Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

3. What is the source of evil? Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

One proposed answer is suggested during Job's debate with his friends. It might be called the classical theodicy premise: "Every person's suffering is indicative of the measure of his guilt in the eyes of God." This theodicy premise is kept alive in the Christian church by the Prosperity Gospel: "If you lack health, wealth and prosperity then you must have unconfessed sin in your life." This premise can be formalized as a conditional logic statement: "If a person is righteous and God is all-powerful, just and good then the person will not suffer" which is of the form "if (x and y) then not-z." Taking the contrapositive, "if z then (not-x or not-y)," yields "if a person suffers then the person is not righteous or God is not all-powerful, just and good." We all know persons whose godliness is genuine, whose moral character is upright and who, though not sinless, have kept themselves from great transgression, but who nonetheless suffer bitterly. Since the Christian God is all-powerful, just and good, it follows that such persons are not righteous. In other words, if you suffer then you truly deserve it! The problem with this logic is the theodicy premise itself; the premise is false and all conclusions drawn from it are false!

Another popular theodicy premise is that God decrees corruption, violence, disease, injury, disability, suffering and all kinds of evil for reasons known only to Himself. Perhaps He is self-glorified by the manifestation of evil or perhaps He is merely amused. Who could know the mind of such a God? Proponents of this theodicy premise reason that God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass. This includes the brutal suffering of all mankind! For example, a proponent of this explanation might comment on the tragic, senseless death of children killed in a careless accident by saying, "We must accept these tragedies as the will of God." But are you inclined to worship a God who is somehow self-glorified or amused by deliberately bestowing fear, hopelessness, decay, violence, disease, suffering and death on his creation? Does Scripture attribute unmitigated evil to the immutable will of a God so loving that He offers to purify each of us by imputing our iniquity to Himself? Could it be that the proponents of this theodicy premise are attributing Satan's evil to God as a slight twist on the assertion of their predecessors who attributed God's goodness to Satan (Mat 12:22-32)?

Additional proposed explanations for suffering include:

  • We live in a random universe where things simply happen. But can this explain intentional, sustained, sacrificial goodness?
  • Evil is simply the absence of goodness. But does this describe a terrorist who kills thousands of persons simply because they are Christians or Jews?
  • Evil is an illusion, an aberration for the puzzlement of limited intellects; what one might call evil, another might call good. Try telling this to someone who is dying of cancer or cystic fibrosis.
  • In Process Theology, evil is the inevitable result of the management deficiencies of a God who can barely keep up with His runaway creation. God can only influence the world but not control it. Order can never be exhaustive; conflict is inherent by the nature of creation. Things do not always go as God expects. But how is this explanation feasible given that the infinitude of the true Christian God permits Him to instantly track all possible histories and futures of you and me and the universe with no more difficulty than it is for us to count the wheels on a bicycle. Comprehending the cumulative consequences of all contingent first-cause, human free will decisions on subsequent events is infinitesimally trivial for God. Nothing surprises the foreknowledge of God.

The previous explanations for evil share one common aspect. They do not acknowledge the role of Satan as a free will, first-cause agent of choice. Consider the following explanation which corrects that deficiency.

God created angels and humans as first-cause agents with the free will to choose or reject God in every situation. Within limits and for a time, God is permitting the consequences of these choices; otherwise, free will is an illusion. God is infinitely, eternally and immutably good and will immediately prevent any evil except that which results from the free will decisions of angels and humans. Therefore, rebellious angels and humans are the first-cause agents of all existing evil. Satan, the ruler of rebellious angels, is the prince of this world and all creation groans under his iron fist.

The world, at every level, is at war. We are on the front lines of this Great War whether we like it or not. Because God decided not to exercise his omnipotence to end the war in an instant, the spiritual forces of good and evil negotiate Rules of Engagement. Without such rules, Satan would do to you and your loved ones what he did to Job and his family! The Rules of Engagement define such items as: when and where battles are waged, how winners and losers are determined, the consequences of winning and losing, the Allowed Weapons for each side and the Constraints on Effectiveness for each weapon. The primary allowed weapon for God's human soldiers is prayer because, alone, we don't stand a chance against the dark powers. The constraints on effectiveness for this weapon are shrouded in mystery. We know only that God always does the most He can do given: (a) prayer as our primary weapon, (b) the constraints on effectiveness for this weapon and (c) the complex and evil powers arrayed against Him.

But why is all this happening? If God created the universe as "good," why did it not remain good? Remember, God created both angels and humans as first-cause agents of choice with the free will to accept or reject God's wishes in every situation. God designated certain angels as caretakers of his newly created universe. Some angels began to oppose God under the leadership of Satan, the most powerful and intelligent of all rebellious angels. Satan, who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14) and is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30-31; 16:8-11), exercises a pervasive, structural and diabolical influence which caused all creation to be enveloped by the bondage of evil. That which God created as good began to exhibit a pain-ridden, bloodthirsty, sinister and hostile demeanor. "Mother Nature," became an inherently violent and terrifying system dominated by disease, suffering and death – a system red in tooth and claw. Not wanting free will to be an illusion, God is permitting, for a time and within limits, certain consequences of rebellion and corruption caused by both fallen angels and the humans who join them. Rebellious angels and humans, under the leadership of Satan, are the first-cause of all evil.

The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ began a new phase of warfare. God the Son initiated the process of taking back his creation. The outcome of the war was decided completely by the substitutionary atonement but repair, reconstruction, restoration and repossession of creation only began.