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In the posts so far (intro post part 1), I presented some foundational or underlying thoughts. But we need to consider some of the tough questions. If God is both good and powerful, why does he let suffering continue to run rampant? Why hasn’t he intervened yet? Couldn’t God have made a world where sin was not possible to begin with? Maybe God is good but not powerful? Or is God powerful but not good? Questions abound! Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher stated:

Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to; or he cannot and does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, and does not want to he is wicked. But, if God both can and wants to abolish evil, then how come evil is in the world? [1]

Modern scholar Bart Ehrman’s inability to reconcile the Christian faith with suffering led him to reject Christianity. He discusses this in detail in his book God’s Problem, How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why we Suffer. He sees the options given in the Bible as contradictory and unconvincing.

Another modern treatment of this issue can be found in the best-selling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner. His conclusion is that although God is good, he is not omnipotent. Bad things happen because God is limited in his ability to intervene in human affairs. If one does not want to abandon faith, Rabbi Harold Kushner’s approach might be seen as a possibility. However, to deny God’s omnipotence (or his goodness) is to deny the Christian God and does not line up with orthodox Christian belief.

Well then, what about evil and suffering? Can one believe in a good and powerful God despite the existence of evil and suffering?

The classic explanation used by Christians in answer to this dilemma is the free will defense. Simply put, God gave humans free will when he created them. God desired a meaningful relationship with his creatures which required a degree of freedom for them. God did not want robotically programmed creatures who would automatically love him, as that would not even be love. Love can’t be dictated, mandated, or forced. It must come from the heart and involve a meaningful choice.  In his classic apologetic work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said,

Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. [2]

God could not create a genuinely free creature, and then also guarantee that the creature would always do what is right. Therefore, God created a world where evil was a possibility. (Note, however, that this does not infer that God is the author of evil.)

In light of the free will explanation, the existence of an omnipotent and good God is not inconsistent with the existence of evil and suffering.

Although we ultimately don’t know “the answer” for why there is evil in this world, the free will defense is a possible explanation that is logical, reasonable, and rational.  Modern scholar and philosopher Alvin Plantinga has done extensive work with the free will defense. Although Wikipedia is not always reliable, I thought the Wikipedia article on “Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense” is well done and provides a good overview. Plantinga’s defense has received wide acceptance among contemporary philosophers.

Some may argue that this defense does not explain natural disasters. However, from a Christian perspective, since the earth was cursed as a result of the fall, natural disasters can also be viewed as a moral evil.

Next post I’ll delve a little more into man’s free will vs. God’s sovereignty.

[1] Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 25.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New Jersey: Fleming Revell, 1952), 88.