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Evil and the Existence of God (Part III)

February 28, 2010

This is the final two sections of my paper.  I discuss the Augustinian Theodicy which is also known as the Free-Will Theodicy.  While not a theodicy, Alvin Plantinga’sFree-will Defense” utilizes these ideas to effectively counter the logical argument to the existence of God based on the presence of evil in the world.  Lastly, I offer some brief (and I do mean brief!) sketches on the directions I would go in my own theodicy.  Honestly, I should have spend more time here, but didn’t plan so well.  In any case, it gives me something to come back to.


The Augustinian or “Free-will” Theodicy

Since the 5th century, the Augustinian formulation of theodicy has been the most popular Christian defense of why there is evil in the world.  Since a great deal hinges on the concept of free-will (something essential to my own theodicy) my comments here will be brief.[1] Augustine’s theodicy is predicated on the idea that God created the world and all that is within it “good.”  Yet, unlike God, the world is changeable and, therefore, capable of rejecting its original goodness.  This is in fact what humans did.  Through the misuse of freewill, humanity rebelled against God—the doctrine of “the Fall.”  This accounts for why there is evil in the world.  For Augustine, evil is simply the privation of good.  Evil is a non-entity.[2]

The concept of free-will is central to my understanding of why there is evil in a world created by an all-powerful and all-good God.  Therefore, the basic reason that Augustine gives, in my view, is sound.  His understanding of the Fall as a rebellion against God makes the best sense for the presence of moral evil.[3] However, there are a few areas of his theodicy that are inconsistent or deserve clarification.  First, as critics have rightfully noted, Augustine’s explanation of free-will as the cause of evil does coincide with his view of God’s sovereignty.[4] Augustine holds that God’s sovereignty is absolute so that nothing happens that is not ultimately in accord with God’s plan.  However, this understanding results in affirming that evil is desirable to God (in some sense).  Therefore, if we are to explain the presence evil by the free-will of creatures, then we must modify our understanding of God’s sovereignty.  Secondly, and a minor point, Augustine view’s evil as a privation of goodness.[5] This may simply be a matter of terminology, but I suggest that evil is a rebellion against goodness.  Augustine’s understanding of evil as privation does not adequately address the intensity of evil that is often seen in the world.  Radical evil seems to be more than merely the absence of goodness; it seems, instead to oppose goodness.  Therefore, we may conclude that evil is necessarily personal and active.  Evil exists in persons (whether human or angelic), with Satan—the ultimate opposer of God—being the fullest embodiment of active evil.  These modifications are important to my own attempt at theodicy.

Sketches of a Personal Theodicy

In the remainder of this essay, I will postulate a few ideas that I think are necessary adequately treat the problem of evil, while remaining true to my thesis that God unequivocally opposes evil in all its forms, and that evil is something that fundamentally should not be.

1. Love:  the Goal of Creation

The Bible affirms that “God is Love” (I John 4:8).  Therefore, I propose that the end of all of God’s doing is rooted in expressing this love.  This is the goal of creation.  It is not that God needs love, but rather, desires to express the overflow of Trinitarian love to his creatures.  However, “love must be freely chosen.”[6] Love cannot be coerced or forced; freedom is a pre-condition of love.  Therefore, because love requires freedom, love entails risk.  If love must be freely chosen, there must be the possibility of choosing not to love.  This risk is as real to God as it is to humans.  God cannot guarantee that people will freely respond to his love.

2. Evil as a Necessary Possibility

While the presence of evil in creation is never something God desired, the possibility of evil was metaphysically necessary.  In other words, in order for freedom to exist—making love possible—there must have been the genuine option for mankind and angelic beings to choose evil.  This choosing of evil would actually be the rebellion against goodness—rebellion against God.  This metaphysical possibility of evil can be seen in the presence of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This idea is bolstered by Hick’s ‘epistemic distance,’ for God must have been concealed in such a way that angels and humans could have freely doubted the goodness of God.  However, and this is crucial:  evil as a necessary possibility was something that was always to be resisted by embracing the love and goodness of God.  Evil is something that should not be.  Therefore, God resists it to the end, and calls humanity to resist it as well by submitting to goodness and love.

3. Sovereignty:  The Gradual Overcoming of Evil

I suggest that we must view sovereignty in a way other than omni-causality, if we are to accept this view.  While God retains ultimate power, it is true that if He has granted freedom, then he has invested creatures with a degree of power to choose.  For this reason, God cannot always have his way.  Instead, He must now work within the parameters of freedom He has established to overcome evil.  This is the hope of the eschatology—that God will ultimately triumph over all forms of evil. Yet, in the mean time, there is a genuine struggle taking place between the power of light and the power of darkness.[7]


These brief observations, in no way, exhaustively cover the multiplicity of issues in this debate.  However, by viewing the presence of evil as a possibility that should never have been actualized, we may affirm God’s ultimate resistance to it.  This, in my view, is essential to any legitimate theodicy.  Any view of evil that claims that God has a good reason for the actualization of evil (rather than a possibility that he always opposed) trivializes evil and causes passivity among God’s people to fight for good.  Rather than see evil as a means to an end, or a function of some greater good, or an illusion (as Naturalism must), I think that our best approach to evil, as image bearers of God, is to believe that God is utterly opposed to it, and so should we.  In the words of Paul Ricoeur, “For action, evil is above all what ought not to be, but what must be fought against.”[8]

[1] I hold to a libertarian view of free-will, though acknowledging the debate on whether free-will should be viewed from a compatablist or libertarian standpoint.

[2] This summary is taken from Peterson et al., Reason and Religious Belief, p. 144.

[3] In fact, I believe it also adequately explains natural evil.  While it is not popular to conceive that angels are (at least in part) responsible for the chaotic dimensions of the natural world, it is not an unreasonable nor unbiblical conclusion to draw.  C.S. Lewis writes on this issue, “But the doctrine of Satan’s existence and fall is not among the things we know to be  untrue:  it contradicts not the facts discovered by scientists but the mere, vague ‘climate of opinion’ that we happen to be living in.” In, Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 631.

[4] Peterson et al., Reason and Religious Belief, p. 144.

[5] Ibid., p. 144.

[6] This line of reasoning can be explored fully in Gregory Boyd’s Satan and the Problem of Evil, pp. 22-25.  I am highly indebted to Boyd’s warfare theodicy for my understanding of God’s rebellion against evil.

[7] There is much left unsaid in this discussion.  Boyd discusses issues of sovereignty comprehensively in Satan, pp. 145-177.  One analogy for understanding the guarantee of God’s ultimate victory is  the chess-game analogy.  God, because he possesses infinite wisdom and infinite resourcefulness, can anticipate and respond to any and every possible move that his creatures make.  He is thus assured victory.  This does not of course mean that He is always on the defensive.  The Bible affirms that he has enacted his plans and is accomplishing his purposes.

[8] Paul Ricoeur, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995), p. 259.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam permalink
    March 1, 2010 3:38

    Great series of posts! Excellent final paragraph – evil MUST be evil. Otherwise the character of God in resigning to its existence is compromised. Beyond that, it’s up for debate…but that point can never be discarded. Way to make the main thing the main thing. 🙂

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      March 2, 2010 11:41

      Thanks Sam! I’m with you, I can’t seriously entertain any view that compromises God’s ultimate and unequivocal resistance to evil.

  2. March 5, 2010 3:38

    Hey great post bro! I particularly enjoyed the statement, “…because love requires freedom, love entails risk.” Keep ’em coming!

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      March 5, 2010 9:17

      Matt! It’s good to hear from you! Thanks for reading. Are you sticking around in Thailand for awhile or are ya’ll coming back to the States?

      • March 7, 2010 1:40

        We’ll be back in the States this April around Songkran to spend time w/ family and fund-raise. I’m a LOT more exited about the former than the latter, but I know both will be good.

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