Sunday, November 6, 2011

Short Essay on the Problem of Evil

Sin no mater the degree or function has been a concern of man since the dawn of time. Whether in the form of moral evil or its associate natural evil the basis for the problem of evil is realized.
The problem of evil is both a question of logical consistency in propositions of a theological system and more chiefly it’s a string of problems that encompass God and evil.[1] Biblically the book of Job details the problem of evil and other places in Scripture give account of evil by suffering in the face of doing good (1 Pet. 3:13-14). Plato took up this problem in his work Euthyphro, which outlines questions that relate to the cause of this problem. Plato however missed the mark here; the answer to his dilemma should be stated, God wills the good because He is good.[2] God as a holy can have no part in evil thus cannot be the cause of evil (Jas. 1:13).
Among the definitions of evil two classes exist, moral and natural evil. Moral evil is evil that is the product of moral agents; the first murder by Cain (Gen. 4:8), Uriah’s assassination by David (2 Sam. 11:14-17). Natural evil is that problem which arises as a result of natural processes such as earthquakes, or tsunami’s. Each problem must be addressed using different arguments and approaches. For example one cannot hope to answer the suffering of a cancer patient by appealing to free will.[3]
Tackling the issue of why sin exists is important in addressing the problem of evil. Prior to the fall in Genesis 3, the world was made whole and unblemished (Gen. 1:31). Adam and Eve existed in an unabated relationship with the creator of the universe. Subsequent to the fall both moral and natural evils became prevalent. God as the all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God cannot do anything contrary to his nature. According to Leibniz, out of the many possible worlds that were feasible for God to actualize he chose the one we experience to actualize which was the best possible world. In order for man not to be an automaton God had to endow his creation with free will. If he offers free will then he cannot limit the influence of evil in the world. This would be a direct inconsistency with free will. However, because of God’s providence he can use evil to ultimately bring about good in the world, namely the saving work of Christ at Calvary.[4] John Hick espoused that God’s intent was not to create perfect creatures rather he sought to create beings in need of development towards perfection. [5] However this view errs because the use of evil in the world seems to turn people away from God and not the opposite.
When developing a theodicy it is extremely important to ensure it is internally consistent. If God is all loving and omnipotent and evil exists the theodicist must show that there is no inconsistency with these claims. Is it inconsistent for God to allow evil? Certainly not, what would be inconsistent is for a God, who allows the free will decisions of moral agents, to restrict the decisions of free creatures to ensure no evil can arise. This as stated previously would be inconsistent with the idea of free will making the theodicy internally inconsistent. In my view, God actualized the best possible world. Since God is the only Metaphysically necessary being he alone can will the world into existence.[6] Though evil exists it does not raise an issue of inconsistency in this theodicy because it can be shown that people (agents who propagate evil by free will decisions) are certainly less perfect than a necessary being because their existence is contingent on that being. Thus evil is consistent with God creating man.
Personal experience can both lend to and hinder one’s relationship with God. When a person experiences evil in their life they make ask the question, “why me God?” This can cause a rift in the relationship the person assumed they had with God. However if the person would spend time in the Scriptures stories would inspire the downtrodden. Joseph described evil used for good by God (Gen. 50:20). David found refuge in God during trials (Ps. 18:6). A person seeking to dispute a belief about God can only do so if the theodicy accurately portrays God.[7] Because theodicies are constructs of human thought it is possible to deny a theodicy without actually denying an attribute or the existence of God.
Though the problem of evil will certainly not go away anytime soon the theodicist can be confident that if their view is consistent it can be used to explain one’s view of God. This may offer hope for others aspiring to defend God in a logically consistent way.

Word count: #799

Feinberg, J. S., “Evil, Problem of.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed., 413-15. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001
Feinberg, J. S., “Theodicy.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed., 1184-87. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001
Lewis, G. R., “God, Attributes of.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd ed., 492-99. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001

[1]             J.S. Feinberg, “Evil, Problem of.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 413.
[2]             G.R. Lewis, “God, Attributes of.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 496.
[3]             Feinberg, 414.
[4]             J.S. Feinberg, “Theodicy.” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 1186.

[5]             Feinberg, 1186.
[6]             Feinberg, 1185.
[7]             Ibid, 1187.

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