The Problem of Evil - An Excerpt from Core Christianity
"Either God is great or God is good, but he can’t be both."
One of the biggest stumbling blocks in Christianity is the question about evil: How can a powerful and loving God allow pain and suffering?
This excerpt from Core Christianity lays out the problem of evil in light of the story of God's sovereignty, goodness and love. Author Michael Horton brings the drama of good and evil into tension with the end in mind...
IF GOD IS GREAT AND GOOD, HOW CAN THERE BE SO MUCH EVIL IN THE WORLD?
There are a lot of mysteries surrounding the attributes of God. The Bible teaches us both that God is all-powerful and that we have real freedom and responsibility. But how? We know from the Bible that God is just and yet also merciful. But how can both be true given our sin? Jesus is the answer to the mystery. Yet it still remains mysterious in the sense that we cannot understand exactly how it all works behind the scenes. What God has revealed is nevertheless enough for us to trust his character.
The real test comes when we read the newspaper or experience tragedies. How can we affirm God’s goodness amidst the horrific evils in the world, both natural and moral? Either God is great or God is good, but he can’t be both. This is the great problem that Christians have to face.
What is evil? The answer varies, depending on one’s view of God and his relation to the world. Again, the doctrines arise out of the drama: the different stories that tell us where we came from, who we are, and where we’re going. In a pantheistic worldview where the world is seen as divine, evil is an illusion. In most polytheistic religions there are good and evil spirits—gods and demons—struggling for control. According to biblical religion, however, evil is a corruption of the good. There is only one sovereign God—the triune God who created and sustains the world by the word of his power. He is good and is capable of creating only that which is good. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), and he pronounced his creation “very good” in Genesis 1:31.
Yet God also gives to creatures intelligence and freedom to worship him or to rebel. Even Satan was once a glorious angelic servant. In a prophecy against the king of Tyre, we see one more example of how creatures turn God’s good gifts into weapons: Ezek 28:15–17
Humans, created in God’s image, wanted to be gods themselves, so they rebelled. Ever since this rebellion, the world has been a place where God’s good gifts are turned into weapons against him and each other. Even natural evils—like hurricanes and earthquakes—are evidence of the whole creation’s subjection to the curse of sin and death (Rom 8:20–22). If God were not good and great, moral and natural disasters would engulf us. We can only talk about evil because we really do experience the good. And this is only possible because God keeps evil in check. There are not two principles of good and evil, both with equal power; there is just one good creator. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).
In pantheistic and polytheistic worldviews—not just ancient but also modern forms of paganism—evil is eternal. It’s just the way things are and have always been. After all, nature is “red in tooth and claw.” However, according to Scripture evil is not a timeless principle. It is the result of certain actions that can only be related by telling a story. Creation is good. Its corruption is the result of personal rebellion against God’s good and great purposes. Yet he will overcome this evil because as a good God he wills to do so, and because as a great God he can accomplish it. He has already secured this victory objectively through Christ’s death and resurrection.
In fact, everything that Jesus was doing in his earthly ministry was part of his triumph over Satan. He fended off Satan’s temptation in the wilderness (Matt 4:1–11), cast out demons (Mark 1:21-28), and announced that he saw Satan fall like lightening from the heavenly courtroom (Luke 10:18). However powerful in his destructive capabilities, Satan is only a creature. He is not a deity. Nor is he an eternal principle. He is simply a glorious creature who corrupts God’s gifts and then uses them as weapons against his Lord. And he will be finally and forever banished.
We are assured at the end of the story that evil will have no place in the new creation: “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns’ ” (Rev 19:6).
So when I say that the Bible tackles the problem of evil by telling a story rather than by explaining an eternal principle, this is what I have in mind. Only at the end will we know the full scale of God’s triumph over evil. And even then we will never know God’s secrets beyond what he chooses to reveal to us. (Pgs 61-64)
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