The Problem of Evil (Part 1)
Traditionally, in the study of the Philosophy of Religion, a dilemma has been raised regarding the coherence of theism called “the problem of evil.” This “problem” sets out to demonstrate that the existence, degree, and intensity of suffering and evil in the world make the existence of a loving, all-powerful, all-wise God impossible (or at least highly unlikely). Here in this series, I’ll address this objection to the Christian worldview.
One point must be noted early in our discussion. As John S. Feinberg notes in his work, The Many Faces of Evil, there does not exist simply one problem of evil. While we can safely speak of the difficulties that arise in our attempted reconciliations between our concept of God and the existence of evil in general, once we ask how specifically we are to define terms like “God,” “omnipotence,” “evil,” etc, we find that no one formulation of the “problem” fits all religious systems. A Mormon must reconcile the existence of evil (however they define evil) with their particular doctrine of God, and the same is true for the Muslim, the process theologian, the pantheist, the evangelical Arminian, and the classical Calvinist. So, one way of denying the existence of the problem of evil is to say that no two philosophical/theological systems wrestle with exactly the same dilemma.
Here I intend to address the problems posed by the existence of evil to distinctively Protestant and evangelical, and Reformed doctrine of God. My goal is both bold and modest. It is bold in that I hope to briefly discuss why I believe the various forms of the Problem of Evil (hereafter PE) covered here are no threat to biblical theism. The theist may confidently maintain their belief in God in the face of these challenges. Yet, my goal is also modest, in that I do not necessarily intend on offering a theodicy explaining why God allows particular acts of evil (other than in the broadest theological terms). Such I believe cannot be done and is, in fact, presumptuous. I merely seek in these next few (or not so few?) entries to do as many of the Church fathers sort to do with another mystery of the Christian faith, Christ’s incarnation. They realized that the mystery of how God come become man was just that, a mystery. Yet they also corrected errors taught by others that were not biblical. That is to say, they hemmed in the types of answers given to this question (How could God become man?), ruling out bad answers, but didn’t provide exact formulations for answering it.
Next we’ll look at various types of the PE.