A common question that comes up from unbelievers is that if God is the creator of everything, then he created evil. The popular atheist George Smith phrases the problem this way: “…If God knows there is evil but cannot prevent it, he is not omnipotent. If God knows there is evil and can prevent it but desires not to, he is not omnibenevolent.”
As Greg Bahnsen replied, “Smith thinks that Christians logically cannot have it both ways: God is completely good, as well as completely powerful.”
I would first ask such an unbeliever what standard he’s using to identify “evil” in the first place. For him to even use the word means he’s presupposing some standard against which to judge evil. That makes sense from the Christian worldview, but what about his?
The fact that he becomes morally outraged by certain acts of evil indicates that he does know God in his heart of hearts, like Paul said [Rom. 1:19]. It’s a problem for his worldview, not ours. Dr. Bahnsen wrote that “Such indignation requires recourse to the absolute, unchanging, and good character of God in order to make philosophical sense…They refuse to let judgments about evil be reduced to subjectivism.”
So that’s my first response. They don’t put God on trial, we, as Christ’s representatives, put them on trial for their unbelief.
Second, even if they admit that their worldview cannot account for the idea of “evil,” they are trying to point out logical inconsistencies in ours to render it intellectually untenable. But they’ll fail. But we must square up with Scripture, because it certainly presents solid evidence that good and bad come from the mouth of the Lord. They’ll present something like this argument:
1. GOD IS ALL-GOOD.
2. GOD IS ALL-POWERFUL.
3. EVIL EXISTS.
They contend that the third premise presents a paradox or contradiction within our worldview. Scripture indeed tells us that:
“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things,” [Is. 45:7]
“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” [Lam. 3:38]
“Does a disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” [Amos 3:6]
But our critics are blind. Again, as Bahnsen wrote, “If the Christian presupposes that God is perfectly and completely good — as Scripture requires us to do — then he is committed to evaluating everything within his experience in the light of that presupposition. Accordingly, when the Christian observes evil events or things in the world, he can and should retain consistency with his presupposition about God’s goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists.”
We are compelled by Scripture to find, then, that evil is compatible with God’s goodness. “When we are unjustly wounded by men, let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge), remember to mount up to God, and learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God’s just dispensation.” [John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.XVII.8]
So, we then add a 4th premise which resolves their attempted demolition of the only coherent view of the world and reality that exists:
4. GOD HAS A MORALLY SUFFICIENT REASON FOR THE EVIL WHICH EXISTS.
With that, the attempted “logical contradiction” is resolved. Scripture bears this out, of course. Consider Job’s experience, or Abraham’s when God told him to sacrifice his son. Most importantly of all, consider the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory himself. Certainly an evil act, but one which was predestined by God for good [Acts 4:28], for God works all things according to the counsel of his will [Eph. 1]. As Joseph spoke of God’s will to his brothers who did evil against him, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” [Gen. 50:20]
Unbelievers will hardly accept such a logical conclusion. They don’t want to accept it, even if it is logical. But your job is to shut their mouths and stay true to God’s word and witness. Don’t let their jabs weaken your faith.
As hard as it is for believers to accept this, it’s often hard for believers to accept, even on faith, that the bad things that happen in our lives have a good purpose. “Unbelievers internally cry out for an answer to such a question also. But God does not always (indeed, rarely) provide an explanation to human beings for the evil which they experience or observe. ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God’ (Deuteronomy 29:29). We might not be able to understand God’s wise and mysterious ways, even if He told us (cf. Isaiah 55:9). Nevertheless, the fact remains that He has not told us why misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives.”
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