The Problem of Evil >>back home

The doctrine of God as Creator sooner or later encounters the demand of theodicy: how can God's goodness be vindicated in a world of sin and suffering? This is not the place to attempt such a vindication; in any adequate sense only God Himself can do that. But a few remarks may be appropriate,

Secularism does not escape the problem. It only changes its thrust and makes it less easy to define. In place of a God who allows Himself to be challenged and questioned1, secularism offers us only a shapeless, nameless, impersonal silence with which we must wrestle in the dark, uncomprehending and without hope. Scripture in no sense evades the problem (see the book of Job), but neither does it offer us here a final answer. However, it makes it intellectually bearable for the present, and experientially even something to be rejoiced in 2. The 'bearable' aspect we must briefly consider.

The interpretation that has been given of the primal creation means that the predatory habit, pain, fear and death were features of the animal world before the coming of man. They cannot be explained therefore as the consequences of man's sin; they were a transitory stage in the full implementation of the plan of creation, as in a similar way, darkness and formlessness had been a transitory stage in the progress to light and life. The plan, the Bible indicates, envisages something inexpressibly glorious 3 as a consummation which will fully justify the suffering and evil 4. But, we may still ask, how will this final outcome justify things? Before I attempt a reply I must confess that (unlike those with whom I have crossed swords ), I accept that thè human mind has great limitations, and that my best efforts will be miserably inadequate. Still, I am bound to try.

For answer we may turn to the great prophecy of Isaiah 11.1‑9. In the palingenesia 5, when God makes all things new, it will be the universal knowledgeof God which secures 'fullness of joy' and 'pleasures for evermore ' 6 for all God's creatures. But the Bible elsewhere seems to imply that the sort of knowledge this means – we might call it a vivid personal understanding of the Divine love 7 – ­is impossible apart from the actual experience of suffering8, and that this conclusion is true in an absolute sense and not merely because of the accident of a fallen world. For how could God commend His love to us if we had not been sinners? How could Jesus Christ have manifested the 'greater love' 9 ifwe had not been in mortal need? The father in his parable 10 was able to show his loveto the younger son who had been lost because he had been lost; what avenues were open for him to do so to the correct elder son in the samedegree? None, so far as we can see. This lineof thought, stemming from the suggestion that the primal creation contained elements of pain, may provide a clue as to why the Creator has allowed evil at all in His world. If knowing the divine love is the ultimate blessedness for the creature, and if the divine love can be known fully only through the experience of sin, suffering and forgiveness11 (as the prodigal son came to know it), then we have here a theodicy which not only goes some way to explaining the mystery of evil, but which also justifies the appellation 'good' to a creation 'subjected to futility'. And this is very much to our present point.

This opens up an interesting consideration. The suggestion is often made that God in omnipotence created man with the power to disobey, because only so could man yield the obedience of that love which the New Testament calls agapē, the love which chooses its object as esteemed and precious. Man chose to disobey, the Bible tells us, esteeming 'having his own way' more precious than friendship with his Maker. God redeemed man at great cost to Himself,12 the Bible goes on to say, and will bring him ultimately to glory. 13 This raises another question for our consideration: what will prevent it happening all over again? Man in glory will presumably still possess power to disobey, else how could he then exercise agapē? What will defend him from doing again what man in Eden did? After all, some of the angels fell! The only answer the Bible seems to suggest is that it will be the remembrance of the redeeming 'love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord' that forever fixes his will in the right direction. 14 But this answer has very far‑reaching implications.

It seems to mean that the settled loyalty throughout eternity of the human citizens of God's heavenly kingdom is necessarily dependent on prior sin and suffering. The rational creatures who comprise it will have power to disobey, as Adam did, but will never do so because, unlike Adam, they see in the midst of all 'a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain',15 the ever‑present reminder of 'the breadth and length and height and depth' of the love of the Creator for the souls He has made, a love holy and righteous too.16

The Bible, to conclude, does not give us an overall picture of an ideally‑perfect creation that unfortunately went wrong and had to be redeemed as an originally‑unintended consequence. Suffering and redemption, infinitely costly, were part of the plan from the very beginning for both Creator and creature.17Only so could everlasting blessedness be secured, because only so could the divine love be made fully known. For our present study it is worth repeating that the important point is that this theodicy goes far towards justifying the verdict, 'God saw . . . that it was very good', for a primal creation that contained predation, pain and death. These words are a great affirmation of the worthwhileness of it all, whatever the appearance (cf. Rom.11.29-36).

The "open mind"

Before I conclude I would like to refer to an interview 18with the very gifted brain scientist, Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE, Director of the Royal Institution since 1998 and Professor of Physiology in the Pharmacology Department at Oxford University.

 She confessed she does not believe in God, but maintained an "open mind" about things. "I've sat through many science‑religion ding‑dongs" she says, "and they strike me as a complete waste of time. No one is going to change their views". [What about C. S. Lewis?]. "The religious person can't articulate why they believe what they do: they just do". She then went on to make a revealing statement.

"The only argument I find halfway persuasive is: Look at the evils religion has brought . . Look at Northern Ireland . . But religion is not the only thing that creates social division". Let me reply briefly to this.

She allows that other things besidesreligion bring evils; atheism (e.g. Stalinism) has been of the first rank. But there are two points she doesn't mention: one is the greater blessings religion has also brought (e.g. it has pioneered hospitals, founded orphanages. and worked for the abolition of the slave trade); and the other is that it has also spawned hypocrisy. In both of these respects 'religion' easily outclasses atheism. But both flaw her case. That the first does so most would agree; but that the second does so too is easily overlooked. For hypocrisy is false pretence about being something which is praiseworthy. That atheism doesn't similarly spawn hypocrites is therefore hardly to its credit. As an 'old journalist' once wrote. "Men don't forge bus tickets: they forge treasury notes". Anything good attracts imitations; and especially when the good thing is a costly way of life, they are likely to be mereimitations. That is why it is so important to go back to the beginning for the genuine article. I wish I could persuade those like Prof Greenfield, puzzled but of open mind, to examine honestly the wonder of Jesus of Nazareth, the evidence for His Resurrection, and the 'why' behind the willingness of Paul, Peter and many others in following Him to suffer the loss of all without retaliation. She might find it was worth all the effort, as I did.


1   As Job, Jeremiah and Habakkuk did and were answered with hope and encouragement; see Job 38.1f; Jer. 12.1,14f; Hab. 1.2f; 2.2.

2   Hab.3.17‑19; Rom.5.3‑8; 2Cor.12.9,10; Heb.12.11

3   Rom. 8:20,21.

4   Rom. 8.18; 1 Cor. 15.54.

5   The 'new world', Matt. 19.28.

6   Ps. 16.11.

7   See Eph. 3.17‑19; Rev. 21.3,4.

8   John 10.17,18; 12.26; 15.9‑11; 16.20‑22.

9   Rom. 5.8; John 15.13.

10Luke 15.11 f.

11        Is this the significance of Paul's amazing and profound statement in Rom. 11.32 ?

12        John 3.16; Rom. 8.32.

13        Rom. 8.30; Heb. 2.10.

14        Rom. 8.35–39; cf. also Rev. 1.5,6.

15        John 1.29; Rev.5.6; 22.1. The 'Lamb . . slain' is a way of speaking

      of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead.

16 Eph.3.18; John 17.11,25

17 Matt.25.34; 1Cor.2.2,7,8;. Eph.1.4‑10

18 Greenfield, Susan Brain Teaser, THIRD WAY 23, Oct.2000,pp.18‑21