Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist? – Program 2

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1983
Is evil even real? Why would God allow his children to undergo difficulties in this life? Is there so much evil that we must assume there is no God?

Why Does God Permit Evil?

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We are talking about how God can be all loving, all-powerful, all knowing, and you can still experience the evil things that are coming your way. How does that fit inside of the orthodox historic Christian position? And, Norm, today we would like to start off with, what are some of the options that people are proposing outside of historic Christianity as well as some that have a foot on both sides, that are probably, when you actually think about it in a deep way, would be non-satisfying, but they are still proposed? Then we want to get down to some of the nitty-gritty that Christianity is saying about this. For example, let me just throw one your way. There are some people that have even been on the program that have suggested that evil is not really there; it is an illusion. What would you say to a person like that?
Geisler: Well, illusionism is probably one of the oldest non-Christian solutions to the problem of evil. It arises out of the pantheistic worldview where God is all and all is good, and therefore there is no evil. It is manifest in Christian Science, and Unity, and Hare Krishna, and the Hindu background, and Baha’i. A lot of American religious groups have picked up this pantheistic background. What they are saying in essence is, to quote Mary Baker Eddy, evil is an error of mortal mind; that it is like darkness; it doesn’t exist; it goes out of existence when the light comes there; it is like a zero; it is like a dream. It isn’t real, therefore death and sin and hell and suffering are all a figment of one’s imagination.
Ankerberg: What don’t you like about illusionism then, besides the fact of what seems to be obvious? How would you tell a person, for example, we must have a lot of folks that are part of those groups that might be looking and saying, “Okay, but I believe that; that is my way of looking at the world.” What would you say to them?
Geisler: Well, I would say that, besides the obvious, that it’s denying the obvious, and no philosophy should start with denying the obvious, we should start with the obvious and work our way from there. Besides that, I would say they have no explanation for the origin of the illusion. Where did the illusion come from? What is the origin of this illusion? Secondly, why is this illusion so universal? Why is it everybody has this illusion? Why is this illusion so persistent? And why does the illusion seem so real? After all it doesn’t make any real difference to somebody who believes that or someone like ourselves. If you stick him with a pin, he hurts just as much as I hurt. As someone put it: “There was a faith healer of Deal/ who said that though pain is not real/ yet when I sit upon a pin/ and it punctuates my skin,/ I dislike what I fancy I feel.” Now he dislikes it as much as we do.
Ankerberg: He just tries to deny it. He just denies the experience.
Geisler: He just denies the reality, but actually the force of that in his life is equal to the force of the pin in our life, he is just defining it differently. But defining a reality as a non-reality doesn’t make the reality go away. And there is one other thing I would like to say. According to their view, our view is evil because we propound the reality of evil. They deny the reality of evil. But if they admit that we exist and that our view is real, then they are admitting the reality of evil because our view is evil. But once they admit that we exist and that our view is part of reality, they are denying their view because they are admitting that evil is real and they can’t admit that evil is real.
Ankerberg: What do they say when you tell them that?
Geisler: Well, they usually stutter a little bit. They usually try to get around it by saying something as kind as they can without insulting our non-existence – insulting us by saying we don’t exist – they try to point out that for us to say that is an illusion. But then, why talk with us if we are just an illusion, if we don’t really exist? If people who really believe that and the reality of that belief don’t exist, then they really shouldn’t write books trying to convince us and they shouldn’t talk with us; they should just ignore us.
Ankerberg: How about dualism? They are saying,” Hey, evil is there. It is a separate entity. It is a separate god. It is a separate agent, whatever you want to call it. And good is there, and they have always been there.” What would you say to that?
Geisler: That is a very ancient view, too. Actually St. Augustine, the famous Christian from around 400 A.D., belonged to a Manichean cult that believed that. The Zoroastrian religion believes that: two eternal forces struggling with each other. The problem with that is that both forces cannot be infinite. Both forces can’t be all powerful, because you can’t have two all-powerful beings. If they got into a fight, one could give a knockout blow to the other. If the other can be knocked out, he is not all-powerful. So only one of those can be all-powerful. But if the other one is not all-powerful, and one is all-powerful, then you don’t really have two co-eternal beings. They are not “co”. You have one finite power and one infinite power. That is precisely what the Bible says. Secondly, the problem is if one is finite and everything finite thing is created, because every limited thing must come into existence, then it must have been created by the other. Then what they are really talking about is the devil, a finite, limited power that was created by the infinite power – created good and went bad, of course, as the Bible says. But they are not talking about a god.
Ankerberg: Then, of course, they would say both of them could have been finite, but then there is a problem with that, too.
Geisler: Well, if they say both are finite we have serious problems then, because we do not know the outcome of the battle, we don’t know if we are on the right side. God is just struggling with evil Himself, and if He is only finite, who made Him? Everything finite thing must have had a creator.
Ankerberg: Alright, how about determinism, which is another sense of pantheism, or is pantheism? “God was not free to create a better world than we have. God was forced to create the world we have. God is actually either a part of the world, all is God, and God is all, or that that which is here is flowing out from God and it is just the way it is.”
Geisler: The problem with this deterministic view is that God, of His own nature, must necessarily create evil, is like saying evil must necessarily flow from an absolutely good being. That is contradictory to say than an absolutely perfect being must create something that is evil. Furthermore, God doesn’t have to do anything. He is free. God is love and love is bestowed freely. You can’t force someone to love. The basic premise, false premise, behind this belief is that God is somehow incomplete, because a pantheist believes that God is like a seed and He must unfold into a flower. So there is a lack in God and He had to create in order to fulfill His own lack, whereas we believe that God is absolutely perfect. He had no lacks, he had no need, He wasn’t lonely and therefore He created. Actually, He would still be lonely because we don’t talk to Him that much anyway. But it wasn’t loneliness, it wasn’t need in God, it was an absolutely perfected being who wanted to share, but didn’t need to create.
Ankerberg: What do you say, Norm, to a person who says, “You know, evil has wiped me out. I’ll tell you, I have struggled with it. I’d like to be a Christian. I’d like to believe there is a God. I’d like to believe that He loves people. But man, I can’t handle it. There is just too much suffering. There is just too much evil in this world and I’ve come to the conclusion that God just can’t be there because there is just too much evil.”
Geisler: Well, let me tell you what actually happened. I’ve had a number of debates with atheists around the country. I pointed out to an atheist in a process of a debate once this very dilemma. I said that C. S. Lewis was an atheist. He said that atheism is circular, it is arguing in a circle for this reason. I said there is no God because there is injustice. Then I started to think, injustice, that means not just. I must know what justice is. And then the atheist has to say not only is this unjust, but it has to be ultimately unjust. If you get a ticket for speeding when you weren’t speeding, then you go to the judge and he throws it out, it was immediate injustice, but ultimately it wasn’t unjust. So the atheist has got to say there is no God because it is ultimately unjust.
Now that he can’t say for two reasons. One, he doesn’t have any ultimate standard of justice. That is God. So if he says there is an ultimate standard of justice, God, by which I know this is unjust, he is saying there must be a God in order to show that there is not a God. Secondly, he can’t know it is ultimately unjust unless he is omniscient. How does he know what today seems to be wrong, tomorrow could easily be made right? So he has to presuppose God and presuppose that he is God in order to disprove God. He is arguing in a circle.
Do you know what the atheist looked at me and said? He said, “I don’t presuppose any ultimate standard of justice. The only reason I have for saying there is no God is my own benign moral feeling. Well, of course, if I had said to that university audience, “the only reason I have for believing God is my own benign moral feeling,” they would have laughed me off as an experiential fundamentalist who just had a liver quiver and he doesn’t really have any reason for believing in God. But in the final analysis, he either has to have an ultimate standard of justice or just a liver quiver that he doesn’t want to believe in God.
Ankerberg: Some people would say, “Okay, but what if we just all grew up and were conditioned to have these feelings?” What would you reply to that?
Geisler: Well, I would say if we all grew up and we were conditioned, that he would have a good case. But that is not the case. We do have freedom. God has revealed Himself and conscience and creation in His word to men, and it is not that they don’t know. It’s not that they don’t have a standard. Because the very people who say there is no standard act in accordance with the standard.
Let me illustrate it this way. There is a young man in University of Indiana who wrote a term paper to a former student of mine who was teaching philosophy at that university. And in this term paper he said that there are no morals in the universe. There is nothing like good and truth and justice. He gave a scholarly, brilliant, very well written term paper proving there were no moral principles. When he handed it in to the teacher, the teacher put on it “F – I don’t like blue folders.” And he sent it back to the student. The student came storming into his office and said, “That’s not fair, that’s not just, that’s not right. You should have graded it on its merits, not because it had a blue folder!” The teacher said, “Oh, I didn’t know you believed in fairness and justice and rightness. You said in the paper you didn’t believe in any moral things. F – I don’t like blue folders.” Now after he made the point to the young man, he changed the F to an A. You see people say there are no moral absolutes, but they don’t act like that when you try it on them.
Ankerberg: I don’t want to drop that point, yet. I think you have got somebody’s attention out there that’s doubting. Say a little bit more about this thing of if an atheist tries to deal with this problem of evil, how it goes around in a circle on him. Let’s take it from another viewpoint. I know C. S. Lewis also wrote a book and showed how the Ten Commandments can be found across society in the world, where maybe they didn’t have the command, “Thou shall not murder,” but they didn’t want anybody murdering them. Maybe you are not supposed to steal. They could go and steal from somebody else, but they didn’t want somebody to steal from them. They could go and sleep with somebody else’s wife, but they didn’t want somebody to come sleep with their wife. And he just went down and said, “Why do you feel so strongly about those things?” He went down to show that the Ten Commandments were already in their hearts. I would like to just pursue that one step further again, for those that would say, “But the evil is there. And I can’t get away from the fact that I don’t have so much experience about God, but I have a tremendous amount about evil. Evil is the proof and so over whelming to me that it is driving me to say that, if there is a God in any shape or form, the thing is that I can’t have anything to do with him.”
Geisler: I think that the thing we want to say to him is that he has no objective absolute moral standard to make that statement. So, either it is merely an expression of his own feeling, his own opinion, “I feel, or my opinion there is no God,” or he has some objective, ultimate, absolute standard to make as a basis for making that statement. If the latter, then he is arguing in a circle because he is assuming an absolute moral prescription and you don’t have moral prescriptions without a moral prescriber. You don’t have laws without a legislator. So he is assuming God to disprove God or else he has no basis for his disproof except he doesn’t like it. As Ivan in Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, who said, “If there were a God I wouldn’t believe in him.” Nietzsche once said “If you could prove this Christian God to me, I would believe him all the less.” See, the real problem isn’t that they have reasons for doing it, it is that they are in moral rebellion against God. The fool has said, not in his mind that there is no God, “the fool has said in his heart that there is no God.” [Psa. 14.1]
Ankerberg: Okay, Norm, where did the evil come from that is in this world? Just give a straight answer on that.
Geisler: According to the Bible, God is absolutely good and He made an absolutely good world. Everything He made, He said it is good. “Every creature of God is good.” [1 Tim. 4:4] One of the good things that he gave some of those good creatures was free will. It is good to be free. Hardly anyone would say freedom was bad because, if they did it would be at least self-defeating because they are exercising their freedom, which they enjoy as a good, in order to say freedom is bad. So freedom is undeniably good. Freedom is the source of evil; because if you are really free to love God, you are also free not to love Him, because forced love is a contradiction in terms. If you are free to worship him, you are free to blaspheme him. So evil arose from free will. Freedom is a good. God created the good of freedom. Man performs the acts of evil by misusing his freedom.
Ankerberg: What is the motivation for a man that is free at the start to choose the evil?
Geisler: First of all, if you mean by motivation what was the cause, or you could mean what was the purpose. If you mean cause, what caused man to sin, it was his own freedom. And if his freedom is the first cause, it is meaningless to ask, what caused his freedom, because that is like asking, “Who made God?”
Ankerberg: In other words, that is like a starting point.
Geisler: That is the starting point. The first cause is the first cause and you can’t ask what caused the first cause. If freedom is the first cause of evil, then you can’t ask what caused freedom. But if you mean what motivated man literally, what was his purpose, it was to affirm his own freedom, himself over against God. For example, Isaiah 14:14 talks about this being that said, “I will become like the most high.” Satan said to Adam and Eve, “Ye shall become as God.” [Gen. 3:5] So apparently the motivation was to affirm oneself autonomously or as a self over against God and to make the universe center around myself rather than center around God. So freedom is the act by which I say, “I am God and God is not God.”
Ankerberg: Okay, take the next step and I’ll lead you down the garden road here on this. The next step, the non-Christian would say, is what are the results then of that free choice?
Geisler: Well the results of that free choice, according to the Bible, is that it brought separation between God and man; because God cannot allow man to live in the illusion that he is God because he is not God. And so man is automatically separated. There is alienation between God and man, which is called sin. As a result of Adam’s sin, “death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” [Rom. 5:12]
Ankerberg: The consequences become eternal. I think that is what the non-Christian is really sweating out there; the fact that you are not just talking about a mistake. You are talking about something that is really going to affect him eternally.
Geisler: Well, there are some irreversible consequences in life. If you jump off a cliff, I take it that is irreversible. You can say, “Oops” all the way down but still you haven’t reversed that decision. There are one way commitments. Life is a one way commitment. God is giving everyone a chance to decide, “Will you go my way or your way?” C. S. Lewis put it very beautifully in his book, The Great Divorce. The title of that shows something about the nature of heaven and hell. There must, ultimately, come a divorce. He said there are two kinds of people in the world. One says to God, “Thy will be done.” They are believers. The other one God says to him, “Thy will be done.” They are unbelievers. But since God is loving and man is free, everyone must be separated according to his freedom. If he wants to go God’s way, heaven. If he wants to go his way, hell.
Ankerberg: If God is so loving, and realizing that some men would actually take Him up on their freedom and make the choice against him, knowing the amount of suffering, eternally, that they would go through, why did God create in the first place? Wouldn’t it have been better for those guys never to have been born?
Geisler: There are several ways to answer that question. First of all, it is really “better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.” It is better for God to create him, give him his freedom, give him the ability to choose one way or the other and then say, “Thy will be done” rather than not giving him his will. The proof of this comes from two atheists. Jean-Paul Sartre, who is a French atheist who died not too many years ago, wrote a play entitled No Exit. Think of the profound insight into hell this atheist had. In the middle of the play, three people in hell, in the middle of the play, the door opens up and they are given a chance to leave. No one leaves. “Why?” says Sartre the atheist? Man is condemned to his own freedom. C. S. Lewis adds this comment; “the door of hell is locked on the inside.” So it is better to give him his freedom than to take it away.
Furthermore, Nietzsche, perhaps the most famous atheist of all time, said, “God is dead and all values died with him.” In the last line of his book, Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche answers the question that we might want to ask, what would an atheist want: for God to snuff him out of existence; to let him continue to live forever; or to force him to go to heaven? Those are the only three choices: either God forces people to go to heaven (forced love is not love; forced love is rape and God is not a divine rapist – He won’t force anyone into heaven); or snuff him out of existence; or let him go on willing forever. Nietzsche says this, “I would rather will nothingness than not to will at all. Give me my freedom.” And God says, “Have it your way.”
Ankerberg: However, it seems to me there are some people that are still going to say that might have been great for Nietzsche, and it might have been great for the guy that said, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But it depends on who is getting loved and not loved. If it is the person that is actually going to be the one that suffers eternally, how many people are actually clear in that decision? How many people are actually clear in their commitment to God or their non-commitment to God and end up in the position of eternal punishment? If the Bible is really true and talking about a hell that lasts forever, isn’t that a serious case of overkill?
Geisler: First of all, let’s get back to the fundamental question. The fundamental question behind that is, “Is God fair; is God just; does He really provide everyone with an opportunity; does everyone have some light? And according to Romans 1:19 and Romans 2:12, there is no one anywhere that God doesn’t reveal Himself to. Now, if you were lost in a jungle and you saw that it was really dark – you could slice the darkness – and you saw one speck of light, what would you do? Go for it. If you go for the light, it gets bigger. But what if you turn your back and go the other way and you find yourself in total darkness? Whose fault is it? The Bible says “men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” [John 3:19] Now, if they haven’t responded to the light they have, God is not responsible. Indeed, it wouldn’t even be loving to give them more light. If you don’t want a little flashlight in your eye, how would you like big bright lights shining in your eye? So if men loved darkness, God in His love says, “Okay, so be it.” “He that is filthy,” Revelation says, “Let him be filthy still. He that is righteous, let him be righteous still.” [Rev. 22:11]
Ankerberg: I want to thank you, Norm, for this week and your thoughts on this. Next week we want to pick up the question that everybody is probably asking if they are thinking with us, “Okay, you are talking about freedom being the cause of moral evil, but how about some of the things that I do not even choose like physical evil and things like that? How does that come into play here in God’s good universe?” Next week. See you then.

Read Part 3

1 Comment

Leave a Comment