The problem of evil covers the possibility of God directing every occurrence in the universe without reducing human beings to mere automated agents. The problem of evil also covers the possibility of human beings possessing true freedom if God is genuinely sovereign (Towns 460). This paper looks at the problem of evil and its implications on the concept of an omnipotent, benevolent, and omnipresent God.
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The problem of evil is classified into moral and natural evil. While moral evil is attributed to individual actions, natural evil occurs in the natural order of the universe. Moral evil is caused by individuals who have the ability to distinguish between good and bad. For instance, theft, murder, rape, and torture are performed by people who can choose alternative courses of actions. Tornadoes and tsunamis, on the other hand, are events outside the control of human beings. In theology, moral evil can be explained as human beings’ defiance of God’s directives. Natural evil, conversely, encompasses harmful events such as poverty, diseases, epidemics, and natural disasters.
In the biblical context, Paul asserts that the creation yearns for completion of divine redemption (New International Version, Rom. 8:19-22). Moral evil, which is ultimately the cause of natural evil, can be traced to the beginning of creation when Adam and Eve defied God’s explicit directive not to eat fruits from the tree at the center of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:16-17). Their contravention of God’s command had significant consequences for the whole human race and the entire creation (Elwell 436). Human beings inherited the consequences of Adam’s disobedience because Adam was the father of the entire human race (Rom. 5:15-19). Though Adam and Eve had the free will to choose their actions, they chose to disobey God’s directive (Gen. 3:6).
Various theologians approach the problem of evil using theodicies. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, for instance, argues that human beings are naturally flawed in the way they are created and that free will is controlled by natural phenomena (Elwell 1185). The main weakness of this theodicy is that it lacks a sound biblical foundation. In Leibniz’s view, God is obligated to create a perfect universe out of many possibilities. Though Leibniz’s theodicy seems to be internally consistent, it necessitates the existence of a perfect universe, which ceased to exist after the fall of man.
A theodicy by John Hicks seems to disagree with Leibniz’s notion of a perfect creation. Instead, Hicks argues that God created man as a creature in need of moral improvement towards ultimate perfection. Hicks’ soul-making theodicy asserts that God permits some evil as it develops a positive personality in the victims or in others who have witnessed the evil. This developmental characteristic of evil supposedly outweighs the negative implications of the evil deed. This theodicy, though internally consistent, fails to explain the most gratuitous evil that turns some people away from God. Hicks’ theodicy resembles the Irenaean theodicy, which asserts that evil (sin) is required for spiritual growth, and humans must suffer as free moral agents towards perfection.
The free will defense, originally proposed by Augustine of Hippo, is a theodicy that asserts that God permits some evil to allow human beings to exercise free will. If God had created inherently good human beings, then men would not be able to choose their actions. Other proponents of the free will defense include Alvin Plantinga and Robert Adams. While evil might be the product of free will, it is not clear how the evil that results from free choices can be used for good.
When creating a theodicy, it is essential to observe internal consistency (Elwell 1187). The person developing the theodicy must ensure that he does not contradict the concept of an omnipotent, omnipresent, and benevolent God. Though it is not inconsistent for evil and God to coexist, it is inconsistent for a God who permits free will to control the choices of the ‘free’ agents to prevent evil. If a theodicy indicated that God allowed free will, then it would be inconsistent for the same theodicy to imply that God can control or influence human actions to prevent certain evil.
In my view, God is metaphysically necessary as the creator of the universe. Though evil exists, its existence is not inconsistent with God’s properties of omnipresence, omnipotence, and benevolence because human beings are created as free moral agents. Since the existence of human beings is contingent on the existence of the creator, humans are less perfect than God and often make the wrong choices.
Personal experiences of evil can either bolster or impede an individual’s relationship with God. For instance, loss of loved ones and recurrent misfortunes may cause a person to question God’s existence. Evil can also cause a person to seek a spiritual solution. In this case, the existence of evil draws a person closer to God.
Theodicies essentially question the existence and character of God. I do not believe that it is possible to question God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, or benevolence without attacking God Himself. Any theodicy explaining the existence of God and evil must, therefore, be grounded in the Bible.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. 2001. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. Print.
Towns, Elmer L. Theology for Today, Mason: Cengage Learning, 2002. Print.