Douglas Groothuis

Defending Christian Faith, December 14, 2004




part 2



My soul is in anguish.

How long, O LORD, how long?—Ps. 6:3


I am the resurrection and the life.—John 11:25



IV.       Toward An Answer to the Problem of Evil


A.        Two philosophical problems of evil


1.         Logical or deductive problem:  any evil is too much for theism to be true


a.         Handling the problem:  suggest a principle to dissolve the contradiction


b.         “God has a sufficient reason for any evil that God allows”


c.         This is a “defense” (negative apologetics—weak rationality) not a theodicy (positive apologetics—strong rationality)


2.         Evidential or inductive problem:  too much evil for theism to be rational


V.        A Response to the Problem of Evil


A.        God did not create evil, is not the author of evil


Evil as “privation,” not a created substance (Augustine); C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book two


B.        God would only create the “best of all possible worlds” (Leibniz, Corduan)


1.         Argument against this from Christian theists (R. Swinburne, R. Adams)


2.         What world must God create?  A morally justifiable one


C.        Evil must be unavoidable condition for the highest goods.  “Relative, instrumental dualism” (Bernard Ramm, A Christian Appeal to Reason)


1.         Free will defense (assumes libertarian/incompatibilist view of freedom; power of contrary choice)


2.         Problems with freewill defense (W. Dyrness, Ron Nash defend; Corduan, D.A. Carson critique)


a.         Philosophical: placement in garden; actions in heaven


b.         Theological:  compatiblism as Scriptural (Calvin, Jonathon Edwards, D.A. Carson, “The Mystery of Providence,” in How Long, O Lord?)


3.         Higher human goods (“soul-making”) that require certain evils


a.         Courage/heroism/sacrifice requires risk, danger


b.         Patience requires obstacles, difficulties


c.         Human triumphs require challenges, impediments, roadblocks


d.         However, people may exhibit cowardice, despair, mediocrity, etc.


4.         The present world as best way toward the best world:  evil furthers greater goods (“greater good defense”)—Genesis 50:20


a.         Appeal to Gods’ present purposes


b.         Appeal to God’s larger purposes


c.         Appeal to God’s final purposes (heaven and hell; new creation)


Hell, holiness, and human agency.  See D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?, chapter 6.


5.         Is there pointless or gratuitous suffering and evil?  See Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11


a.         If God exists, there is no gratuitous evil


b.         God exists


c.         Therefore:  there is no gratuitous evil


6.         Mystery and limited explanation (Job; John 6:53 – 66; Romans 11:33 – 36)


Some reasons why it is hard to know why some evils exist (Craig, Sinnott-Armstrong, God? 116 – 119).


7.         This is now the right world, given the nature of God and God’s ultimate aims (Corduan restated)


8.         God’s suffering and Incarnation (missing from texts; see Millard Erickson, The Word Made Flesh [Baker, 1992])


9.         God’s participation in the world, empathy (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 8:9)


a.         “The Long Silence” in John Stott, The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity, 1987)


b.         On the suffering of God, see D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? chapter 10


10.       Christ’s victory over sin, death, Satan (Romans 1:4; 1 Cor. 15)


Main sources:


1.         Carson, D.A. How Long, O Lord? (Baker, 1990)


2.         Corduan, Winfried, No Doubt About It (Broadman, Holman, 1997)


3.         Dyrness, William. Apologetics in a World Community. (InterVarsity, 1983)


4.         Nash, Ronald. Faith and Reason. (Zondervan, 1988)


5.         Stump, Eleonore. “The Mirror of Evil,” in Os Guinness, ed., The Journey, (NavPress, 2001), 164 – 174


For discussions of how contemporary philosophers of religion deal with the problem of evil, see:


1.         Craig, William Lane, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist (Oxford, 2003).  The second section primarily addresses the problem of evil.


2.         Feinberg, John, “Why I Still Believe in Christ, in Spite of Evil and Suffering,” in Why I am a Christian, ed., Norman Geisler, Paul Hoffman (Zondervan, 2001).  Powerful personal and philosophical account of the author’s struggle with intense natural evil in his family’s life.


3.         Feinberg, John, The Many Faces of Evil, revised ed., 2004


4.         Moreland, J.P., William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2003), chapter, “The Problem of Evil.”


5.         Taliaferro, Charles. Contemporary Philosophy of Religion (Blackwell, 1998). Chapter 9


6.         Wainwright, William. Philosophy of Religion, 2nd ed. (Wadsworth, 1999). Chapter 3


For a sophisticated defense (not a theodicy) of the Christian God in light of the problem of evil, see:


1.         Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford, 2000), chapter 14


2.         Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974)



VI.       Notes on the Pastoral Problem of Evil


A.        Struggle, God, Satan, and evil


1.         Submitting to God; resisting Satan (James 4:7 – 10)


2.         Submitting to God; resisting sin (Romans 6:15 – 23)


3.         Submitting to God; resisting worldliness (Romans 12:1 – 2; James 4:4 – 5)


B.        The danger of false, unbiblical promises (the “faith movement”)—Jer. 8:8. See D. R. McConell, Another Gospel


C.        Biblical promises to live by (2 Corinthians 1:18 – 22; 2 Peter 1:4)


D.        God’s uses of suffering gives hope


1.         Greater dependence on God, development of virtue (Romans 5:3 – 4)


2.         Greater empathy toward others through suffering (2 Corinthians 1:3 – 7)


E.         Eschatological encouragement


1.         The fate of the wicked in the end (Psalm 73; Matthew 25:46)


2.         Kingdom dynamics:  the already-not yet


a.         Wheat and the tares grow together until the end (Matthew 13:24 – 30)


b.         Spiritual warfare is real (Acts 13:1 – 12; Ephesians 6:10 – 18).  See Mark Bubeck, Overcoming the Adversary (Moody Press)


F.         Final judgment and the eternal state gives hope


1.         Eternal perspective on earthly life (2 Corinthians 4:7 – 11)


2.         The reality of the restored creation (Romans 8:22 – 25; Revelation 21:1 – 4)


On the pastoral problem of evil, see E. Stanley Jones, Christ and Human Suffering. New York: Cokesbury Press, 1933.  An unsurpassed classic on dealing with evil with hope and wisdom.  Jones was a Methodist missionary and devotional writer of great insight.