The Problem of Evil and Mystery of Will


depositphotos Image ID: 135430388 Copyright: KrisCole

I am reading a book by Clay Jones called Why Does God Allow Evil? I highly recommend it. The “problem of evil” is one of the more challenging questions that we face in life, and difficulties struggling with that question have led many people to abandon or refuse to embrace faith in God.

Why does God allow pain and suffering? If God is good, how can He allow people to suffer? Why doesn’t God stop evil? If God exists, why does He allow evil to exist? These are just some of the variations of the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is a challenge for every worldview. Responses include “that’s just the way it is” (a naturalistic world view); evil is just an illusion emanating from unenlightened souls (a Buddhist or eastern view); and evil is result of bad karma (Hindu) or sin (Christian). We all struggle with the conviction that things simply aren’t the way they ought to be. That Utopian disconnect urges us to ask, “Why not?”

I think, personally, that the Christian worldview makes the most sense of this question. It begins with the story of God and Adam and Eve. Whether the story is allegorical or historical, the answer involves the God’s purpose in creating man, man’s finite, corruptible character (compared to God’s infinite pure character) and a plan to develop this corruptible creature (man) who is created in God’s own image into a pure, loving relationship with God that is defined by God’s pure character, and not the corruptible nature of man.

The story goes like this: man (Adam and Eve) were given license to do whatever they wanted, except for one thing. Presumably, all the rest of God’s creation operated according to God’s design, but this one creature, made in God’s own image, was given a choice to defy God’s design (this is what is meant by a corruptible nature). And defy it they did.

They doubted God’s good intention toward them. They believed the lie that God forbid from them from partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it would make them like God. They chose to trust themselves, instead of God, and they exercised their choice to defy God. (We do exactly that today.)

We should note that, though God forbade them to eat of the one fruit, God didn’t block them or prevent them from eating it.

Because they exerted their own wills over God’s will and chose to go their own way, their relationship with God changed. They were ashamed. They realized their nakedness.[1]

In response to man’s decision to go his own way in defiance, God cursed Satan who tempted Adam and Eve; and God cursed His creation. Note that He didn’t curse Adam and Eve, but thereafter they were subject to pain, suffering, difficulty and death.[2] (I am paraphrasing slightly) The creation was no longer an idyllic place for them to live, and all people after them were subjected to living in a cursed and imperfect world.

Whether the story is fact or allegory, this is the Christian explanation for why the world is full of pain and suffering. But, does this make sense. Does it seem fair? Why do we suffer for Adam’s sin? Anyone considering the Christian response to the problem of evil must contend with these questions.

Clay Jones highlights that God’s creation was good when He finished with it.[3] The world was not flawed or evil in the beginning. Into that world, he placed Adam and Eve, men and women. They had intimate relationship with each other and with God and dominion over all that God had created. This was God’s design.

The only fly in the ointment was a choice God gave Adam and Eve. This choice gave rise to the possibility of evil. Clay Jones is careful to point out that God didn’t create evil. God’s creation was good. When Adam and Eve sinned, however, evil entered the world in the form of knowledge that Adam and Eve obtained. The one bad choice opened up the possibly of many other bad choices. Thereafter, God cursed the creation so that those choices would be exercised in a world filled with difficulty, pain, suffering and, ultimately, death.

According to the Christian worldview, evil was born in the first choice to defy God, and knowledge of the difference between good and evil opened up the possibility of almost an unlimited number of evil choices. God’s reaction to this choice in cursing the world is the beginning of “natural evil” – things like mosquitoes, hurricane’s, earthquakes, viruses and disease.

Jump ahead, now, to Romans 8:

‘[T]he creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”[4]

Though God didn’t create the world with evil in it, He created a world in which the possibility of evil existed. In one sense, we can blame evil on the first man who chose to exalt his own will over God’s will, but, in another sense, we can blame evil on God. He allowed the choice. He placed the poison in the garden that could lead to the corruption of man, and He didn’t block or prevent man from drinking of that poison. Then God cursed the world and subjected it to futility.

But why? Why did God create a scenario in which man had a choice to begin with? Why didn’t God prevent man from exercising a choice that would lead to his own corruption? Why did God place the temptation there and then curse His own creation when man gave in to the temptation to go his own way?

If God is timeless, if God existed before time and exists outside of time, God surely knew what would happen in the scenario that God created! If God is God, He surely had a plan, and that choice that Adam and Eve made was surely part of the plan.

We will dig deeper and try to shed some light on the mystery – why God gave us choice and then cursed the world when the choice was exercised – in the second half of this piece: Locked Out of the Garden. The mystery of free will and God’s sovereign plan for this creature (man) made in God’s own image are intimately woven into and keys for unraveling the problem of evil.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] See Genesis 3:1-13

[2] See Genesis 3:14-19

[3] Genesis 1:31 (“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”)

[4] Romans 8:20-22

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