The Problem Of Evil
I stumbled upon an excellent article that addresses the prevailing Christian theories surrounding the problem of evil: “Why does evil exist?”
The article will get you thinking about the true nature of evil:
What Are the Answers to the Problem of Evil?
An answer to the problem of evil is often called a theodicy, a term coined in 1710 by Gottfried Leibniz in his book Théodicée. A number of theodicies have been developed over time. In chronological order:
Isaiahic: Evil exists because God created it (and/or compels or permits his subjects to create it). Named for Isaiah 45:7, where God states “I form the light, and create darkness: I make good, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Isaiahic theodicy rejects God’s omnibenevolence to emphasize His omnipotence and omniscience. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” is an Isaiahic platitude. Isaiahic theodicy is accepted by many Jews and Muslims, but most Christians reject it, believing that God is all-loving.
Irenaean: Evil exists for our own good. Goodness develops from the experience of suffering. In the words of contemporary theologian John Hicks, our world is a “vale of soul-making” that enables us to become spiritually perfected. But Irenaean theodicy leaves unanswered the question of inexplicable evil. If a mother dies in childbirth and her infant starves to death, with none to mourn for them, whose soul is being “made”? Irenaean theodicy asks us to just trust that God has configured our world to be the best possible world for human development. “God always brings good out of evil” and “God works in mysterious ways” are Irenaean platitudes. Irenaean is the main theodicy for Orthodox Christians and some liberal Protestants.
Augustinian: Evil does not exist except as privation from, or absence of, God. When humans freely chose to reject God, committing Original Sin, they thus introduced evil into the world. Augustinian theodicy leaves unanswered the question of foreknowledge. Why would an omniscient God create Adam and Eve knowing they would commit original sin? Isn’t a father who puts his curious child in a room with a loaded gun, knowing the child will pull the trigger, responsible for the harm when the child pulls the trigger? Augustinian theodicy also leaves unexplained why original sin is inherited. Even if the child is to blame for killing someone, why should the child’s great-great-great-great-grandson still be in prison? Questions like this split Orthodox from Catholic and Reformed into Calvinists and Arminians and continue to plague all denominations. Because of this critique, Augustinian theodicy has in practice tended to either collapse back into Irenaean theodicy or progress into Boydian theodicy, depending on whether omniscience or omnibenevolence is emphasized.
Boydian: Evil exists because of the free-willed choices of the beings over whom God has given authority over the world. Named for theologian Greg Boyd, this theodicy is distinguished from Augustinian theodicy because it denies God’s omniscience. Boyd is the creator of open theology, which asserts that God is not all-knowing about future contingent events. When God created Satan, Adam, and Eve, He delegated to them a libertarian free will that enabled them to make choices He would not know in advance that they would make. Because God vested great power into Satan (“the prince of this world”), and gave Satan free will, Satan causes great harm. Satan, not God, is responsible for 200 billion dead fetuses and 50 billion dead children. But Boydian theodicy is troubled by this question: why God doesn’t intervene to stop Satan now that Satan has chosen evil? If God cannot stop Satan, then He is not omnipotent. If God could stop Satan, but doesn’t because Satan’s evil actions are part of His plan, or because Satan’s free will is mysteriously part of the greater good, then we’ve reverted to Irenaean or Isaiahic. If God could stop Satan, but doesn’t because he made an irrevocable covenant to let Satan be prince of this world, then God is not just lacking in omniscience, he’s lacking in heavenly legal counsel — who writes a job contract without a termination clause for wrongful behavior?
If you are satisfied with any of those four theodicies, you should stop here. You have my gratitude for being a reader of this blog, and I do not wish to challenge your faith. The rest of this essay is just for troubled souls.
I recommend a full read, especially if you don’t subscribe to one of the above theories.
I lean Augustinian. My belief is that evil is the absence of good; it is like a privative or how darkness is simply the absence of light. If God created us, and saw that it was good, then it was not until our and Satan’s fall when evil was invited.
The authors’ criticisms of the Augustinian theory do not negate it in my view:
- “Why would an omniscient God create Adam and Eve knowing they would commit original sin?” – God had three options: free-will creation, pointless robotic creation, or nothingness. Free will requires the possibility of evil, because it requires that people have the free will to choose good. If they do not do so, then they choose its negation. If God decided it for us, it would be the most pointless existence. Existence and life would be akin to us building a robot—There is no ‘free’ soul within it. To build nothing was also not good, because creation itself is good. It is our free will actions that remove good.
- “Isn’t a father who puts his curious child in a room with a loaded gun, knowing the child will pull the trigger, responsible for the harm when the child pulls the trigger?” – We aren’t children, nor was Adam and Eve. They were fully instructed and told what would occur. They both understood it or they wouldn’t have been punished. When we commit evil, we rebel against good. We know this: it’s not like a child that doesn’t understand their actions. Eve first ate from the tree because she wanted to be God, even though she knew it was wrong. God is not responsible for our actions, only for the fact that we can enjoy free will to choose good.
- “Even if the child is to blame for killing someone, why should the child’s great-great-great-great-grandson still be in prison?” – As the author indicated, this answer will differ depending on your Calvinist/Arminian/Pelagianist bent. Some even believe that original sin was conquered with Christ’s death or that original sin didn’t exist at all and we all just innately sin due to free will. But each belief has their own satisfactory answers to this question. Even if they couldn’t be answered, I don’t see how this would negate the Augustinian answer to the problem of evil.
Still, I don’t know the answer to evil with absolute confidence. I could be wrong. But my bias is definitely obvious. Regardless of how you think on the topic, it is still an excellent question to get people thinking about the nature of the universe and our existence within it.
Gaining a better insight of evil is always useful for us as dissidents. We are up against what can only be accurately described as evil, after all.
The current rulers of the world will force you to ponder this question at some point. Should be helpful to know the full spectrum of thoughts on the topic beforehand.
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