When addressing the ‘problem of evil’ we must remember that God is sovereign and good, not merely benevolent

12 Feb

From Paul Helm:

On the atheist objection to the goodness and omnipotence of God:

…if we assume that God is all-powerful and all-good, how is it that there can be evil? For the existence of evil appears to imply that God is not both all-powerful and all-good, otherwise he would not allow it, or that he would at once eliminate it at its first appearance. But there is evil, much evil. Therefore God cannot be all-powerful and all-good. And since being all-powerful and being all-good are essential attributes of God (features that God, if he exists, must possess), we must conclude that (since evil manifestly exists) God does not exist. This problem is not a product of Christian thought but of the secular Enlightenment. It is an argument for atheism.

What are we to say? As Christians we must say that God is able at once to eliminate all evil if he chose to. Is God then not all good? The argument assumes, I think, that by ‘the goodness of God’ is meant his overriding benevolence. God is portrayed, in the argument, as one whose benevolence could not allow him tolerate the existence of evil, with the pain and misery it brings with it, for a single moment. So the continued evil in the world is said to show that there cannot be a good/benevolent God. Behind the argument is the following thought: A kind, benevolent person does his best to eliminate evil; so should God.

But the goodness of God has a deeper and richer (and more mysterious) character than benevolence alone. It comprises God’s entire character; not only his benevolence, expressed in his daily care for us, but also his righteousness and his wisdom. And Scripture teaches us that God has purposes that go beyond the immediate elimination of all evil. Some would give a central place in these purposes to God’s respect for human free will. It is said that he values free will above all else, and in giving us the use of our freedom he is willing to accept the consequences, that we regularly do what is evil. But it is hard to see that this is a Biblical position, which portrays the Lord as having the hearts of men and women in his hand, as being able to turn them where ever he wills. (Prov. 21.1) God could prevent evil without violating our freedom And it might be asked: is the possession of free will such a value as to outweigh the evils that it is said to bring?

In order to come to terms with evil, we need to develop a more God-centered perspective and recognize that God has purposes beyond those that we can presently fathom. Some of these are hinted at in Scripture ‘No eye has seen’….(1. Cor. 2.16), ‘….an eternal weight of glory’. (2 Cor. 4.17 And there is a dark side, the fate of the lost, of the impenitent, the God-defying. His judgments are unsearchable But we do well not to speculate about the future, but to live in the present, to wrestle with the evil of our own hearts, to identify ourselves with those who suffer the effects of evil, and to attempt to do good as we have opportunity, and to live for the day in which the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. (Rev. 11.15)

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