Is the problem of evil a crack in the foundation of the Christian faith? Are Christians forced to fill these cracks with putty-like responses which seemingly reduce God’s revealed attributes? Has God remained silent in answering the question of the problem of evil, leaving Christians to fideistically categorize this issue as one of the secret things which belongs to the Lord? Or, as Deuteronomy 29:29 concludes, is the problem of evil in the category of those “things that are revealed belonging to us and to our children forever”? With questions of “Why?” regarding sin, disease, war, starvation, pain, and suffering in this knowingly evil world, the Scriptures must be searched in an effort to provide adequate answers to help Christians stand firm when the foundations seem shaken. God is undoubtedly sovereign, all-knowing, and all-good; nevertheless, evil is clearly present in this fallen world. With this apparent dilemma at hand, a procession into biblical solutions must follow in bringing to the surface the solutions God gives in answering the question of the problem of evil.
First, God’s Word clearly reveals that God is in fact all-powerful and sovereign, giving Him the ability to say, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10— NIV). The study of numerous biblical passages in conjunction with the systematic study of Scripture as a whole maintains that there is not one loose molecule running around this universe outside of the complete control and dominion of God.
- Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) — “In Him we also obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”
- Romans 11:36 (NKJV) — “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
- Job 23:13 (NIV) — “But He stands alone, and who can oppose Him? He does whatever He pleases.”
- Psalm 115:3 (NIV) — “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him
- Psalm 135:6 (NIV) — “The Lord does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”
- Isaiah 46:10 (NIV) — “I make known the end from the beginnings, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”
- Daniel 4:35 (NIV) — “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: What have You done?”
The passages above just scratch the surface in giving biblical evidence for a God who is in control of everything. God is an all-powerful and sovereign being, in control of both evil and good-His will stands. This is an important element of the sovereignty of God: God is in control of everything, both evil and good. God has decreed evil in that He knew that Man would choose evil according to his free will. God could have prevented man from sinning by not creating man with free will, by not placing the forbidden tree in the garden, by not allowing Satan to tempt Eve, or God could have simply elected not to create man at all. However, God did create the world as good, but decreed to create a world in which He would allow sin to enter, according to the free will and responsibility of man, knowing that He would work it together for good in accordance with His perfect purposes (cf. Romans 8:28). Scripture reveals the sovereign hand of God in both good and evil as He decrees those things which come to pass.
- Lamentations 3:37-38 (NIV) — “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”
- Isaiah 45:7 (NKJV) — “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.”
Foreordination and Man’s Responsibility
God has foreordained all of the things that have come to pass—including God’s decree of evil, in that He knew that free, morally responsible agents would choose evil. By permitting man to sin, the blame and responsibility for evil must never be placed upon God, but on those beings who chose evil.
A sovereign God’s ability to accomplish all of His purposes does not result in fatalism. God can maintain sovereignty through morally responsible beings freely choosing according to their desires, establishing man’s responsibility, while accomplishing the good and perfect will of God in accordance with all that God decrees. Man is not forced to act against His will in choosing evil, but has freely acted, unknowingly resulting in the fulfillment of the decrees of God.
- Genesis 50:20 (NKJV) — “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
- Acts 2:23 (NIV) (In reference to Christ) — “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing Him to the cross.”
- Acts 4:27-28 (NKJV) — “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, where gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”
Mankind is responsible for the wickedness of rejecting and crucifying Christ. Man alone is responsible for his own sin. Sin, however, has neither overtaken a sovereign God nor found a place outside of the things God had foreordained and determined by the good counsel of His will. Biblical Christianity demands a sovereign and all-powerful God. A biblical solution to the problem of evil must include a completely sovereign God.
Secondly, the Bible clearly teaches that God is all-knowing. The Psalmist praised God for His incredible wisdom and knowledge.
- Psalm 139:1-6 (NIV) — “O Lord, you have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely,Lord. You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”
- Psalm 147:4-5 (NIV) — “He determines the number of stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit.”
God not only determines the number of stars but has no limit in His understanding. God has determined, understood, and known all things that would occur from eternity past. In attempting to reconcile evil in an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God’s world, often one or more of God’s attributes are forfeited. The “Process Theologian” explains away the problem of evil by proclaiming that God did not know things would turn out as they have and has taken drastic measures in an attempt to reverse the evil present in the universe. God reveals, however, that “His understanding has no limit.” God knows now and has always known all things—and He is certainly not bound by the actions of man in order to know what will take place next. The Bible does not reveal a God who sits on the edge of His seat anxiously awaiting man’s next move in order that He might make a counter move. God has always known all things which would take place.
The final attribute for consideration is the goodness of God. The problem of evil in a sovereign and all-knowing God’s world would be simply solved by eliminating God’s goodness—if Scripture allowed such a solution. The Bible, however, clearly teaches that God is perfectly good.
- Psalm 34:8 (NIV) — “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.”
- Psalm 100:5 (NIV) — “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”
- Psalm 119:68 (NIV) — “You are good, and what You do is good; teach me Your decrees.”
- James 1:17 (NIV) — “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
God in His perfect goodness is not the author of sin nor has He in any way forced or coerced man to sin against his own free will. God’s decree and foreordination of sin in the world was accomplished by mankind freely choosing according to each individual’s own desires. God has never laid aside His goodness at any time in eternity nor has He forced or enticed man to sin—for such involvement would be sin in itself.
Deuteronomy 13:6-10 (NKJV) — “If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers, of the gods of the people which are all around you, near to you or far off from you from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth, you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God . . .”
John Frame says that if God enticed or forced man to sin, this “would picture God as some kind of giant Mafia boss who keeps his hands clean by forcing underlings to carry out his nasty designs” (Frame, 166). God has clearly revealed that man sins as the result of his own desires rather than the coercion of God.
James 1:13-15 (NKJV) — “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
God Must Remain God
Any attempt to give answers for the problem of evil through dethroning God of his sovereign power, limiting God’s knowledge, or questioning God’s goodness, should be refuted as biblical impossibilities.
John Frame says, “It would be nice to have a solution to the problem of evil, but not at any price. If the price we must pay is the very sovereignty of God, the faithful Christian must say that the price is too high. After all, it is of little importance whether any of us discovers the answer to the problem of evil. It is possible to live a long and happy and faithful life without an answer. But it is all-important that we worship the true God, the God of Scripture. Without Him, human life is worth nothing” (Frame, 154).
Foreordination and Man’s Responsibility II
Are there any biblical answers for the problem of evil? One of the most frequently used answers amongst Christians is found in the Free-Will argument. Simply, the choices man makes are not foreordained or caused by God and, therefore, God cannot be held responsible for the existence of evil. Alvin Plantinga in God, Freedom and Evil has embraced this answer for the problem of evil (Frame, 159). The freedom of the will, as a gift from God, delivers God from His responsibility for evil and places it upon man. Undoubtedly, Scripture teaches that man is responsible for sin, however, Scripture also gives clear references to God foreordaining and decreeing all things which occur. The following verses are examples of God’s invisible hand providentially working in the lives of people as He enables those who are spiritually blind to see and repent. It is God who enables totally depraved sinners to will the things of God as He changes their hearts.
- Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV) — “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
- Luke 24:45 (NKJV) — “And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.”
- John 6:44 (NKJV) — “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
- John 6:65 (NKJV) — “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
- Acts 13:48 (NKJV) — “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
- Romans 9:15-16 (NKJV) — “For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”
- Romans 9:19-21 “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? Who has resisted His will?’ But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”
- Ephesians 2:8-10 (NKJV) — “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
- Philippians 1:29 (NKJV) — “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
The Free-Will argument is lacking in its failure to give an answer to the vast biblical evidence of God foreordaining and decreeing all things, both good and evil. Jay Adams, in his book, The Grand Demonstration, provides a more biblical explanation for the problem of evil. Adams points to Romans 9:22-23 as a proof text for what he has coined, “the so-called problem of evil” (Adams, 14).
Romans 9:22-23 (NKJV) — “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory . . .”
In the ninth chapter of Romans, Paul is dealing specifically with election and reprobation, clearly supporting God’s righteousness and ability to display His sovereign prerogative as He shows mercy on some and demonstrates His perfectly just wrath upon others. Anticipating questions regarding the right of God to have mercy on whom He wills and hardening the hearts of those He wills (Romans 9:18), Paul answers by pointing to the sovereignty of God rather than emphasizing the free will of man.
Romans 9:19-21 (NKJV) — “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’ But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?”
A potter has every right to do as he desires with his clay. All people belong to the same lump of fallen humanity through the sin of Adam. All of mankind has willingly rejected God in active sin prior to God hardening their already sinful hearts. The person questioning the justice of God is not pointed to man’s free will for the answer, but rather, to a sovereign God who acts in perfection as He pleases.
All Things For Glory
In Romans 9:22-23, an explanation is given for God’s work in making “one vessel for honor and another for dishonor. These “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” were made for the specific reason of revealing God’s wrath and displaying His power. The “vessels of mercy” were prepared to “make known the riches of His glory.” Likewise, in reference to the wicked Pharaoh in the days of Moses, God says, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth” (Romans 9:17 — NKJV).
The Westminster Confession states that man’s chief end, or purpose in life, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. What is God’s chief end? John Piper argues convincingly in several of his books (e.g., God’s Passion for His Glory; The Pleasures of God) that God’s chief end is to glorify Himself. God alone is worthy of all glory and honor. God is supreme over all of His creation and stands alone as the all-powerful, eternal, and infinite being over all that exists. For this reason, God’s chief end not only should, but must be to bring glory and honor unto Himself, for He alone is worthy.
As the perfections of God are displayed throughout creation, God is glorified. As a perfect God, He does not possess any possible attributes that will result in glory being removed. Every aspect of the person and character of God are infinitely perfect and good. There is no possibility of a more perfect being-and God alone possesses this quality. As a result, as God demonstrates the perfections of who He is, glory comes to His name.
Through God allowing and foreordaining evil, God works this together to accomplish the work of revealing His person. If God had not allowed sin to enter the world, could man truly know God and worship Him for all that He is? Would man be able to know the grace of God that extends blessings to sinners who deserve wrath? Could man know the love of God had God not displayed it in the greatest manner by laying down His life for those still dead in their sins? God’s holiness and justice are displayed through His wrath upon unrighteousness. The incredible humility and meekness of God was displayed for all creation as God became the least of all men in a fallen and depraved world. As the perfection of God’s holy character is contrasted with an evil world, God’s people are able to find Him alone to be the One who can satisfy their deepest needs as their fountain of living water.
If God’s chief end is to bring glory to His name and God does whatsoever He desires to do, then the existence of evil must be allowed and decreed by God ultimately bringing glory to His name. This does not necessarily mean that each instance of evil can be clearly understood by finite man today, but God can be trusted as He maintains His sovereignty, omniscience, and goodness.
John Frame concludes,
“We cannot always understand why God has chosen evil events to accomplish these good purposes. We do know that God never foreordains an evil event without a good purpose (Rom. 8:28). There may be other reasons than the ones we have mentioned, either to be found in Scripture or to remain locked up in God’s own mind. We know that God has a reason for everything he does. Everything he does reflects his wisdom. But he is under no obligation to give us his reasons. Nevertheless, as we see evil used for good again and again in Scripture, can we not accept in faith that those evils which are yet unexplained also have a purpose in the depths of God’s mind? Again, we do not have a complete theoretical answer to the problem of evil. What we do have is a strong encouragement to trust God even amid unexplained suffering. Indeed, the encouragement is so strong that one would be foolish not to accept it” (Frame, 187).
God has revealed His character to man through both creation and the special revelation of His Word. The skeptic often plays the “problem of evil” card as he raises doubts, confusion, and questions in the minds of many professing Christians. Sadly, the church is often not equipped to answer questions regarding the problem of evil because the theological foundations are not always stable. The cracks in the foundation of the Christian faith are not actual, but man-made by poor theology. Questions regarding evil are not merely trivial but largely impact the personal lives of all people. Emotions become stirred as the question of evil brings to the surface personal trials, difficulties, and tragedies. Looking to a sovereign and good God who allows and decrees evil to demonstrate His character with the ultimate goal of bringing glory and honor to His name does not always answer the details of each individual instance of evil. In the midst of severe trials, the question of “Why?” is often directed towards God. Christians, however, can stand firmly during the difficult times knowing that an sovereign, all-knowing, and all-good God is in complete control working all things together for good.
- Adams, Jay. The Grand Demonstration. Santa Barbara: East Gate Publishers, 1991.
- Frame, John. Apologetics to the Glory of God. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1994.
- Piper, John. The Pleasures of God. Portland: Multnomah, 1991.
- Sproul, RC. The Invisible Hand. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996.
Study Resources :: The Problem of Evil. Retrieved from http://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/evil.cfm