The Problem of Evil

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Introduction

A young child cries, for her mother has just been brutally murdered. An orphan weeps, as he despairs of living another day alone. A beautiful woman lies down to die, for there is no food to be had. A mother shakes her fist towards the sky, as she has just lost her only child in an earthquake. The skeptic shakes his head, unable to understand all the pain in the world. This is the 21st century, and yet the problem of evil and suffering is nearly as old as time itself. While the atheist is “wasting his breath to complain, because in his view there is no-one to complain to,”[1] the Christian is faced with a much more difficult conundrum. The age-old question is this, “How can there be an all-loving and all-powerful God when evil is so evident and uncontained?”[2] A deeper question is this, “Even if God exists, how can He be called good while allowing death and destruction to happen, when we ourselves would be considered wicked if we did the same thing?”[3] It is a question that buffets the hearts and minds those who give serious thought to the nature of the world. Though stated in a thousand ways through a multitude of personal experiences, the foundation of the debate calls into question the attributes of God. Is God truly all powerful? Does God’s definition of good differ from man’s perspective? Is evil only an illusion? This paper will seek to clarify what is meant by the omnipotence and the goodness of God by first providing historical insight into the debate, and by providing definitions for keys terms relevant to the discussion. Subsequently, philosophical reasoning coupled with biblical theology will be used argue for the Free Will Defense and the Argument from Determinism. Finally, this paper will seek to prove that the Free Will Defense is a more logical solution to the Problem of Evil than the Argument from Determinism in light of philosophical and biblical reasoning.

Historical Background

Wright points out that “The problem of evil in its present metaphysical form has been around for at least two-and-a-half centuries…from 1755 on…the history of European philosophy can best be told as the history of people trying to come to terms with evil.”[4] Great minds such as Voltaire and Rousseau, Kant and Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche, have all spent time trying to solve this mystery.[5] In fact, throughout all of these thinkers “we find a continuous thread of philosophical attempts to say what has to be said about the world as a whole and about evil within it.”[6] However, the problem of evil is much older than these Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers. Augustine records over a thousand years earlier that evil is “nothing else than corruption, either of the measure, or the form, or the order, that belong to nature.”[7] He also writes that “God did not cause the first evil will.”[8] Even further back, the Old Testament has much to say about evil in the world. The Israelites were intimately familiar with pain and suffering, and this is reflected in their writings. “The concept of evil in the OT has both qualitative (natural) and moral categories…evil is misfortune, particularly injury or threat to life or standing in society…it is also used in a moral and spiritual sense as the designation for immorality and unfaithfulness to the covenant.”[9] It was through many years of hardship and oppression that Israel grappled with explaining the relationship of evil to its conception of God. It did not develop a metaphysical dualism in which evil could be explained as the work of demonic powers. Neither did it develop the concept of a capricious God to whom both good and evil could be described. Rather, it developed an ethical monotheism. Within this conception a major solution was to look for the justice of God in the eschatological future, i.e., to accept the mystery of evil by conceptualizing a creator God with greater freedom to work in ways and for purposes...
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