The Problem of Evil

Millard Erickson’s presentation of the problem of evil and proposed solutions are the stuff my seminary dreams are made of!  The problem of evil is so obvious in the world.  Yet as a nearly-lifelong Christian, I have not really thought about it in years.  How my unsaved friends must think of this “tension” when they consider the possibility of a loving God who wants to know them.  (Erickson, p437)  If there is an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God who looks over the world and wants only to give every human a path to Heaven, why does he allow evil?  Is not the presence of evil clear evidence that the God story we try to tell them all just does not add up?  That is a logical conclusion any intelligent person could make.

Erickson presents three common solutions people may have to the question of why evil exists.  Each of three is based on a central element of the character of God.  The first solution focuses on the greatness of God. (Erickson, p440)  If perhaps God isn’t really so great perhaps that is why evil exists.  The Rejection of Omnipotence proposes that perhaps God isn’t really all-powerful after all.  Perhaps there are two all-powerful influences in the world after all, good and evil. God is on the side of good of course and the side of evil is supported by some supernatural force of the universe or by the Devil if you are so inclined to believe.  This is pretty logical.  Known as Dualism, the idea of opposing forces of good and evil in the universe every day, equally powerful, is easy to accept. Perhaps God isn’t all powerful at all.  Perhaps, as proposed by Brightman, he also is not infinite, but finite, limited in his power and scope.  (Erickson, p440)

The Rejection of Omnipotence is really a total rejection of the Bible.  Scripture is united and consistent in its presentation of a powerful God who always has his way and of course wins in the end.  The arguments for solution to evil are circular in nature at times; contradicting themselves, implying in some ways that man is on the side of evil against God.  (Erickson, p442)  This solution’s complete opposition to scripture plus its positioning of God as on the side of evil makes it easy for many to reject once understood.

A second solution to evil is centered on a second element of God, his goodness.  Clark, a well-known follower of John Calvin advanced this position.  (Erickson, p442)  Perhaps God is not really good after all. Perhaps he allows, even causes evil to occur.  In this perspective, God causes everything, good and evil. The response to this solution is to understand the definition of the idea of goodness.  To accept this solution the reader must accept that evil is good, that evil things are caused by the “good” acts of God, in fact to accept that God sins.  It just is not considered sin because it came from God.  God chooses what is good or what evil using arbitrary standards only he understands.  This total rejection of morality is also easy to reject when understood.

A final common solution to evil in the world presented by Erickson is just to deny it exists. Perhaps evil does not really exist.  This world as we know it is just an illusion.  The element of God’s character that seeks a relationship with us during our early life is just illusion.  (Erickson, p445)  This is a view embraced by Christian Scientists.  There are many issues with this solution.  The reality of everyday life is the most obvious.  We do live and die.  Bad things do happen.  Evil is an obvious reality.

It may really be, as Erickson proposes that the understanding of evil is just beyond human understanding.  (Erickson, p448)  Some things we just do not and cannot completely understand.   For this student that concept is not so hard to accept.  Approaches or themes for dealing with the problem of evil are detailed by Erickson in this week’s reading.  To just deny the existence of evil, the essential conclusion of the three most common solutions to the problem of evil presented, seems no solution at all.

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