Why Do We Have Evil in the World?

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2007
If God, the God of the Bible, is an all knowing God and could have prevented an evil world; why didn’t He? Is there a good purpose for evil?

Dr. John Ankerberg: Norman, some people say, “If God, the God of the Bible, is an all knowing God and could have prevented an evil world; He knew it in advanced. And if He is all loving, and presumably because He loves us, He should want to do away with anything that would want to hurt us with evil. And if He is all powerful and actually has the ability to destroy evil, then why do we have all this evil in this world?” What would an orthodox, historic Christian say to this question?

Dr. Norman Geisler: The key word in that particular argument against the existence of the God of the Bible is the word “destroy”:

  • If God is all good, He would destroy it;
  • if He is all powerful He could destroy it;
  • but He hasn’t destroyed it, therefore there is not such a God.”

Sure God could destroy all the evil of the world, but in destroying it, He would destroy good; because one of the good things God made was freedom. God could destroy all evil by destroying all freedom, but He would be working against the good He has made.

For example, I am often told by atheists, “If God is all good, why doesn’t He intervene and intercept all this evil in the universe?” I say to them, “Do you really want God to destroy all evil? Then every time you opened your atheist mouth, God should cram it full of cotton. That would destroy a lot of evil. Every time you think an atheist thought, God could give you an Excedrin headache. Every time you pick up your atheist fountain pen to write your atheist books, He could cause it to explode in your hand. But then you would say, that’s not fair, that’s not loving, He is not giving me my freedom, is He?” So they don’t really want God to destroy evil, they want the permission of their freedom.

And I think if we look at the question another way, the key isn’t destroy, the key is defeat. Now let me rephrase the question and show how God is going to defeat evil. He is not going to destroy it, because He would have to destroy our freedom to do it, but He is going to defeat it.

What the atheist who gives that argument fails to recognize is the third statement in that argument. He would have to be God in order to know it was true. “If God is all-good, he would defeat evil.” “If he is all powerful, He could defeat evil.” Now notice the third statement. “Evil is not defeated, therefore there is no such God.”

What he forgets is the third statement should read, “evil is not yet defeated, and never will be, therefore, there is no God.” But how could he know that? How could he know that evil will never be defeated because it is not defeated yet? It’s like stopping God in the middle of a sentence and saying, “that doesn’t make sense,” or throwing a book away after the first chapter and say, “this could never come out right.”

The atheist is assuming that, because God hasn’t defeated evil yet, that he never will. But as Christians we believe that it was officially defeated on the cross and Jesus will return and will actually defeat it at his second coming. So we just say to him, “Hold on, pal, it’s coming. God’s going to defeat evil.”

Ankerberg: How do we account for the reality of evil? Because, if God created everything, and we say that he has, and since evil exists, and we are saying evil does exist, is God the author of evil?

Geisler: Well, that is a very good question, because it is probably the most succinct logical summary of the problem. Because we don’t want to deny that God created everything, and we don’t want to deny that evil is real, but it looks like we must admit that God created the reality of evil, when, in fact, we don’t.

St. Augustine struggled with this problem for years and he came up with the answer that I think is still adequate. He said what’s wrong is the second premise. Evil is not a thing. Evil is a lack in good things. For instance, if I have a wound in my arm, the wound is not an additional thing; it is a lack of health and wholeness in my arm. If you have a moth-eaten garment, the holes in that garment are not something in addition to that garment, they are a lack in the garment. Now notice, a totally moth-eaten garment is impossible because a totally moth-eaten garment would be a hanger. So something cannot be totally evil in the sense of its reality because it wouldn’t be there at all. It can be totally evil in the moral sense—that is what total depravity means—but it can’t be totally evil in the metaphysical sense.

So evil is this lack or privation in good things like a wound to an arm, or rot in a tree, or rust in a car, or holes in a garment. What is there is good, but the evil is the lack in the wholeness of what should be there.

Ankerberg: Okay, start at A. God gave freedom to man. Man exercised that freedom and what happened?

Geisler: God made a perfect garment, and one of the perfections this perfect garment had was freedom. Then man produced the holes in the garment. So the holes are a lack produced by freedom, which is good, but the hole is evil in the sense that it is a lack in the good.

Ankerberg: Okay, so there it is. That’s our problem. The fact is, we have this privation, this corruption in us, that would account for how much of the evil in the world? What would you guess?

Geisler: Physically, do you mean how much of the physical evil in the world would be accounted for that? It’s hard to say. Various estimates have been given. I would say that freedom probably directly brings into the world about 80% of the evil in the world.

Ankerberg: Okay, what about the other 20%?

Geisler: The other 20%, and by the other 20% we mean things that aren’t directly brought in by evil, like if I take a hammer and hit my finger, that is a direct evil. If I cut off my finger, that is a direct evil.

Ankerberg: Let’s put it another way. What about all evil that is not connected with human freedom, that which comes to us that we didn’t actually choose, such as hurricanes, sickness, pestilence and things like that?

Geisler: Yes, I would say that is caused indirectly by freedom or as a concomitant of freedom. It is related to freedom, or as a by-product of freedom. Let me illustrated it this way. Sometimes evil is a by-product of a good thing. It is good to have water so that we can swim or so that we can fish. But a by-product of that good is we can also drown in it. The purpose of water was to enjoy it, but a by-product of water is you can drown. The purpose of creating all good things is that man might do a good. Tornadoes may be that kind of thing: God created hot air and cold air for the purpose of making climate, rain, crops grow. If they combine in the right way, they can produce a by-product called a tornado. So tornadoes and hurricanes are by-products of a good world. The intention and the purpose was good, but the result is sometimes evil.

Ankerberg: Yeah, but if God is all-good and all-powerful, why doesn’t He knock off that by miraculous intervention?

Geisler: Well, God of course could miraculously intervene into everything. But if He did He would be violating our freedom, because if He miraculously intervened every time the atheist wanted to speak and changed his words, then the atheist wouldn’t be free to say his thing. If He miraculously intervened every time the assassin wanted to kill someone, then no one would be able to carry through with their evil.

Furthermore, if God miraculously intervened all the time, it would no longer be a miracle, because a miracle means a rare, abnormal occurrence. If He did miraculously intervene all the time with all the evil that is going on in the world, it would cause even contradictory miraculous situations where God would have to do opposites in order to perform it.

So He permits us our freedom, and intervenes only when it is necessary to keep the whole plan going, such as He did at the cross. If somebody wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff and Jesus never got to the cross, God would miraculously intervene, as some believed He did in the gospel, so that His salvation could be accomplished for all mankind.

1 Comment

  1. […] Ankerberg: I appreciate your saying that. But let’s go back, because I’m thinking of all the people that are listening to us that are now empathizing. They’ve got the same kind of problem, but they don’t have the knowledge that you have about our wonderful God. And for people that are just joining us this week and they missed last week, where did this problem originate? Why Do We Have Evil in the World? […]

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