The Impact of Theology
(The rest of this article is a bit of an aside over the internal debate between Calvinism and Arminianism within Christianity, but is pertinent to the problem of evil discussion.)
A bit more should probably be said about the debate within Christianity between the Calvinist and Arminian views (while noting that either thwart the atheist’s challenge). Theology matters! This can be seen in trying to work out this problem. The Bible says that God ordains, but doesn’t author evil. While I think this is best left in some mystery, it is interesting to see how theologians have tried to work it out.
The free-will defense, on the face of it, looks pretty compelling; however it is not without some problems. First, it is unclear how humans could have true freedom without implications on God’s sovereignty. God could corral human actions through external means, but then are humans really free? Second, in the new creation, evil will be abolished. If evil were possible due to freedom in this life, will freedom be taken away in the next? If not, wouldn’t another fall be possible? Ultimately, the Arminian position places more emphasis on the human perspective. God is bringing about a solution that is best for his creatures (the most saved, best lessons learned, etc.)
On the other hand, the Reformed or Calvinist perspective places more, if not all, the weight on God’s sovereignty. God’s purpose in making the world the way it is and for allowing evil is to display His attributes of justice and righteousness, as well as mercy and grace. We see God’s justice in dealing with sinful rebellion and the effects of that rebellion, but we also see His mercy in saving sinners from their due reward. The problem here is that God seems to plan for the evil before it is even initiated (though it is carried out by creatures willing to do so). There is something unsettling about God deriving glory from evil and suffering. However, the Bible clearly claims this kind of sovereignty for God. The problem seems to be that the Bible also shows creatures as making choices and calls on them to change their ways. It seems some kind of tension between the two needs to be held.
I can think of two solutions to the problem of there being no evil in heaven mentioned above. First, that there isn’t free-will in the sense an Arminian thinks of, as it would be odd to have this kind of freedom now, and then have it taken away. The exception to this would be that the sanctifying process removes any want or will of anything evil or sinful (yet the will is free). For example, there are things you probably find so horrendous (torturing a baby) that you’d never even entertain the thought willingly, let alone act on it. Maybe God will refine us to such an extent that we look at all sin (including the things we currently love to do) as incredibly distasteful.(6) The problem with this is that it doesn’t seem to give a guarantee. Either way, we are well into speculation here about how God is going to accomplish something beyond our current comprehension. (And, I’m certainly no expert on Calvinism or Arminianism either.)
In summary, Christians have a good response to the problem of evil. Evil fits within the Christian worldview without any serious problems, as much as evil is not a comfortable topic. Evil doesn’t really fit within the atheistic worldview in any meaningful way. The formal challenge is easily broken; it is the emotional reaction to which we need to respond by walking alongside the suffering.
A couple of books I have read and recommend:
Can God Be Trusted?: Faith and the Challenge of Evil by John G. Stackhouse Jr.
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
6. H/T: Dr. John Stackhouse
This article was first published at TilledSoil.org. Copyright © 2013 TilledSoil.org. All rights reserved.
(Note: This article was originally posted on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, but the subject matter is always relevant. The article has been modified from the original, and broken into three parts due to length.)