to the conclusion that evil “can have no point or purpose in our lives.” [38]    
            In a beloved passage of scripture one might find an answer to the purpose from evil. In the Bible book of Romans, the Apostle Paul tells the church that, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) In the definitive text on the purposes of God, Paul writes that only the theist can understand the ultimate purpose of ALL things: that the “ultimate purpose” is found, ultimately, at the end game. The phrase that the New American Standard translates as “work together for” is from a single Greek word; sunergeo This word means “to put together, or to assist.”  It is the root for the English word synergy, the concept of differing parts fitting together for a conclusively positive end. In this passage God does not say all things will be good; nor does He promise that things will work out for the good of all people. Instead it is best to view this purpose from evil as God synergizing the good and evil things encountered in life toward His determining purpose of good. This does beg another question, “What is that ultimate good?” As MacArthur stated, those who have a right relationship with God will triumph over evil for eternity. Admittedly, this may seem like a lacking explanation to the atheist. The unknown leaves much to be desired.  Geisler wrote that “Even though we do not know why, at least we know why we do not know why—because we are limited in our knowledge. God isn’t.” (emphasis Geisler’s)  This does not mean that the theist needs to drop back and punt Deuteronomy 29:29 in to the atheist camp and declare that God’s secrets cannot be known. Notwithstanding, there is a truth in the fact that the things of faith will always be a mystery, and in a real sense they cannot be understood by the one who does not possess such faith. Even so, with in the community of faith there exists real disagreement over the types of theological answers to the problem of evil. As many theodicies are presented to the seeker of the riddle’s answers as there are theological diversities. While some hold a determinist view that God wills evil into existence, others hold to a free will view that God could never be seen as constructing evil, much less (God forbid) willing it! So the theology of the problem of evil is quite diverse, and as such demands attention from the theistic seeker of an answer to this Epicurus and his riddle.

The Theology Of The Problem Of Evil

Perhaps no greater divide disrupts the theological answers to the theodicy than the divergent views of theologians themselves. Whether one is a determinist, an Arminian, a believer in the Best Possible World scenario, or simply a strict believer in the absolute sovereignty of God, the problem of evil consummates itself with the certain knowledge from all sides that God cannot be the force behind evil. Some speculate that if God does not cause evil, He then cannot be omniscient; but that is flawed in its definition of omniscience. As Henderson wrote, “One must distinguish between what must happen from what will happen, or what is certain from what is necessary. In other words, God’s knowing what will happen is not logically the same as God’s causing it to happen. Knowledge does not determine.”  This is seen in the way God reacts to the repentant sinner.
Bruce Ware wrote that “God’s ontological and ethical immutability requires that God be relationally mutable, so that when the moral situation with which God is in relation changes, so too does God ‘change’ in relation to that changed situation.”  In other words, God’s knowledge that a sinner will repent does not determine that God made the sinner repent. Ware then spins the question around and ponders the “problem of goodness.” He wrote, “How can moral creatures do good, and receive reward for good done, when God is the source of all good done?” [44] Ware’s answer is most intriguing and unique, as he puts forth a theory of Compatibilist Middle Knowledge. Ware defines this as “knowledge of what compatibilistically free creatures would do, which is middle between God’s knowledge of merely what could be and of his knowledge of specifically what will be.” (emphasis Ware’s) [45]  Ware notes the deficiencies brought about by William Lane Craig to this theory and the contra-causal nature of middle knowledge and the theory's seemingly irreconcilability with compatibilism. Ware responds that “God as knowing these counterfactuals of creaturely freedom as prevolitional knowledge of the array of actions of what moral agents would do were God to actualize a world different than the one that he in fact actualizes and knows with his free knowledge.”  (emphasis Ware’s) All of this works together in Ware’s estimation to say that God’s relation to evil must be permissive. Evil is “produced altogether by portions of his sinful creation and never in any respect immediately by him, yet regulated in every instance so to allow or disallow any and every instance of evil that occurs, as his wisdom, authority, and power direct.” 
 Further, Norman Geisler wrote that evil does not rob the total depravity of man. Geisler surmises that the biblical doctrine of total depravity does not speak to metaphysical evil, but rather to moral evil. It is also noteworthy that total depravity does not suggest that man is as depraved as possible. As an example, it is possible for even the most repugnant sinner to show altruism. Instead Geisler posits that the doctrine of total depravity should be viewed as a total incapacity of a sinner securing his own salvation.
R. C. Sproul hypothesizes a theological take on the problem, utilizing a heavy reliance on Augustinian and Reformed thought. Sproul’s take is that, “As a result of the first sin, man lost his liberty, but not his free will…This resulted in man’s absolute dependence on a work of divine grace in his soul if he were ever to move toward God.” [49] So the problem of evil stems from man’s lack, or as Sproul puts it, “non posse non peccare”—the inability not to sin. [50] For Sproul then, the sinner cannot help but sin, and does not possess the ability to even ask help from God, unless God nudges her toward an attitude of repentance. Evil (sin) is inherent in humanity’s nature.
In all of these divergent views, one thread seems to run through the lot. That God is in no way culpable for the existence of evil. As mentioned above, the Psalmist wrote of God that “you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” (Psalm 5:4 English Standard Version, emphasis mine.) Sproul wrote, “We must never say that evil is good, or that good is evil. But that is not the same thing as saying, ‘It is good that there is evil.’ We also know that God is sovereign over it and in His sovereignty will not allow evil to have the last word.” [51] Geisler states that “No doubt God’s moral purposes in allowing pain and suffering are revealed through suffering. The bottom line is this…There is no reason to either demote God to finite or to deny His existence in order to explain the presence of…evil.”  Ware wrote that “While evil never flows from the nature of God, it is in all cases controlled by the agency of God.”  Summarizing the divergent views into a somewhat harmonistic manifesto, one could conclude that
1) Evil exists.
2) God is not responsible for said evil, but rather allows or permits that evil.
3) God works out good and evil things synchronically for His good please, His ultimate glory, and His creation’s benefit.

In a very real sense this problem is not merely metaphysical, but more epistemological in nature. Theists (and Christian Theists in particular) have a burden to not simply accept that the riddle is a philosophical exercise to be pondered nor that it is a theological puzzle to be solved. As Al Mohler wrote, “our task is to present, to teach, to explain, and to defend Christian theism.” (emphasis Molher’s)  Consider the statement by Baggett and Walls; “Ontology, or metaphysics, has to do with what the truth of the matter is; epistemology is a distinct question of how we know the truth of a matter.”  In other words, the ability to argue the finer points of the riddle and debate, either with-in the theistic community or with the atheists that would use the riddle as a point to exclude God completely, is good from an academic standpoint. Nevertheless, the Christian theist must take the argument beyond the realm of speculation and academia and into the battle for men’s eternal souls. Whether the problem is of evil or of good, the debate cannot definitely prove one side to the exclusion of the other. The theist cannot prove to the satisfaction of the atheist the reality of God, no more than the atheist can disprove Him.
The answer lies in the very nature of theism itself. As noted, for Mohler it is an epistemological point. On this facet, it would seem all sides can agree. Mohler, a Reformed Baptist and self-proclaimed Calvinist along with Baggett and Walls, who take a “broadly Reformed” and yet “distinctly Arminian”  stand all agree that the answer lies in the faith of the pursuer of the answer. The Apostle Paul provides the epistemological frame work for this idea. To the church in Corinth Paul reminds all Christians that, “The man who isn’t a Christian can’t understand and can’t accept these thoughts from God, which the Holy Spirit teaches us. They sound foolish to him because only those who have the Holy Spirit within them can understand what the Holy Spirit means. Others just can’t take it in.” 
So in the grand scheme of God His redemptive nature makes it possible for the faithful to believe, and the believer to have faith. This does not give the theist the right, however, to flippantly quote the above passage (or others Deuteronomy 29:29; 1 Peter 2:9; etc.) and disregard the call of Holy Scripture to be ready to give an adequate defense of their position. The theist should be as educated in the riddle as the atheist and ready to pray for her conversion so that she may be able to believe. Perhaps the conclusion of the matter has best been stated by Robert Jastrow:
The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation. This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the words of the Bible “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” 



Adams, Jay. The Grand Demonstration. Santa Barbra: New Gate Publishers. 1991.

Geisler, Norman L. If God, Why Evil?. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers. 2011.

Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape. New York: Free Press. 2010

Hick John. Evil And The God Of Love. San Fransico: Harper and Row Publishers. 1977.

Kushner, Harold S. When Bad Things Happen To Good People. New York: Anchor Books. 2004.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Harper One. 1952.

__________. The Problem With Pain. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, ed. Joseph Rutt. San Francisco: HarperCollins. 2002

Lewis, David. Divine Evil Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, ed Louise M Antony. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007.

Meilaender, Gilbert. BioEthics.3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing. 2013.

Mohler, Albert R, jr. atheism REMIX. Wheaton: Crossway Books. 2008.

Russell, Bertrand. Religion And Science. New York: Oxford University Press. 1997.

Internet Articles

__________. Greek Lexicon, (internet), Accessed 15 April, 2014. Available at:

__________. Hebrew Lexicon. (internet) Accessed 10 April 2014. Available at:

Milan, David. “Epicurus and Suffering” The Australian Humanist, No. 91, Spring 2008: 16-17. (internet). Accessed 10 April 2014. Available at: <;dn=699754956624732;res=IELHSS> ISSN: 0004-9328.

Sproul, R. C. “The Mystery of Evil.” Christianity (internet) Accessed 10 April 2014. Available at:

Print Articles and Dissertations

Treier, Dan. “God And Time, 2 Peter 3:6 As Theodicy For The Problem Of Moral Evil.” Lecture, Evangelical Theological Society. Midwestern Regional, March 22-23,1996, Fort Wayne, IN. 1996.

Sermon Transcripts

Piper, John. “Job: Wrestling with Suffering”. Desiring God. (internet) Accessed 17 April, 2014. Available at:

MacArthur, John. “The Origin Of Evil”. Grace To You. (internet) Accessed 16 April, 2014. Available at:

            ************Unfortunatly, my footnotes did not make the transition into the blog very well. The Bibliography is intact, but the foornotes were deleted. If you would like a footnoted copy, send me your email and I can provide you a MS Word copy.




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