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“As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deed’ (1 Sam. 24:13 [NIV])”.

Short Essay on Hamartiology: The Problem of Evil (Theodicy)

Recently as I was leaving church a friend confronted me with an argument he would like to discuss. With all the wars, disease, decadence and such If God exists how can these atrocities happen? Does not an All- love God prove a contradiction to evil? Why would God if he does exist allow such things to happen?  Although the above situation is a hypothetical scenario it is a conversation many of us of may engage in.

The problem of Evil

To understand the nature of evil one must first define what evil is. Evil can be broken down into two subsets: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil (sin) can be best explained in the as an active or passive action of negative (evil) intent by a person or entity.

Natural evil is as an unintentional occurrence of evil.  The distinction between natural and moral evil are often intermingled and the lines the two forms of perils often are intermingled. Walter A. Elwell explains: “According to the Bible, natural evil is the consequence of moral evil. At first, while still sinless, man is placed in an idyllic garden where he lives in a happy relationship with his Creator, his wife, and the animals. Eternal life is a possibility. The “day” that he obeys God, i.e., commits moral evil, he was covered with shame, confusion, and anxiety: and rejected from the Garden. The man must bring forth the fruit of the earth, the woman the fruit of the womb in agony (Gen. 3) (Elwell 1984, 2001, 412).” A few examples of sin would be murder, adultery, slavery, drunkenness and the like. Natural evil could be defined as anything from an earthquake to a seemingly random event such as a death of a child.

The problem that arises in the mind of humankind is that desire to proof the nonexistence of God to proof the validity of evil. Many skeptics towards theology would argue that an omnibenevolent – omnipotent God should have eradicated evil or would have not allowed evil to be created in the first place.  Evil therefore must be a contradiction to God thus God must not exist. Another argument is that malicious events happen because of an evil entity or force in opposition to God, which acts as a balancing agent to the universe. Yet another is that evil is the result of man’s deviation of social standards. Many other concepts of Theodicy and morality exist and are beyond the scope of this essay.

In regards to why sin is among mankind and why atrocities happen in the universe, the Bible provides a great starting point for revelation to these two questions. Sin is the result of the Fall as illustrated in the book of Genesis Chapter three and is passed down to man from generation to generation. The result of the original sin (Sin of Adam and Eve) is a separation from God and the loss of eternal life, man being required to work long hard hours and women to have to endure pain at childbirth and became infatuated with her husband and ultimately a separation from God or spiritual death. Anxiety, shame, guilt, and other forms of mental and physical afflictions were introduced once man ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The desire to serve self and do evil entered the heart and minds of man and from selfishness, all sin stems. Some Theologian will debate this claiming pride was the first sin. Pride caused Lucifer to rebel against God. The transformation of Lucifer from Angel of light to Satan (advisory) may be regarded as the actual first sin.  Extreme followers of Calvinistic doctrine and predestination hold all men to a fatal state and only a few (the elect) worthy of Salvation. Most theologians hold a more systematic approach embracing theories and doctrines from numerous sources.  A more extensive study on sin is beyond the scope of the present argument.

The main reference to the seemingly random events of evil and pernicious acts in nature can also be found in the Book of Romans Chapter 8: 21-22. Elmer L. Towns States in Theology for Today: “The earth also became the recipient of divine Judgment. Prior to the fall harmony existed in the animal kingdom. The earth never experienced upheavals of earthquakes and volcanoes, nor did man experience the seasonal changes that bring adverse conditions.  The utopia enjoyed in the garden could be experienced on the entire earth. Since the Fall, Earth’s turmoil has increased dramatically, and animals have become carnivorous rather than vegetarians. Paul notes these conditions: ‘Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groanrth and travaileth in pain until now’ (Towns 2008, 2002).”

God is incapable of looking upon sin and detests evil. This is illuminated in the last words of Jesus Christ as he died on the cross “‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani’ (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” – Matt. 27:46 [NKJV])?” God in his holiness hates evil and wickedness, (Ps. 5:4, Hab. 1:13), is compassionate (Matt. 15:32, Luke 10:23, Lam 3:22), is slow to anger (Ps. 86:15), most importantly God is love and this is expressed in his deliverance of us from the penalty of death and the promise of our return to grace by salvation to all who accept his son. (John 3:16) (Elwell 1984, 2001, 492-498) What father would sacrifice his only son as a sacrifice for the crimes of another?  Could such a God create evil. God is a man and respects our cognitive and reasoning ability and all beings free will equally. YHWH does not discriminate. We are not puppets.

Theodicy

Like any philosophical or theological concept, Theodicy must be consistent. If a contradiction can be found in the system then the existence of God himself can be disproved. All sound arguments should be without contradiction, true, and take the   middleman out approach.

The following six principles will be included in all sound systems that justify the holiness of God and the coexistence of evil:

1.         Omnipotence: God is omnipotent. In his expression of Agape love and is the divine relational center of the universe. This must be expressed without prejudice.

2.         Relevancy to the problem: The theorem must explain the relation to God to both natural and moral evil without contradiction.

3.         Relevancy to a specific theology system and not universal: The belief must be consistent with the theological system it associated.

4.         Logical Consistency: The equation should explain God’s omnipotence in a logical fashion.

5.         Axiom of the removal of Guilt: A sound defense will remove blame from God & man for the origin of Sin and Calamities. This is not exclusive to all theological doctrines or theodicy however.

6.         Test of the system by absence of contradiction: A sound test against God’s character and omnipotence shall be conducted by proofing that in spite of his power God is incapable of removing the transgressions of the world and of humankind. It is a contradiction to who and what God is.

Theodicy Doctrines

Numerous doctrines of theodicy and ethics exist in the world today outlined below are a few of the more common systems:

1.         Leibniz: In his system, Leibniz observes God only knows why he does the things he does (reasons).  God’s reasons are necessary and unaided by revelation. Only God matters we are insignificant. God created an infinite number of finite worlds but only one best world exists. Metaphysical evil is the lack of being and good is plenty. Good therefore is the sum of God’s best. If God had created less than the best possible world, he would not be good. God always reasons. God always creates and chooses what is best.

Although consistent and without contradiction, the main problem with this view is God is shown only as omnipotent but not All- loving.

2.         Augustine: God had no need or obligation to create a world but it was fitting him to do so. This is based on his own decision and not on any universal laws. There are an infinite number of finite worlds he created, as he deemed relevant. Augustine believed sin originated from Adam and passed from generation to generation.

Opponent of this tradition claim Augustine did not account free – will.

3.         Rationalist An offshoot of the Augustine tradition amends the weakness of the Augustine tradition. Rationalist theologians explain simply this is one of the many possible good worlds. Rationalist may use a free- will defense to state that good and evil are of no consequence of God. An outside force introduced evil.

4.         Soul-building: theorist claim that this has no significance as it is part of our predetermined plan. God will ultimately use evil to bring good.

5.         Other: Other free-will agents point to the abuse of the will of man as the cause of evil. God should not be guilty of giving man free will as man exercise his will independently of God.

Although the free will system has it merits an excessive view can lead some to underestimate the power effects of Sin and but an overly dependence on man. Soul -build agents can be accused of a near contradiction. How can God build souls and remove Evil at the same time? What about those who choose to resist the will or deny God and salvation all together? The Bible states clearly some will be judged and perish in the Lake of fire during the eschatological times (Elwell 1984, 2001, 1184-1187).

Personal Thoughts & Conclusion

Personally, I hold to the rationalist approach but can see some merit in the view of the soul-building agent theory. Pauline doctrine in the book of Romans details a clear path of Salvation. The Epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians and Ephesians account sin and the destructive nature in detail. James warns of sin particular of the tongue. The beatitude teaches us how to live a more loving and righteous lifestyle. I also, hold strongly to the Augustine tradition of theology stating original sin is passes from generation to generation. I however, acknowledge a more free-will approach and recognize that moral sin is the result of our actions. I do not discredit the role that society, family and our environment plays on our belief nor do I chastise the theologian who follows the Calvinist theory of the predestination. I believe Salvation is available to all who come to Christ but belief in the Doctrine of Works for the sake of Sanctification. Thus, it is by sin God teaches us and draws us closer to him.

In regards to the world, sometimes things just happen. Why God allows them to do so is a mystery. God has only revealed part of himself in his Word and will continue to reveal himself to those who seek by illumination, meditation, study, and, prayer. As a Christian, student of philosophy, one must be teachable and willing and open to new idea (without contradiction or embracing false teachings). In accepting truth may be found anywhere and  as God is the source of all knowledge and truth knowledge may be derived from unlikely sources I try to keep an open mind and not just consult the Bible for revelation. God is either everything or nothing or else evil would either completely exit or not exist at all.

A negative experience or a lack of knowledge may lead one away from religion and into the realm of confusion. Wisdom by prayer, reading the word and observation and by attempting to live by the guidelines of morality, and brotherly love as outlined in the Bible are one’s only true hope to overcoming death.  One can never be Holy just better.

In God, Christ, and the Spirit,

Trenton Clark Rindoks

Word count: # 2011

Bibliography

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1984, 2001.

Towns, Elmer L. Theology for Today . Mason: Cengage Learning, 2008,2002.

 

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