Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist? – Program 1

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1983
Is it fair that babies are born tainted by “original sin,” or with the sin nature? Dr. Geisler explains why it is fair.

Why Are Babies Born with the Stain of Original Sin?

Welcome to our program. If you have ever really seriously considered Christianity, or if you have become a Christian and then come in contact with what you call evil, and maybe we’re talking to people this week that have hit evil in a big way. Maybe you have lost a job; maybe you are watching this program from a hospital bed and you have found out you have cancer, maybe you have lost a loved one. Some tragedy has come into your life, and you, as a Christian, or as one who is thinking about becoming a Christian, wonder how in the world we can cope with this thing called evil and how does it fit in with a good and all-loving God, a powerful God.

I think to open up the show here, and to ask Norm some questions, in doing some of the research for the program, I’m sure you’re acquainted with Phil Donahue. And Donahue, in writing his own story, says some things that come into what we are going to be talking about, Norman. And for some of these reasons, he left the church and possibly his faith. And he puts this right into the book. And I feel that there should be some kind of response to these kinds of questions because a lot of people will be following that lead.

Let’s just start with some of these questions. Some of these are just humdinger of questions, and I’ll just throw them out and let’s see where we are coming from here. He starts off and he says, “For the first time in my life I was asking all those questions which had been so effectively repressed during all those high school theology classes, all those Christian family movement meetings.” Then he lists a question like, “Why do babies, who do not ask to be born, enter the world with the stain of original sin?” Now let’s just take this, maybe the assumption and then maybe a reply to a question like that.

Dr. Norman Geisler: First of all I would suggest that he left the church for a very unsound reasoning, because there is no logical reason why anyone would want to accept the conclusions that he has there. And secondly, he may very well have been asleep in class because, undoubtedly, there were a number of things said from St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas who answered these questions that he has long ago.
On the first question, I would point out that God didn’t create man with sin; the Bible says that God created man perfect and that sin entered the world because of disobedience. And secondly, that God has provided a remedy for sin, what he calls original sin there. Christ came into the world and died. So it is certainly fair: even though that baby comes into the world with sin, there is a remedy for it. If there was no remedy, that would be unfair. And it is certainly in accord with God’s perfection because He didn’t create the baby with original sin. That came as a result of man’s sin.
Ankerberg: But you would say that something happened to that baby coming in?
Geisler: “Because Adam sinned, death passed upon all men for that all have sinned,” Romans 5:12 says. And that baby is born with a bend or a propensity or proclivity to sin. It is a reminder that we are part of this fallen Adamic race and that things are not “hunky-dory”, that things need a remedy and that the cross is the remedy.
Ankerberg: He would say, I think in return, though, “Is it fair, though, for a kid coming in to get the rap for somebody else?”
Geisler: Well, if he were getting the rap only for someone else, that would be wrong, because even Ezekiel says “The children shall not suffer for the father’s sin, nor the father for the children.” [Ezek. 18:20] However, that child, if it lives long enough and is able to develop its own freedom, and come to an age where it is morally accountable, will sin itself, and it will get the rap for its own sin. And secondly, that child was, in some sense, the Bible says, “in Adam.” That is, it was potentially or seminally present there, as St. Augustine would say. And that Adam, as the representative of the human race, and that child being potentially present there, sinned in Adam in a potential way, which will be actualized by that child when it reaches the age of moral accountability and sins itself.
Ankerberg: Is he therefore able or not able to choose the right?
Geisler: The child is not able in its own power to choose the right. That is what sin and depravity means. But by the grace of God and by the provisions of salvation made for the child, he has enabled by God to choose the right.
Ankerberg: Okay, we have got another one here. How could an all-knowing, all-loving God allow his son to be murdered on a cross in order to redeem my sins?
Geisler: Well, it seems to me that that’s like saying, “How could a soldier fall on a hand grenade to save his whole company from destruction?” “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” [John 15:13] And “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners.” [Rom. 5:8] So I would think that this is the highest act of love rather than, the implication of the question is, a very unloving thing to do. In the matter of fact that is the most loving thing that could be done.
Ankerberg: He follows it up with, “If God the father is so all-loving, why didn’t He come down and go to Calvary?” Then Jesus could have said, “This is my father in whom I am well pleased.”
Geisler: Well that one is more humorous than it is serious, I take it. He is confusing the roles of the members of the trinity. The father has a role of loving; the son has a role of giving. What the son did, He did voluntarily. He said, “Lo, in the volume of the book, it is written of me, ‘I come to do thy will, Oh God.’” [Heb. 10:7] Even though He humanly shrunk from the cross asking the father to take it from him, He said, “Nevertheless, thy will, not mine be done.” [Luke 22:42] So it was done voluntarily, it was done freely. It was the father’s love that provided the means of salvation, and it was the son, in submitting to the will of the father, that provided the salvation itself.
Ankerberg: Norman, here is another question that Phil Donahue has got in his book: “If sex is so beautiful, why did God circumvent it to bring his only begotten son into the world?”
Geisler: I think he is right in saying that sex is beautiful, in fact it’s good. God said that He created male and female, that’s sex, and He pronounced everything that He created good. Secondly, I think he is wrong in assuming that God circumvented sex. As a matter of fact, there was a bloodline of the Messiah that can be traced from Adam and Eve right down through the centuries through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, right on up to the time of Christ. And Jesus’ ancestors, each one, came into the world through an act of sex, so that He has in him the very blood of his ancestors. They all came about through marriage. Now if, when we came to Christ himself, there were an act of sex involved, then there would not be anything unusual about it. So for that very time, God circumvented the act of sex so as to do something supernatural to draw attention to the fact that this is not a normal child. This is an unusual – in fact, it is the divine – Son of God. So God didn’t circumvent it at every particular link of the chain, but for the last link in the chain, He had to do it in order for the miracle of the virgin birth to draw attention to the deity of Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: Again, these are questions in the book that Phil Donahue wrote about himself. He has another question here. “If mass murderers occasionally get a parole-review, how come hell is not appealable? Is God less forgiving than we are?”
Geisler: I think the assumption is that God is less forgiving than we are, and of course, that’s a very radical assumption of the question. God is more forgiving than we are. But at the same time, God gives men a period of probation. It is called life. “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this, the judgment.” [Heb. 9:27] There are life sentences. There is such a thing as a capital crime and there are capital punishments for capital crimes. So what the Bible is saying is that a man has a lifetime to make a lifetime decision. And if, in that period of probation called life, he isn’t willing to reform, then God says, since you are incorrigible, unrepentant, and there is no way you are going to change your mind – and God being omniscient, he knows that he will never change his mind – then that person is consigned to eternal hell according to his own choice, not against his will, but according to his own will. And God will say to him, “Your will be done.”
Ankerberg: Seems like in back of this question, though, it is the fact that the reality of God is not there now enough so that they would change their mind. He has got the idea that once they get to hell, they’ll change their mind. What would you say about that?
Geisler: Well, we have an example in the Bible in Luke 16 of someone who was in hell. There is no indication he had changed his mind. There is no indication that he didn’t deserve to be there. There is no indication that he didn’t will to be there. All we are told is that he didn’t want to be there; that it was uncomfortable, it was miserable, it was a place of torment. I’m sure that when somebody jumps off a cliff, that on the way down they might say, “Oops!” But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t will to hit the bottom, because when they jumped the cliff, they willed to hit the bottom whether they wanted to or not. Hell is an undesirable place, they don’t want to be there, but they will to be there. As C. S. Lewis put it, the door of hell is locked on the inside by man’s free will and rebellion against God.
Ankerberg: Is there anything philosophically or morally wrong with the fact that God would allow such horrendous decisions to be left to man, namely that he could make a decision that would put him in a place called heaven or hell for all eternity?
Geisler: From the human standpoint, that is part of the risk of freedom. It’s good to have freedom. You don’t find people going around with signs, “Down with Freedom – Back to Bondage”; “I always want to do what people tell me to do.” It is good to be free. But one of the risks of freedom is that you have to make choices, and you have to live with the consequences of those choices. So this is a risky universe. Love is a very risky thing, because you may not be loved in return. Freedom is a risky thing. God created it and man may praise him with it or he may blaspheme him with it. But that is part of the very nature of the good of freedom.
Ankerberg: He concludes that “the church is not irreverent, it is destructive. It is unnecessarily destructive. It is a hurdle not worthy of my energy.”
Geisler: Well, perhaps some churches are, I can’t speak for all churches. But I can speak for the church of Jesus Christ, which down through the centuries has been built on the foundation of Christ and has believed the Bible. It has been the most loving, the most dynamic, and the most constructive force in society. Even William James, the famous psychologist who made perhaps the most profound analysis of religious experience ever made in his book, Varieties of Religious Experiences, he has two chapters on saintliness in which he says in essence, the saint, the true believer, has been the most dynamic force in society. Nietzsche was wrong. The saint is not weak; he is not destructive; the saint is the positive constructive force because nothing has ever really been accomplished in this world that was not really set on fire from some other world. That is the believer, he is not destructive, the force of love is the most constructive force in the universe.
Ankerberg: Norm, some of the folks out there are hurting, and they are saying I’d sure like to believe in God. Before we even talk about this problem of evil, let’s start off with who is God? Give an orthodox-historic Christian definition of God.
Geisler: God is all-powerful. God is all-loving. God is all-knowing. God is free. God is an infinite, eternal spirit behind this universe who made the universe for His glory and our good.
Ankerberg: Okay, now, where did you pull those definitions out of?
Geisler: Those are just a summary of the things the Bible teaches about God. John 4 says, “God is Spirit and those that worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” [John 4:24]
Ankerberg: Backtracking one step further. Why did you take the Bible as authority?
Geisler: Because it seems to me that the Bible is a revelation from God.
Ankerberg: How do you know it was a revelation from God?
Geisler: First of all it claims to be the word of God, so that narrows down the books I have to read. Not very many books claim to be the word of God. Secondly, it proves to be the word of God. There is substantial historic evidence to support that claim.
Ankerberg: Okay, historical evidence. What is the historical evidence that is the keystone?
Geisler: I would say the keystone is that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He proved to be the Son of God by fulfilling prophecies, living a sinless, miraculous life, resurrecting from the dead. He said the Old Testament is the word of God. In Matthew 5:17-18 he said, “I came not to destroy but to fulfill…. Not a jot or a tittle will be taken away until all is fulfilled.” “Heaven and earth will pass away.” He said, “Thy word is truth,” in John 17:17. In John 10:35 He said, “The scriptures cannot be broken.” He promised the same for the New Testament by giving to the apostles the “Holy Spirit who would lead them into all truth.” [John 16:13] So He guaranteed the Old Testament was the word of God and promised the New Testament. So my faith really rests upon the authenticity of Christ. If the Bible is not the word of God, then Jesus is not the Son of God. If Jesus is not the Son of God, then I feel like Peter, “then to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” [John 6:68] Who else lived a sinless, perfect life, fulfilled prophecy, and resurrected from the dead?
Ankerberg: Okay, so the evidence supporting Jesus establishes His claim and then His claim, He puts his stamp of authority on the Scriptures, and from the Scriptures, we get the definition of God that you gave us?
Geisler: Right.
Ankerberg: Okay. With that definition of God, then, here is the question, “If God, the God of the Bible, is an all knowing God and could have prevented an evil world; He knew it in advance. 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?
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 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. And 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: So there is a time line on it. In other words the question of time comes in to this thing.
Geisler: And the only way he can press his argument is to assume omniscience [means all knowing], because if he were omniscient, if the atheist were all knowing, he could say, “I know God hasn’t yet defeated it and He never will.” But how could he know he never will if he didn’t know everything? So in order to disprove God, the atheist would have to be God, namely, all knowing.
Ankerberg: But the guy is coming from his position and saying, looking back over the past, you have a pretty good track record of saying that is here and it hasn’t gone, what is to give me the proof that it is going to be gone?
Geisler: Well, I’d say he hasn’t looked at the past carefully enough, because one of the things that happened in the past was the fulfillment of all these prophecies about God’s son that is going to come and die for evil; about this unusual sinless person who is going to die on a cross, and who had that unusual resurrection and reversed the order of mortality. If he’d look back at that event, it would give him confidence to believe that what that Jesus said about the future is also true. So God has entered history. This is the visited planet, and He has proven Himself already and that gives us confidence to believe that He is going to accomplish the rest of His plan.
Ankerberg: In looking at yourself, would you say to people who are listening in, boy, that’s awfully tough, when you balance what you just said with the amount of suffering that a guy is going through, say in a hospital bed, or say to someone who has just lost a loved one. You are asking me to take that as the go-ahead sign that is going to take me through all of this?
Geisler: Let me show you how this will work. I remember once Paul Harvey saying that he visited a young man who was terminally ill, whose life and career was being nipped in the bud, and he went in to encourage him. Instead he away encouraged because the young man looked at him and he said, “Paul, I do not believe that the divine architect of the universe ever builds a staircase that leads to nowhere.”
You see, if you know there is a divine architect, you know He is infinitely wise and infinitely good, then you have a guarantee of your answer, because let’s change the argument: if God is all-good, He will do something about it; if He is all-powerful, He can. Now let’s change the third premise. He hasn’t yet done anything. You know what follows from that logically? He will someday do it. And the guarantee that it will be done is the very nature of that God.
William James once said, “The universe is better for having the devil in it, providing we have our foot on his neck.” But the only one who has a strangle hold on the forces of evil is an infinite God: an all-loving, all-powerful, all-good God. So the guarantee that something is going to be done is we have a divine architect of the universe and He doesn’t build staircases to nowhere.
Ankerberg: So in a sense you are turning the whole thing around and saying it is good news?
Geisler: It’s very good news.
Ankerberg: The very problem brings up the fact that there is good news.
Geisler: That is exactly right.
Ankerberg: What would you say, Norm, because we are going to get into the other areas of this next week. What would you say to a guy then, who is on his hospital bed, or is in the throes of suffering of some kind, or has lost a child, or is in the throes of divorce, or something like that? What is the good news that you could give to them about this which is coming to him?
Geisler: I would say the outlook is dark, but the up look is bright. I would say if you look around at your circumstances you are going to be discouraged. But if you look up the God who created this universe and to the nature of a God who cannot fail and who is absolutely perfect, you are going to be encouraged that He will bring about the greatest good in the long run.
Ankerberg: Okay. Now, next week we want to get into some of the solutions that people have proposed to cope with the problem of evil. We really haven’t yet nailed down some of the things inside of orthodox historic Christianity concerning what evil is or isn’t and we want to bring this up next week so we hoping that you folks will tune in and check us out next week. Thanks, Norman.

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