The Problem of Evil

What's Your Filter

Date: November 9, 2014
Study: What’s Your Filter? Christian Apologetics and Worldview
Teacher: Casey Haase

Study Thesis: A Christian worldview enables us to look at all of live through scriptural lenses, which in turn equips us to defend the faith, evangelize wisely, critique unbiblical thought that pervades our culture, and bring God glory in all of life.

Christian Apologetics: the discipline of offering a defense of and case for, or offer evidence for, the veracity and reliability of the Christian faith.


I. Introduction

If you could ask God one question, what would it be? According to a poll of American adults, most people would ask: Why is there pain and suffering in the world?[1]  Augustine of Hippo asked the question a similar way: “If there is a God, why is there so much evil?”

In his book reflecting on the problem of evil, C.S. Lewis summarized it this way: “’If God were good, he would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God either lacks goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain in its simplest form.”(The Problem of Pain)

Today, we will discuss what we philosophically call “The Problem of Evil.”

II. What is “The Problem of Evil”? 

Practically, the problem before us today typically sounds like one of these others questions:

  • If there really is a good god, why is there so much evil in the world?
  • Why a Hitler and the Holocaust? Stalin and Mao?
  • Why is there:
  • War
  • Disease
  • Poverty
  • Hunger
  • Suffering
  • Violence
  • Rape
  • Assault
  • Child Abuse
  • I can’t possibly believe in a god who would allow __X__ to happen.
  • If God can really do anything, why doesn’t he get rid of evil?
  • It’s not fair that people suffer unjustly

The famous utilitarian philosopher, John Stuart Mill, summarizes these questions in a philosophic argument:

“If God desires there to be evil in the world, then he is not good.  If He does not desire there to be evil, yet evil exists, then He is not omnipotent.  Thus, if evil exists God is either not loving or not all-powerful.  Evil casts a shadow over God’s love and power.  This is no small dilemma, and answers to it are exceedingly difficult.”

What is at stake as we consider this question – at least to unbelievers – is the idea that God cannot be all-powerful or that he cannot be all good.

What approach should we take to solving this problem?

  • Here are some common approaches:
    • Eastern Mysticism – Evil is an illusion (mind over matter), Evil is good in disguise
    • Dualism – God and Satan are opposing one another, equal in power and eternality
    • Evil is necessary to know Good
    • Postmodern – Evil is relative…just a social convention
    • Open Theism – God doesn’t know/determine all things…it’s open to man

Christian Views:

  • Some accept this problem the way it is stated and set out to defend God’s goodness and power in scripture
    • Some will say that despite evil in the world, God is omnipotent and all good, as though evil’s presence in the world is a mystery
    • The problem with this approach is that it does not recognize that the problem of evil is erroneously stated because it is based on faulty assumptions

We will take another approach that, I believe, will put us on a better footing

  • The Bible provides good answers to this question
    • We can answer skeptics and critics confidently
    • No need to defend God’s goodness or his omnipotence
    • The problem with the previous approach is how the question is framed, which we will see as we proceed
  • How do we find these answers in the Bible?
    • Proof texting will not help us…no single verse that is a silver bullet
    • We must have a robust biblical theology of suffering, pain, and death
      • Topic of evil & suffering pervades the pages of scripture because it is central to so much of human existence
  • Where should we begin in scripture to address the existence of evil or pain in human experience?
    • The Fall
      • In Genesis 2:16-17 we see that Adam’s and (by extension) our life was contingent upon perfect obedience. Death was the penalty threatened for disobedience,
      • What are three curses that God gives Adam and his posterity, for his disobedience? (Genesis 3:16-19)
        • The ground is cursed (work is difficult and futile)
        • In pain you shall eat (suffering becomes integral to life)
        • Till you return to the ground (death is certain)
  • The fall is the foundational event that explains everything and gives meaning to human suffering…everything else that the Bible says about evil/pain/suffering assumes the fallen nature of man and the justice of God in punishing sin
  • This is the error in the “problem of evil” as it is stated
    – it ignores man’s guilt for disobedience, and God’s justice in punishing evil
  • We can rightly say that ALL misery in this life is connected with this singular act of disobedience
  • CAUTION: We are not saying that someone is suffering for a particular sin or that their suffering was brought onto themselves
    • Luke 13:1-5
    • Repent or you too will likewise perish

What purpose does evil/pain/death serve?

  • Unbelievers
    • Warns them about the coming judgment on their sin
    • Shows them that something is wrong in the world and prepares them to understand their condition as fallen creatures
    • Punishes evildoers (Deuteronomy 9:5; 1 Kings 18; Jeremiah 5; 2 Peter 2:9-13)
    • Humble the pride of the self – willed
    • Calls them to repent
      • Haggai 2:17 says “I struck you…but you did not return to me” 
  • Believers
    • Dissatisfaction with this life…yearning for eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)
    • Reminder that this is not our home
    • Remind us to repent of our sin (Luke 13:1-5)
    • Discipline believers for sin (1 Corinthians 11:27-32; Haggai 1:5-11)
    • Conform us to the image of Christ …united with him in His sufferings (Philippians 3:10, Matthew 10:24)

CHRIST EXPERIENCED EVIL – The problem of pain is found in Jesus’ death on the cross

  • Where is God in a world of pain and evil? His answer is the Incarnation. The Word, Jesus, became Flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus knew fatigue, hunger, sorrow, and pain. His friends aged, grew sick, and died. He was betrayed by a friend. He entered into all out human agony and bore all the pain of our sin on his very self.
  • Peter Kreeft: “Many Christians try to get God off the hook for suffering. God put himself on the hook, so to speak, on the cross.”
  • (Kreeft) “It’s significant that most objections to the existence of God from the problem of suffering come from outside observers who are quite comfortable, whereas those who actually suffer are – as often as not – made into stronger believers by their suffering.” Why?  In large part because they follow One who was a Suffering Servant, who was despised, rejected, beaten, and killed.
  • So, friend, the answer to suffering is not an answer at all. It’s the Answerer, Jesus himself.
    • It’s not a bunch of words, it’s the Word made flesh.
    • It’s not a tightly woven philosophical argument alone, but a person. A Man of Sorrows.
  • The answer to suffering is not just an abstract notion, because the problem is not abstract; it is real and personal. And in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we find a real and personal answer. When we cry out, God, where are you? We need to look with eyes of faith to the cross.
  • John Stott: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross….in the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?……..There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering.”

GOD WILL END SUFFERING (Revelation 21:1-4)


  • Peter Kreeft: “People aren’t getting away with [evil.]  Justice delayed [in God’s economy] is not necessarily justice denied. There will come a day when God will settle accounts and people will be held responsible for the evil they’ve perpetrated and the suffering they’ve caused. Criticizing God for not doing it now is like reading a half a novel and criticizing the author for not resolving the plot.”
  • Romans 3:26
  • In the Scriptures, God promises us that in the future He will be totally vindicated and we will be fully delivered from all evil.
  • The wicked will no longer prosper and the righteous will no longer suffer.
  • We will see the certainty of God’s victory.  (Ps 73, Ps 37)
  • The proud will be brought low and the humble raised to greatness (Isa 40:1; Matt 25; Luke 1:51)

You see then that the Biblical answer to the problem of evil is to re-frame the question on Biblical grounds. The real question should be: “If God is just and holy, why are any allowed to live?” (Romans 11:33)


How can we help those who suffer?

  • First, by identifying with them in their sufferings
    • Knowing that we deserve the same and much more
  • Pointing them to the God who suffered for them
    • Jesus understands their suffering and can comfort them if they repent
  • For believers who suffer with illness or physical pain or impending death
    • We remind them of the resurrection of the dead and the new body

[1] The Case for Faith, Strobell, page 29, “Objection #1.”

Apologetics and Worldview, Lesson 9. Capitol Hill Core Seminars
The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl


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