I have put together an intellectual response to the problem of evil that includes a theology of evil and suffering, and a philosophical/theological series of proper defenses of God and his righteousness considering evil.
What is Evil?
The problem of evil is famous. This problem is personal because my wife stayed stuck as an agnostic for a long time. An agnostic is a person who says they don’t know if there is a God. Like so many people, she thought that if you believe in a God who is all good and all-powerful, then the presence of evil and suffering creates a problem.
Atheist philosopher David Hume said, “Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able to but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”[i]
Let’s address this. I’ll give you a roadmap of where we’re going. First, we need to address how one can even object to evil. Second, I will talk about what evil is and is not. Then I will talk about some possible reasons God allows evil. Finally, I’ll close with God’s solution.
To start, if an atheist raised this challenge, we need to address the moral argument. If there is right and wrong, then they are grounded in the existence of a good and moral God. Because without an absolute Moral Law, which requires an absolute Moral Law Giver, the atheist has no grounds for a complaint against evil.
Former atheist C.S. Lewis summarizes how this thinking eventually guided him to Christianity: “my argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”[ii]
Evil is not a “thing” that exists, and God is not the cause. Both Augustine and Thomas Aquinas point out that evil is not a real entity in the world. This means evil is not a material or a phenomenon that exists by itself. It’s like darkness, which is not a created thing; it’s the absence of light. Evil describes a deficiency or denial of good. Philosophers call this deficiency a privation. Evil is what occurs once the good is altered or distorted. In Genesis 1 and 2, God told us all that existed was good. Evil was not an innovation, but a distortion. So, God is not the creator or author of evil.
[i] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. Richard Popkin (Hackett Pub, 1980), 63
[ii] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 19