Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A possible solution to the problem of evil

An easy solution to the problem of evil is just to say that God is not very powerful. That is, God wants to help us with our pain and suffering, but for various reasons just can't.

This is not a very good 'solution' because it undermines our ability to trust God. If God isn't very powerful, then can God save us from our sin? Can this God really guarantee an eternal existence of goodness, contentedness, and peace forever?

But I believe you can rework this 'easy solution' into something that does not undermine our ability to trust God.

What if you limited God's power in a key way? What if you, with surgical precision, cut out aspects of God's power that do not undermine our ability to trust God and yet answer the problem of evil?

How about this: as long as there is sin in the world, there must be evil and suffering. As long as there is sin in the world, God can't get rid of evil and suffering. BUT God can easily and quickly get rid of our sin if we let Him. So God can easily and quickly get rid of all evil and suffering in the world forever if we let Him take away our sin.

If you said this, then you could explain why there is evil and suffering in the world even though God could take it all away in a moment.

You could say for those who aren't Christians, God could take their suffering away in a moment if they let God take away their sin, through Christ.

For those who are Christians, God could take away our suffering in a moment, but then our ability to influence non-Christians to follow Jesus would be 'shut down' as a result, for some reason. Maybe people need to leave this world to enter eternal life? So we could not (effectively?) encourage others to let God take away their sin if God took our suffering away, because the end of our suffering would mean the loss of our ability to evangelise.

Therefore, God can take away humanity's suffering in a moment, but will not do so either because people have not freely let God take away their sin or, alternatively, God has taken away someone's sin, but they need to continue to suffer in order to be able to influence non-Christians to accept Christ (so God can take away their sin).

There's a parable that sort of connects to this issue from Matt 24:24-30:

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

In one interpretation of this parable, if God took away the suffering of Christians as soon as they accepted Christ, then, yes, our suffering could go away in a moment, but then we wouldn't be able to influence a whole lot of people to accept Christ as well. As a result some wheat would be 'pulled up' because making eternal life happen so quickly would prevent lots of people from hearing and accepting the gospel.

There are several issues that arise if this idea is pursued.

One big assumption is that evangelism to non-Christians gets shut down if God takes away the suffering of Christians. So you can't get incredibly happy and contented Christians, who are already experiencing eternal life, hanging out normally with non-Christians for some reason. I'm not exactly sure why this is the case. Maybe eternal life can't be experienced in the world in which we live.

Another assumption is that God can't evangelise very well if there are no Christians on earth.

Another is: why can't God take away suffering as long as there is evil in the world?

A preliminary answer to this is that although the idea of limits to God's power may make a lot of people uncomfortable, most Christians are on board with the idea that God cannot make 2 + 2 = 5, or make it so that you have never existed and have always existed. So perhaps the idea of a world with sin that doesn't have a lot of suffering in it implies a logical paradox, for reasons we don't know.

I think that reality may have unknown aspects that guarantee evil and suffering while there is sin in the world, which operate in mysterious ways. I can't explain any more of this though - why humanity's sin should generate a hurricane, virus, or earthquake somewhere is inexplicable.

Fourthly, why does God taking away our sin involve free will? But this is not extremely controversial because respecting free will usually makes God sound more loving.

A fifth issue is: how does this relate to God's word?

Not having an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible I can't speak about the general Biblical picture on this point with confidence, but here are some relevant Bible verses:

Romans 5:12-14: "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned - for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come."

Romans 8:20-23: "Against its will, all creation was subjected to God's curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us." (NLT)

Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Matthew 23:37: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God's messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me."

One thing that would be good to get from this idea is that there's a solution to the problem of evil that could make sense given the truth of some assumptions which are not too outlandish.

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Blogger Laughing Ninja said...

I like your post. I think a more solid solution, though, which better fits Christian scripture, is the Defense from Free Will, by Plantinga. It is impossible for God to make a world of free agents who cannot choose evil.

More info:



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