Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist? – Program 3

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1983
If God created everything, and evil is a thing, doesn’t that mean that God created evil?

Is God the Author of 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 that 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, “Evil is not a thing.” 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 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 perfection’s 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. Let me ask you the straight question. What about all evil that is not connected with human freedom, such as that which comes to us that we didn’t actually choose, such as hurricanes, sickness, pestilence and stuff 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 byproduct 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 byproduct of that good is we can also drown in it. The purpose of water was to enjoy it, but a byproduct 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 byproduct called a tornado. So tornadoes and hurricanes are byproducts 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, one, 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, 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.
Ankerberg: I can’t help getting away from the fact that we are saying that the quantity of evil does not come to us because of our own free choice, or because water is there, or because these other things are there. What is the purpose that God had? Do we know what the purpose is for God allowing the quantity of evil that comes? I mean, yeah, some of it is fine to teach me. How about some of the rest of this stuff and maybe even to stack it one step higher in a harder sense, what about all these innocent people, children and so on, that are affected by such freedom?
Geisler: I think one of the best books on this topic on a practical level is Philip Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts? The book is built on the research done by a Christian with lepers. They found out three very interesting things. First of all, ninety-eight percent of the deformed fingers and toes in lepers are not caused by the disease; it is caused by the leper knocking off his own finger or putting it in the fire, because leprosy destroys the ability of the nerves to sense pain. So the leper will go to the fire and burn his finger off. So the first lesson is, God permits suffering in the world to keep us from self-destruction. If there were no pain and suffering in the world, we would destroy ourselves.
Secondly, they tied up little systems to lepers on a lay level, something like bleep system, so when they got near fire, they would move, get a bleep, and would get away from it. They found out that didn’t work because it wasn’t strong enough. So the second lesson they learned was that in order for pain to be effective it has to be really strong.
So then they hooked up almost like shock treatments on the leper and when they got near a fire, they would get a shock. That didn’t work because on the second time when they got near a fire, they would turn the system off before they got in danger, and they discovered that the third necessity is that in order for pain to be effective, it has to be out of our control.
Now that is the kind of universe God has. One with pain to keep us from self-destruction, hard enough to really hurt and it has to be out of our control. So as C. S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a morally deaf world.”
Ankerberg: It seems like all this stuff we have been talking about, some people would say, “Man, why did God do it at all?” They will hinge it on a verse like Jesus said about Judas: “It would have been better if Judas had never been born.” [Matt. 26:24] A lot of people are thinking, “With all of this and with all this hard teaching that I have to go through, maybe it is better that God didn’t even do it at all.” What can we point to that would say it was worth it, for Him to do that, and at whose expense?
Geisler: Well, first of all, certainly Jesus was not saying that non-existence would be better than existence, because you can’t compare existence and non-existence. You have to have something in common in order to make a comparison. That wouldn’t even be comparing apples and oranges; that would be comparing apples and non-apples, and you can’t compare apples and non-apples. I think what he was saying is look how great Judas’s sin was. When you compare the parallel passages in the Bible, it says it would be more tolerable for. In other words this would be a hypothetical hyperbole indicating the intensity of Judas’s sins. His sin was so great, my goodness, it would have been better if he had never been born. But he is not saying that a state of non-existence would be better than the state of existence, because you cannot compare something and nothing. There is nothing in common with them.
And so the people who say, “Wouldn’t no world at all be morally better than this world?” are making a meaningless statement. It would be like comparing blue and taste. You can’t taste blue. Those are two different categories. Because no-moral world is not a moral world and you can’t make a moral comparison between nothing and something. And you certainly cannot make a moral comparison between a non-moral world and a moral world.
Ankerberg: I think they are coming from an existential point of view of saying, the feelings that I have; the future feelings of pain, I can do without that. Is it better to experience solid pain as opposed to no pain at all?
Geisler: I didn’t see the force of that mistake until years ago. I heard somebody argue “It is better to exist than not exist.” I thought that sounds good: “To be or not to be.” “To be is better than not to be,” to rephrase Shakespeare. And I thought, “to be” is not better than “not to be” because you cannot compare “to be” and “not to be.” There is nothing to compare them with. So if “to be” is not better than “not to be” than neither is “not to be” better than “to be”.
Ankerberg: Okay, let’s jump to the next one. The reason that takes such a hard turn is that people are saying, “Okay, what is this thing about hell?” Why did God have to put that in there?
Geisler: Well, first of all, hell is necessary because God won’t force anyone against their freedom. Jesus said, “Oh, Jerusalem, oh Jerusalem,… How oft I would have gathered you together as a mother hen gathers her chicks, but you would not.” [Matt. 23.37] So He did not force them into the fold. Second Peter 3:9 says, “God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should repent.” But if they don’t repent, He can’t twist their arm. There are no shotgun weddings in heaven.
Ankerberg: But why not annihilation? Why eternal suffering?
Geisler: Well, annihilation wouldn’t be fair either. That is like my saying to my son, “Now, if you grow up to be a doctor, I will really be proud of you. But if you grow up to be a plumber, I’m going to shoot you.” You see, he has the right to choose what he wants. I can train him the way I want; I can love him. But love is only persuasive, never coercive. And if he says, “But Dad, I want to be a plumber,”…
Ankerberg: Why couldn’t God just have reshaped the rules and said, “Listen, I’ll just let everybody in?”
Geisler: Well, He could, but if He had “let somebody in,” it would be worse than hell. C. S. Lewis has a book entitled The Great Divorce in which people on a bus get to heaven and they find that in heaven they are out of place; it is too heavy for them. In fact, it would be worse punishment than hell, because did you ever see somebody who can’t go to church for an hour? They just can’t stand it. How would it be if God sent them to church forever? They would say, “Man, that’s hell.” It would be better for God to consign them according to their will. Hosea said, “Ephraim is joined to his idols. Leave him alone.” [Hos. 4:17] That is what he wants. Let him have it.
Ankerberg: Okay, the opposite coin is, what about those who have never heard?
Geisler: First of all, there isn’t anyone who has never heard something about God. Romans 1:19 said they all know there is a God. Romans 2:12 says those that sin without the law perish without the law, because there is a law in their heart. Everyone has a conscience. Everyone knows there is a creation and must be a creator. If they respond to the light they have, Hebrews 11:6 says, “He that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” But they are not seeking Him; therefore, God is not obligated to give.
Ankerberg: Okay, put it in concrete terms as we sum up. For the guy that is sitting on his bed out there watching us and he has just learned he has cancer, for the person that has real pain, for the person that has got emotional heartbreak, and all of this, what can we say about why God let this come his way that would be encouraging to him? Is there anything encouraging about evil?
Geisler: Let’s take the classic example in the Bible of Job. He himself said, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” [Job 23:10] And the book of James says, “You have heard of the patience of Job and have seen the end [that is the Greek word telos, which means design] and seen the design of the Lord.” [Jas. 5:11] God has a design in your suffering. The divine architect of the universe doesn’t build staircases that lead to nowhere. There is a purpose and there is a greater day. “This light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Corinthians 4:17 says.
Ankerberg: Norman, I should say to the folks out there that are watching that have enjoyed this discussion that a lot of things you have said have just scratched the surface of what you have written in your book, The Philosophy of Religion. Also your book, The Roots of Evil, you’ve got much more in there. Just a few of the questions we have even attempted to ask you today. I would heartily recommend to the people in our audience to get hold of those books. Maybe you would recommend a couple of others that would deal from the Christian position what do we do with this thing of evil.
Geisler: C. S. Lewis has a good book, The Problem of Pain, and Philip Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts?.
Ankerberg: I hope that this has turned you to take a look at the Lord in a new light and that some of the things that you are going through will not make you bitter, but will help you to come to an understanding of what God has for you. We appreciate you tuning in this week. Thank you, Norman, for being with us.
Geisler: Thank you.

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