We continue our study by looking at the problem of evil and suffering as outlined in the final two chapters in Section 1 of the book titled “If God is Good” by Randy Alcorn.
If you are just joining the study, you can find links to the previous posts under the heading Bible Studies in the menu above.
As we work through this book together, I encourage you to leave any thoughts, comments, and suggestions you may have.
Chapter 4 – Possible Reasons For Evil And Suffering
Chapter four begins by looking at possible reasons for evil and suffering. The author then goes on to state six different worldviews in answer to the question “What are some possible reasons for the problem of evil and suffering?”
Worldview #1 – There is no evil and suffering
Some pantheistic religions, often related to Hinduism, essentially deny the existence of suffering and evil. It’s unreal, it’s only an illusion.
Pantheists believe that everything is god. God is nature and nature is god. The things we call “evil” are only imperfections in our view of reality that progressive self-realization and self-improvement can remove.
Some worldviews, including Christian Science, argue that suffering doesn’t exist.
Really? What planet are they living on?
Worldview #2 – There is no God
Atheist Andrea Weisberger concludes in her book Suffering Belief: “none can account for the tremendous amount of suffering in the world in which an allegedly omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God reigns… The conclusion to which we are drawn, therefore, is that the existence of such a God is implausible.”
Randy Alcorn states: ”Implausible does not mean impossible, but her conclusion echoes that of many other philosophers who see belief in God, at least belief in the Christian God who is good, caring, and personal as irrational.”
Worldview #3 – God has limited goodness
2nd century Gnostics thought the world’s evil proceeded from God’s own being.
Nietzsche portrays God as the creator of both good and evil. Such a God is the source not only of truth but also of lies.
Richard Dawkins says it’s as easy to imagine an evil God as a good one. in fact, he considers the God of the Old Testament an evil deity.
Atheist James Wood, looking at evil states: “I decided that if God existed, which I strongly doubted, then this entity was neither describable nor cherishable, but was a vaporous, quite possibly maligned force.
Worldview #4 – God has limited power
If more than one god exists, then divine power is divided and cannot reside in a single God. Therefore, in the worldview of polytheism, no God can be all-powerful.
The ancient religion Zoroastrianism teaches dualism. It sees the universe as a cosmic battleground between two equal opposites, personalized into gods, one good and one evil.
Some see dualism as a single impersonal force such as in the Star Wars movie.
Process theology conceives of God as always evolving. God supposedly emerges and grows with the universe. He is powerful, but not all-powerful. Think of Him as a conductor limited by an orchestra’s skills. He can lead, but he can’t control.
One of the most influential books in the last half of the 20th century was Rabbi Harold Kushner’s bestseller When Bad Things Happen To Good People. After watching his son die from a rare disease, Kushner concluded God is all good but not all-powerful. He wrote, “it is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming their innocent victims.”
Worldview #5 – God has limited knowledge
In the last 20-plus years, some Christians called open theists, have denied that God has moral responsibility for the bad things that happened because he doesn’t know they will happen. If He did know, He would stop them, since He’s all loving.
Open theists believe that God’s love overshadows all else, but they believe human free will has sufficient power to thwart God’s loving plan.
Clark Pinnock says, “decisions not yet made do not exist anywhere to be known even by God. They are potential-yet to be realized but not yet actual. God can predict a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom.”
Open theists often emphasize that God takes risks. Furthermore, because he has limited information, He can make errors in judgment and when He realizes He’s done so He changes his mind.
Randy Alcorn goes on to state: “open theists will object to my categorization of their position as ‘God is not all-knowing,’ since they say that God knows everything that can be known. Future events, however, cannot be known, even to God. They say, and hence they claim to believe in God’s ‘dynamic omniscience.’ Regardless of the terminology, they believe that much of the future remains opaque to God, and on that basis, they argue that He is more loving and bears less responsibility for the world’s evil and suffering.”
Worldview #6 – God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing
God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing. He hates evil and will ultimately judge evil-doers, and remove evil and suffering after accomplishing a greater, eternal good.
The Bible confirms evil’s existence and considers all of God’s attributes as infinite.
Joni Erickson Tada writes “God permits what He hates to accomplish that which He loves” Evil is never good, yet God can use any evil to accomplish His good and sovereign purposes.
Through the redemptive suffering of Christ – in which He took all human evils on himself – and through his triumph over all evil and death, God has done everything necessary to defeat evil. One day He will carry out his final redemptive work.
”He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces and He will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken” Isaiah 25:8
We live in a post-Christian era. Among Westerners, especially, the Christian worldview is increasingly unpopular. Non-Christian worldviews are winning the public relations war, replacing Christianity’s seemingly old and repressive way of thinking with more positive, progressive, and inclusive ideologies.
Randy Alcorn states that it’s better for people to deny the Christian faith outright than to profess it in a weak and shallow way. Moreover, many have become immune to Christianity by contracting a mild unbiblical form of it.
Randy grew up in a non-Christian home and vividly remembers his unbelief as a young teenager. Yet he was convinced that Christianity’s explanation of why evil and suffering existed beats that of any other worldview.
Its explanation of why we can expect God to forever deliver His redeemed people from evil and suffering is better still. The answers revealed in Scripture not only account for how the world is, but they also offer the greatest hope for where the world is heading.
How does your own worldview stack up against the real world around you? Does it credibly explain the way things are and offer persuasive reasons for believing in a hopeful future? Or do you need to revise or abandon it in order to embrace the biblical worldview because it better explains your condition and that of the world around you?
The Perspective We Need To Address The Problem Of Evil And Suffering
We should bring an accurate view of God to this issue, magnifying and glorifying Him not diminishing Him.
The atheistic solution that God does not exist, the most popular way of addressing the problem of evil, minimizes one or more of God’s attributes, especially His power, knowledge, or goodness. However, the Bible never shrinks God but always magnifies Him.
“For the Lord, your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.” Deuteronomy 10.17
“For I proclaim the name of the Lord: Ascribe greatness to our God.” Deuteronomy 32.3
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in the earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all.” 1Chronicles 29.11
“And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord’” Luke 1.46
To address good and evil without gazing upon God is fruitless. Good flows from the life connected to God. Evil flows from the life alienated from God.
“Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.” 3 John 11
To embrace good and turn from evil we must see God as He really is. We must not simply believe in God but believe in what is true about God. Diminishing God not only fails to solve theological problems, but it also dishonors Him and brings idolatry. When we see God as He is we will see ourselves as we are, leaving Him in his rightful place and us in ours.
If We Are Good Enough?
Many imagine that if we believe in God and serve Him, we earn status with God, so He won’t let serious harm befall us.
We have misguided expectations of God. Where does God promise us that making good godly choices will avoid suffering? Many believe that if they go to church, tithe, read the Bible, pray together, and make good godly choices that they will avoid suffering. But Jesus himself said:
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
We must form our perspective from God’s Word, not popular culture. We need only read scripture and look around us or live long enough in order to learn that trust in God doesn’t ward off all evil and suffering.
Chapter 5 – A Closer Look at Central Issues in the Problem of Evil and Suffering
Chapter 5 opens with a young woman, Gianna Jensen sharing that she survived a botched saline abortion. as a pre-born child. She states: “the lack of oxygen to my brain is what caused my gift of cerebral palsy.”
Upon hearing her call cerebral palsy, a “gift” some feel perplexed. Gianna has had her whole life to think about it. She doesn’t see God as merely permitting her suffering or using it. She considers her cerebral palsy a “gift” from God’s hand.
She doesn’t deny that the choices of her mother and the actions of the physician caused her condition and the terrible evil inflicted upon her, and yet Gianna sees God’s hand even in her suffering.
A theodicy is an attempt to show that God is just and to argue that He can be sovereign and good despite the world’s evil and suffering.
In Greek “Theos” means “God” and “dike” means “justice”. If you Google theodicy you will find a dizzying and ever-increasing body of resources on this subject.
John Feinberg points out that multiple problems of evil can be worded in various ways. failing to define what problem we’re talking about, he says, makes resolution impossible.
He states: “it is wrongheaded at every fundamental level to think that because a given defense or theodicy doesn’t solve every problem of evil it doesn’t solve any problem of evil.”
The “problem of evil” is like the “problem of bad weather.” Bad weather comes in many forms.
Randy Alcorn advises that no single idea or theodicy in this book answers every question. Therefore, he encourages the readers to look at the cumulative effect of these arguments and then judge for themselves whether the worldview they represent offers help and insight as we face the problems of evil and suffering.
A Circular Argument
The argument on the problem of evil as sometimes stated is circular. A circular argument assumes as fact what it attempts to prove.
As frequently expressed, the problem of evil assumes that an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God cannot have good reasons for creating a universe in which evil and suffering exist. But shouldn’t this type of assumption require some proof?
We may not understand why good God would allow terrible suffering. but this merely established that there is a God, and we don’t know everything He knows. Why should this surprise us?
Suppose we had only one premise to the argument that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, and yet evil exists.
God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil. You may disagree with this premise, but it does not contradict the others.
We’ve all seen people say or do things that we considered unjustifiable. However, when we later learn why they did them, everything may change.
To disprove the God of the Bible exists, someone must demonstrate that there can be no moral justification for an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing God to allow evil. Has this been proven? No.
This doesn’t mean the question is not valid, only that the question is not the same as proof.
Believers And Unbelievers Are United
Consider the following: God could create a universe in which He knew people would commit evil and suffer if that was a necessary price to achieve a far greater eternal result.
Believers and unbelievers alike feel mutual horror at the reality, depth, and duration of human and animal suffering. We share our conviction that this kind of pain is terribly wrong and it should be made right. In this way, evil and suffering serve as a bridge to the biblical account and its promise of redemption. Consider the following two claims of scripture.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8.18
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Corinthians 4.17
The apostle Paul made the above statements, and he endured extreme evil and suffering. (see 2Corinthians 11.23-33).
Paul insists that our sufferings will result in our greater good. God’s people will be better off eternally because they suffer temporarily. From Paul’s perspective, this trade-off will in eternity prove to be a great bargain.
In fact, the argument for the greater good may be the strongest biblical case for God permitting evil and suffering. However, it requires trust since the promised greater good is the future and we can’t see it in the present.
If Paul is right, then by eliminating temporary evil and suffering God would also eliminate eternal good.
In light of this, doesn’t it seem logical, or at least possible, that a good God could have legitimate reasons for allowing evil and suffering to continue for the present? If so, then the problem of evil while difficult is not insurmountable.
Suffering reminds us to stop taking life for granted and to contemplate the larger picture. God intends that it draw our attention to life and death realities far greater than ourselves. For those who know Christ, present pleasure foreshadows eternal pleasure.
“You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16.11
For those without Christ, present suffering foreshadows eternal suffering where unbelievers: “…will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 8.12
If we have no eternal future as resurrected people living under the benevolent rule of King Jesus, then our present suffering will ultimately be worth nothing.
However, if we have such a future, however, then no present suffering regardless of its scope will prove worthless. In fact, such sufferings are a means to an end. Incalculable future goodness.
The author closes with the following statement. “the dysfunction of the present is the exception, not the rule. A small fraction of our history. Evil, suffering, and death will end forever. May we learn now what Paul knew. Our present sufferings are a brief but important part of a larger plan that one day will prove them all worthwhile.”
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
When I decided a few years ago to create my own website, it was for the purpose of sharing truth and encouragement with others. My encouragement always comes from my relationship with Jesus Christ. I would not be here today if it was not for His presence, in my life.
I don’t understand how people get through this life without Jesus. Therefore, this website is my place to share truth and encouragement from the Word of God.
It’s not about the great number of subscribers or the lack thereof.
My prayer is that someone’s life would be touched and encouraged. moreover, that struggling followers of Christ would be strengthened to be able to stand in the last days.
For those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, I write and share my heart in hopes of gaining at least one soul who will spend eternity with the Lord in His Kingdom in a new world we’re evil, suffering, heartache, and pain will never again be a part of our lives.
There’s not a lot of time left. The signs are all around us. But, if only one person gives their life to the Lord from something I’ve shared or posted, to God be the glory!
I hope this little study helps you to hold on and trust in Jesus Christ for He is returning soon. Are you ready?
Maranatha! Until next time, I am Passionately Loving Jesus, the Anchor of my Soul.
In my next post, we will begin looking at Section 2 which deals with understanding evil’s origins, nature, and consequences.
Maranatha! Until next time, I am Passionately Loving Jesus, the Anchor of my Soul.
Why We Suffer Grief: 1 Peter 1:6-9 – by Pastor J.D. Farag