Apologetics: The Problem of Evil

In this morning’s Sunday School class, I tackled one of the most troublesome questions in religion and philosophy: why is there evil in the world?

To hear my answer, click the links below. To save either file for later listening, right-click the link and select Save Link As… or Save Target As….

Apologetics: The Problem of Evil (.mp3 | .m4a)

Feel free to argue with me in the comments or send me an e-mail!

Below is the lesson as written.


Today, we’ll talk about what may be the biggest philosophical question people struggle with day-to-day: the problem of evil. Whereas some people will look into the historicity of the Bible, and some will dig into deep theological issues, everyone wrestles with this issue. Everyone has had something bad happen to them, and frankly, everyone has done something bad to someone else. We feel the impact of evil every day. It affects our lives. And it’s often one of the issues that keeps people distant from God.

We’re going to talk about the philosophy of evil this morning. But before we do, we have to recognize that this is a very emotional issue for some people. Some people have been hurt very badly – either by other people, or just by circumstances, or even their own choices – and they’re angry with God because of it. It may sound like they have a philosophical issue, but the heart of it is simply their own pain.

Thus, be sensitive when this issue comes up. If you’re discussing it on an intellectual level, fine. But before you jump into a logical debate, gauge if the person you’re talking to it just hurting. If they are, show them love. Some of the answers we’ll discuss, though correct, seem cold to someone who needs comfort instead of correction.

One more caution. This is one issue where we need to be ready to say “I don’t know.” We’ll talk about the origins and explanations of evil in general this morning; we can’t always know why a specific evil takes place. Sometimes, we can’t even tell when a painful event is the result of evil or if it’s God’s correction. It’s tempting to try to explain our pain: tread lightly. As a general rule, don’t speculate. Listen to the Spirit carefully and let Him guide your words.

Now that the caveats are done, let’s look at one of the most common arguments against God: there’s too much evil in the world. How could God be all-powerful, all-knowing, and good, and still allow evil to happen?

That’s often how the objection is phrased. Sometimes, it’s meant as a question – that is, “why does evil exist?” It’s a great question. We’ll talk about the Christian answer in a bit.

Sometimes, however, it’s meant as a logical argument against God. You could lay it out like this: God is supposedly all-powerful and good. If God is all-powerful and good, there should not be evil in the world. There is evil in the world. Therefore, God does not exist.

Anyone see the problem with this argument?

Here’s one. This argument assumes that “good” and “evil” are meaningful terms. That is, the argument assumes that there’s some sort of universal moral code. If morality is relative, it is reduced to preference: good and evil don’t really mean anything.

If there is a universal moral code, where does it come from? In order for it to be universal, it has to come from a source outside of us – what Ravi Zacharias calls a transcendent lawgiver.

Therefore, if there are such things as good and evil, that suggests that God exists. The logic of the argument breaks down.

Let’s flip it around. Let’s say that God doesn’t exist. If so, there is no universal moral law. Good and evil have no real meaning. Yet, the argument recognizes that good and evil do have meaning. It’s inconsistent.

There’s another issue with this argument: it breaks down if you believe that people have free will. Let’s look at the second premise again. What is it actually saying?

It’s saying that, if God is all-powerful and good, He would never let us choose evil. Now, if we can’t choose evil, do we really have free will? No.

The second premise makes sense if God is making all the decisions. If, however, we can make choices for ourselves, and we are responsible for those choices, the second premise is not true.

This leads us straight to the Christian explanation for the origin of evil. It goes like this.

God is all-powerful and good. He created angels and humans, both of which have free will. That is, we have the ability to disobey Him. We did. Our disobedience dramatically affected the world, and does to this day.

Here we have an explanation for the brokenness of the world and the pain we wrestle with. It explains why we struggle to do what’s right. It answers the question, “why is there evil in the world?”

Also, the Christian worldview doesn’t have the same problem other belief systems have defining evil. Materialism, for example, has no basis for a moral code. We, however, have a consistent measure: the very nature of God.

Let’s look at 1 John 4, which reveals a profound truth about the nature of the universe. John tells us that God is love. This is the basis of morality. Not to put too fine a point on it, but… Jesus says so in Mark 12. Love is the basis of all His commands to us. I would argue that the difference between good and evil is love.

This passage in 1 John also resolves an essential part of the problem of evil: the need for justice. There is evil in the world – what does God intend to do about it? His answer is the Cross.

Because if we’re honest, we’ll see that we’re part of the problem of evil. We don’t do everything we’re supposed to. We sometimes make the world a worse place to live. We want justice for those who wrong us, but we want mercy for our own flaws.

God offers mercy to anyone that accepts Him. Between the Cross and God’s final judgment, the problem of evil is fully resolved.

Let’s recap. Why is there evil in the world? Because we disobeyed God. We’re responsible for that choice because we have free will. But God offers forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus. And in the end, He will judge the world, and remove evil from it.

Problem solved.


About Brian Armitage

Struggling to live like Jesus, celebrating mild successes.

Posted on May 15, 2011, in Christianity, God, Holiness, The Bible and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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