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[edit | hide | hide all]

Presumption 1: God has to know the entire future[edit | hide]

Summary[edit | hide]

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[edit | hide]

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.

God Has All Knowledge of the Present[edit | hide]

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.

God 'Can' See the Future[edit | hide]

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.

God Does Not 'Have' to Know the Future[edit | hide]

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.

Biblical Problems with Absolute Knowledge of the Future[edit | hide]

There are numerous problems Biblically with assuming God knows everything.

  1. 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 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.
  2. Why would God plead with the wicked to change their ways if He knew they were incapable of doing so, and had predetermined destinies?
  3. Why does God test people to see what's in their hearts if He already knows? God tests people throughout the Bible to see what is in their hearts. A particularly compelling example is Abraham being called to sacrifice Isaac, where Jesus, the Angel of the Lord, tells Abraham that it is now known by Abraham's actions that "now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me." If God already knew what was in Abraham's heart, why say that because of the test "now I know that thou fearest God"? Then of course there is the case of Job, who was tested to see whether he would turn against God. (Job 1:9-12)
  4. Why would God allow Satan and mankind to become evil? For God to have guided a process throughout history where the vast majority of mankind would be doomed to eternal damnation, where evil was the primary result of mankind's history rather than good, and where fallen angels would cause massive evil and similarly be doomed to destruction, would be immoral and promote wickedness. God cannot be the moral, just, and righteous God spoken of in the Bible unless the future is not set in stone and God did not know from the beginning exactly what would happen and who would be saved. God used the Garden of Eden Himself (Genesis 3:8) and thus placed the trees of the knowledge of good and evil and life in the garden. He created Adam and Eve sinless without any inclination to do wrong. He had no reason to believe they or Satan would disobey Him. As such, God is justified, and all of Creation will recognize this, so that every one will have praise for God (1 Corinthians 4:5).
  5. How can the wicked acknowledge God's goodness unless God gave them free will? To get to the premise of 1 Corinthians 4:5, that everyone will have praise for God and see how perfect and justifiable His decisions were, so that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father, one must reject the idea of a concrete set-in-stone future where God orchestrated everything to produce a universe where large numbers of people are eternally tortured in the Lake of Fire. After all, how can millions of atheists praise God at the Final Judgment unless it is made clear that God gave everyone free will and attempted to save all? There are plenty of atheists who would never praise God if they believed He'd created everything so they would get destroyed. Only if God made everyone with free will and was constantly trying to return everything to righteousness will everyone "have praise for God" at the end as 1 Corinthians 4:5 says.
  6. Why does God show sorrow and surprise at the actions of mankind and angels if He knows what the future holds? For God to have all knowledge of the future would contradict the numerous places in the Bible where God shows sorrow and surprise at the actions of mankind and angels if He knows what the future holds. This includes:
    • Adam's Fall (Genesis 3:11-13)
    • Cain's murder (Genesis 4:10)
    • The Noahic Flood (Genesis 6:6)
    • The Israelites' idolatry in the wilderness (Exodus 32:9-10)
    If God knew all that the future held, then He should not show surprise about how mankind's actions.
  7. Why does God change His mind and turn away judgments if He knew what would happen? On a related note, why is God recorded as changing His mind and turning away judgments against wicked people, if His foreknowledge is absolute? Examples include:
    • The Noahic Flood: God sees the Earth filled with violence and evil and regrets making mankind. (Genesis 6:6)
    • The Israelites' idolatry in the wilderness: God, angered at the Israelites' sexual immorality and worship of the golden calf, offers to destroy Israel and make a new nation from Moses. However, after Moses urges God to spare the Israelites God regrets His hasty suggestion. (Exodus 32:9-10)
    • Saul's kingship: After Saul disobeys God in sparing an evil ruler, God regrets ever making Saul king. (1 Samuel 15:11)
    • God's plague upon Israel: God punishes Israel for following David after his sin with Bathsheba, sending a plague that kills 70,000 people. God regrets this, and tells the angel to stop the plague. (2 Samuel 24:15)
    • Grieve not the Holy Spirit: We are urged not to grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom we are sealed until the Day of Redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
  8. It would diminish the Gospel if the only ones who get saved are those God knew would get saved. If God knew all the future held, rather than being Good News for everyone, it would only be Good News for an elite few chosen by God before they were born to get saved. Rather than a Gospel for "whosoever believeth" where "the same God is rich unto all that call on Him" (John 3:15; Romans 10:12)

Presumption 2: God created or helped create evil[edit | hide]

Summary[edit | hide]

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[edit | hide]

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)

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

Free Will[edit | hide]

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[edit | hide]

Summary[edit | hide]

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[edit | hide]

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.

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.

Conclusion[edit | hide]

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[edit | hide]

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