God and Evil: A BRIEF Theodicy

by Daniel J. Phillips, M.Div.

 

 

I recently read what stuck me as yet another cut-and-pasted essay attacking the God of the Bible. It was a fairly representative, boilerplate "Why I Don't Believe In God: Excuse #47" essay, this one focusing on The Problem Of Evil.  (Frequent usage merits the capitalization.)

I do think the existence of evil is a vital, valid and pressing question. I have no problem, to say the least, with someone raising the issue, or even asking how evil can exist, if the God of the Bible is the true and living God. However, if someone hasn't yet acknowledged that, in his heart, he knows there is a God (cf. Romans 1:18-23), a discussion of theodicy (the defense of God in the face of the existence of evil) probably will be beside the point.   If he wants to make himself feel better for "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness" by simply cut-and-pasting his line of excuses, I have no help to offer him.  "Help" isn't actually what he wants.

Having said that, of course I again openly acknowledge that the issue of evil has always been a vexing concern.  For a believer, it is a tough one (cf. Psalm 73). For a non-Christian, the issue is utterly insoluble.  For the Christian, again, it is difficult, trying, even heart-rending -- but only the Bible-believing Christian has a final and satisfying answer.  I thought I'd use the occasion of the rejected essay to offer a few thoughts (from the Bible, through my own heart —  not from the Windows clipboard) toward that end.

The following propositions are in no particular order, at this point:

First: evil only exists if the God of the Bible exists.  This is where every non-Christian necessarily goes astray.  Deny it futilely as they must, "good" and "evil" are concepts which simply are not available to the non-Christian, on his premises.  Of course, to make any sense, he must use them; so he simply steals them from the Bible, and re-defines them to his liking.

But if there is no infinite-personal, transcendent God such as the One who speaks and acts in the Bible, then "good" and "evil" are meaningless and powerless categories.  "Good" becomes simply "what I like at the moment," and "evil" becomes "what I dislike at the moment."  Only such a God as we find revealed in the Bible can say, "On the basis of My transcendent being, My infinitely wise perspective, and My immutable character, the following are morally good attitudes and actions, and their contraries are morally evil." And only those who believe Him can affirm the same.

So the non-Christian starts out with an insoluble difficulty.  He feels that evil exists, but he lacks any authority for the definition.  So he steals a bit from the Bible, denies the theft, then uses the stolen contraband to deny the God whose categories he must pervert for the denial.  "Ironic" is too pale a word.

Second: evil is not so much a positive quality as the negation of a positive quality.  "Evil" only exists if "good" exists; and evil exists only as good's negation.  As a shadow is the occlusion of light (rather than a positive thing-in-itself), so evil is the negation (active or passive) of good, rather than a thing-in-itself.  As Jesus says through Paul's pen, "sin is not imputed when there is no law" (Romans 5:13).  Or again, as the Spirit moves John to write, "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4).  Sin is lawlessness — whether the lawlessness of active rebellion, or the lawlessness of passive neglect or refusal.  But it is defined in relation to law, to the revealed standard of God.

Third: evil is not ultimate; indeed, the problem has already been solved.  That is, from the only perspective that counts — the eternal and infinite perspective of God.

For instance, is it good or evil for a grown man to plunge a knife deeply into a child?  If you weren't already expecting a trick question, you'd likely say, "'Evil'? It's appallingly evil!"  But draw the camera back, get a larger picture, and then ask the question, "Is it good or evil for a doctor to plunge a scalpel into a child in order to remove a diseased appendix?"  Then the answer changes totally; it is a wonderfully good thing -- even though in the short run it causes great pain and distress.

But both questions referred to the same act, from different perspectives.

And this is the perspective of God.  Is it a good thing, for instance, for the rulers of the world to gather together in open rebellion against God?  Of course not; it is repulsive, insane, and suicidal.  Yet see God's perspective on it: "1 Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against Yahweh and against His Anointed, saying, 3 "Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us." 4 He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; Yahweh shall hold them in derision. 5 Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, And distress them in His deep displeasure: 6 "Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion" (Psalm 2:1-6).  God views the rebellion in the context of the ultimate victory of His Son, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  The rebellion will not succeed.  So certain is its judgment that He could report on it here, thousands of years in advance of its ultimate culmination.

And this is precisely how God views the current careers of the evil.  "The wicked plots against the just, And gnashes at him with his teeth. 13 The Lord laughs at him, For He sees that his day is coming" (Psalm 37:12, 13).

From our perspective, evil happens and happens and happens.  Sometimes, as in the case of a man like Bill Clinton, it seems as if evil goes on and on without any punishment.  But God views evil differently: evil happens, God judges the evil, God's righteousness triumphs.  Now, the playing out of this may take ten, twenty, thirty thousand years in all — but that is the picture God views.  This is where we should plug in the familiar words, "For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:4).

In sum, then, God "has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).  And He views all evil acts from that perspective.

So should we! 

Marana tha!  Our Lord, come!

Copyright 2001, 2002 by Daniel J. Phillips; All Rights Reserved


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