Ask the Pastor — The Problem of Evil

15 year old Freddy Foote asks,

“If God created the heavens and earth why did he create sin?”

Or

“If He didn’t create sin then why did He allow the possibility of sin?”

_________

Dear Freddy,

You’ve asked an excellent question that shows that you are thinking. This is most excellent! Your question is one that hones in on the timeless problem of evil. Since your question is so excellent I want to give it a thorough answer, but you must be faithful to this process by being willing to do the work of thinking through the answer.

This is a question that every person (not just Christians or even Theists in general — but EVERY PERSON) must face. Typically the problem is reduced to the question of how belief in a God that is both all powerful AND all benevolent (kind and good) can be sustained in the light of evil, sin, and wickedness. It seems Freddy, that the reality of evil must destroy either the omni-benevolence or the omnipotence of God — or so the protestations of the god-haters proclaim. God haters, with mindless glee catcall our problem w/o realizing their own (a subject for another time perhaps). The God haters say,

“If God is good and wants to eliminate sin, but cannot, He is not all powerful; but if God is all powerful and can eliminate sin, but does not He is not good.”

How do Biblical Christians approach this? The best answers for this Freddy that I have found during my years in the ministry come from Dr. Gordon Clark and from Dr. Greg Bahnsen. You need to know that anything I write here is from my learning while sitting at their feet.

First, we must note that any answer we give must, in the end, retain both God’s goodness and God’s Sovereignty. Resolutions of the problem of evil that leave God less than good, or less than absolutely sovereign are answers that leave us with a god who is not God. I note this Freddy, because many of the answers to the ‘problem of evil’ that you find in the Church today reduces God to a being that men must pity due to God’s lack of ability of stopping that which He doesn’t want to happen. For example, I remember going to a funeral once where the deceased had perished in a car accident and the first thing out of the minister’s mouth was “God didn’t have anything to do with this.” The implication was that, ‘God didn’t want the accident to happen but sometimes you got to feel sorry for God, because poor God doesn’t always get what He wants.’ So, whatever answer we come up with can’t end with some kind of sophistry that says that ‘God is sovereign enough to not be sovereign.’ No, our answer to the problem of evil must leave God to be that which the Scripture portrays Him and that is all good and all sovereign.

Another answer we need to avoid is the answer that posits some kind of dualism. This position, which is typical of many ancient Eastern religions holds that good and evil are equally equipoised and that they are in battle and that the good god and the bad god neither ever are triumphant. Sometimes you hear this kind of reasoning in the Church when people say speak of the Devil as if He were a being that somehow was God’s equal in the celestial WWF Wrestling match. The Christian faith has never embraced dualism if only because such a position denies the teaching that there is only One God.

Another bad answer, as we suggested above, is that God is a finite and limited deity. The advocates of this position would say that God does the best He can but darn it you can really expect only so much from a deity. If the advocates of wimpy Christianity are correct that the presence of evil in this world rules out a all powerful God we might ask them if, instead of a limited good God ruling us why it might not instead be the case that we are ‘ruled’ by a limited evil god who in reality tries to get all the evil he can but being limited sometimes good sneaks in every now and then. After all, limitedness could work in both directions.

Yet another bad answer that many offer in the Church today to the problem of evil Freddy, is that God gave man free will and that God is sovereign right up to the point of fallen men’s free will. This ‘answer’ once again, limits God’s godness by suggesting that God’s godness is checkmated by man’s godness. God wants certain things or doesn’t want certain things but sometimes man is more powerful than God and so uses his free will to trump God’s free will. Many people in the Church teach this idea trying to rescue God from from the lack of goodness and the perceived problem of God being charged with being ‘not nice’ for being in complete control of sin and evil. Often you will hear people using this kind of argumentation when they say things like, “Well, God didn’t want that to happen but He allowed or merely permitted it to happen. God gave man free will and so He can’t be blamed for evil.’ Free will in human agents has been put forth to clear God of the responsibility for sin and evil. It sounds so pious but it really is nonsense, and what is worse is that it doesn’t exonerate God in the least from the charge of being ‘not nice.’ Let’s examine why.

Those who thump for this answer will (usually) concede that while God’s power is checked by man’s free will what is not checked is this same God’s ability to know all things from the beginning (sometimes called omniscience). But those who contend that the free will of man clears God of the charge of the problem of evil, still have a problem with a ‘not nice’ God, for this God who from eternity past knew all that would happen throughout the history of mankind still decided to create despite knowing all the evil that would result from giving men ‘free will.’ God permitting evil by way of Man’s free will does not solve the problem of evil for a being giving man that free will, knowing before hand how it would be used, AND creating all the circumstances wherein it would be used, remains responsible for the actions of those using that free will. Besides, it is more than an open question whether or not, if in the end, any being who can’t do other then what God has always known he will do has free will but that is another subject for another day.

So, ‘Free will’ and ‘permission’ or ‘God allowing something’ is really irrelevant to the problem of evil.

So far we have eliminated from our consideration answers to the problem of evil that include the theories of dualism, limited god, and free will. Likewise we have poked fun at the notion of a God who is sovereign enough to not be sovereign. Now let us turn our attention to a positive answer.

First, though we won’t take the time to go into the historical precedents we should note that what is going to be given here for the answer to the problem of evil has long legs throughout Church History. It is not the only answer that has been given (we’ve just examined the others) but it is an answer with a long and storied pedigree in Church History stretching far behind the Reformation.

Second, we would say that belief in the doctrine of creation forces us to accept the reality that God is the cause (though not the author) of Sin. Creation ex nihilo implies God’s complete control over ALL things since such a creation eliminates any notion of any forces that are independent of God. Independent forces cannot be created forces since a created force would make it dependent upon the one who created it and created forces cannot be independent since their createdness would make them dependent to the one who created them. So, Freddy, if we introduce a power in the universe that can trump God’s will we have at the same time given up on the idea of God as the alone creator.

Obviously the answer to the problem of evil for the Biblical Christian is that God is sovereign over all things, which I take to include evil.

Scripture teaches that

Ephesians 1:11 in whom also we were made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh ALL things after the counsel of his will;

Romans 11:36 For of him, and through him, and unto him, are ALL things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

Specifically Scripture teaches that God is in control over evil,

Isaiah 45:7

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.

Amos 3:6

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?

So Scripture teaches that God is Sovereign over all that happens and from that we hold that God is the cause of evil without being its author. More on that in a bit.

Before we turn to how it is that God remains good while insisting that all that happens, including evil, is God’s will we want to help clarify an apparent contradiction. Those who oppose the Biblical position on this issue will accuse me of advocating that evil things are God’s will when in point of fact Scripture teaches that evil things aren’t God’s will. For example, Scripture clearly teaches that murder is not God’s will but here I am saying that all murders that happen are God’s will. How is that objection answered?

The objection is answered by being more precise in the usage of language. God’s word gives us precepts and commands that state what ought to be done by us and we often call that ‘God’s will.’ God’s word also teaches all that happens, happens according to God’s predestining will (see the texts above) and we call that also ‘God’s will.’ Consequently we confuse matters by using the same phrase ‘God’s will’ to communicate both God’s commands and God’s decretive will. We would be better served instead to speak of ‘God’s commands’ for His Law-Word to us and restrict the use of the phrase ‘God’s will’ to refer to His predestining will. In doing so we could say that it was against God’s commands for the Jews to crucify Jesus but it was the exact desire of God’s will. Now, some will object that God decreed an evil act and we will turn to that in a second, but for now we must say that is exactly what the Scripture’s teach (Acts 2:23, 3:14-18, 4:27-28). For our purposes now, it is enough to see that there is no contradiction between saying that God’s Law Word commands certain things while God wills other things and that the violation of God’s commands by the human agent, even though acting in harmony with God’s will, does not deliver the human agent from being held responsible for his actions.

Well, Freddy, this first part is long enough for you to work through. I will return to this tomorrow, Lord willing and will try to untangle a few of the problems that I have set for us thus far. These might include,

1.) How can God be the cause of evil but not the author of evil?

2.) How can humans be held be responsible by God for those things they have done that God has predestined?

3.) How can humans fail to be puppets on a string if all they do is predestined by God?

4.) And most importantly, we will answer your original question, “Why did God create sin.”

See you tomorrow,

Pastor Bret

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Kinist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture . Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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