Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist? – Program 4

By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1983
If God did not create evil, and if evil is not a “thing,” what is evil, and how did it come to be part of our world?

How Did Evil Originate?

Ankerberg: My guest today is Dr. Norman Geisler. He has written a tremendous book, The Roots of Evil. This topic affects all of us and it comes in many forms. But primarily non-Christians sometimes remain non-Christians because they look squarely at evil and they say, “It is too overwhelming for me to handle and handle at the same time the intellectual belief that there is a God there.” It usually comes down in this form: If there is a God there, and Christianity is saying that God created everything – and we are; we are not Christian Scientists who are saying evil is an illusion; evil is a real deal, here – God created everything and it hurts; that is part of the creation. If He is good, how could He have created evil?
Geisler: I think that was answered in 400 by St. Augustine when he struggled with the same problem. If God is the author of everything and evil is something, then it would seem like God is the author of evil. The fallacy is the second statement. Evil is not a thing; evil is the lack in something. For example, evil is like a wound in an arm. You never find a totally wounded arm. A totally wounded arm would be no arm at all. Or evil is like rust in a car. You never find a totally rusted car. You could say “You have never seen mine!” But a totally rusted car would be a brown spot on the pavement. You never find a totally moth-eaten garment. A totally moth-eaten garment is a hanger in a closet. Evil is not a thing; evil is the lack in something else. God created only good things. Romans 14:14 says everything is good. “There is nothing unclean in itself.” First Timothy 4:4 says God created everything and it is good. Genesis 1:30-31 says God said it is “very good,” what He had created. So every thing is good. Evil is a privation or a lack. It becomes a legitimate question, where does the lack come from?
Ankerberg: That is the next question. If God created everything, you are not off the hook yet. How did evil originate?
Geisler: I think the lack originated by one of the good things God created. One of the good things God created was free will. I have never yet seen anybody march “Down with freedom. Back to bondage. I want to do everything my mother tells me.” You know, it is good to be free. It’s good to be free, and even the people who say, it is not good to be free, I think it is good to be able to say that it is good to be free. If they weren’t free to say it, then they would be defeating themselves in the process of saying, “I enjoy the freedom to say that I don’t enjoy freedom to say….”
Ankerberg: Could you understand that? Would you run that by me again?
Geisler: In other words, it is self-defeating to say, “I freely express that freedom is not a good thing,” because all you have to do is to ask the person, “Do you think that was good that you had that freedom to express that?” If he says yes, then, you see, it is good to be free, isn’t it?
Ankerberg: Yeah, but if it is good to be free, then how do we have something bad come out of something good?
Geisler: Because freedom means you can choose one way or the other, and you can choose good or you can choose evil.
Ankerberg: Okay, if man was at the beginning and didn’t have any inclinations to go one way or the other, and he knew what the score was, we are not saying he was forced to do one thing or another. He had his freedom, really, true freedom. But he doesn’t have the desires that we do right now to choose. He doesn’t have the inclination toward it. In other words, we see sin we say, well, hey, we don’t want to go in that direction. There is something that is in me that goes in that direction. But Adam is standing there neutral. He has got true freedom but he knows the consequences intellectually. What made him go in the other direction?
Geisler: His free choice. You see, you have to distinguish between two different things, desire and decision. I sometimes have the desire to do something, punch somebody in the nose that cuts me off in traffic, but I decide not to. So desire and decision are two different things. Sometimes I decide to do things that I don’t desire. My wife says, “Take out the garbage.” I don’t desire to do that, but I decide to do it anyway. Desire and decision are two different things. Adam had no desire to sin. He didn’t have that inclination to sin that we have that we inherited from Adam. But he did have the ability to make a decision. Now if you ask why did Adam decide to do it, then you are asking a meaningless question. It is like asking when did the bachelor stop beating his wife. He was a bachelor; he didn’t have a wife. So when you ask what caused Adam to sin, you are assuming there is some cause behind his freedom that determined his freedom. Well, then he wouldn’t be free if there was some puppet strings behind him pulling. He decided to do it. If you ask why he decided to do it, the answer is because he decided to do it.
Ankerberg: Would he have done it then by mistake because he didn’t know what he was getting into?
Geisler: Well, obviously the consequences of it are bad and the decision was wrong as compared to God’s command. So in that sense it was a mistake. But it is a decision the consequences of which are still with us and that Adam made only because he was free. If he had been a robot, then he couldn’t have made it. B. F. Skinner says everybody is determined, walled into, we are all determined. Well, if we were all determined, then something would have had to determine Adam to do that. If something determined him to do it, like this man who killed a bunch of nurses in Chicago a number of years ago, named Speck, they say his Y-chromosomes were messed up. Well, if his Y-chromosomes caused him to do it, then he is not responsible, right? And if something determined Adam to do it, he is not morally responsible. The Bible says that Adam was morally responsible.
Ankerberg: Run through for people who are non-Christians who are walking in or tuning in right now that are saying, “Okay, what is this scenario again?” You are a theologian, you are a philosopher, tell us how you see what Genesis is saying, how this thing got started.
Geisler: I see that a good God made a good creature. He gave that good creature a good thing called free will. It is not bad to be free. Everybody enjoys their freedom. Free will means the ability to choose good or evil. Man, who was good, with that good thing called free will, chose to do evil. Evil comes as a consequence of a choice of a good creature who had a good power that he misused.
Ankerberg: Okay, as a result of that choice you are saying there comes a lack. Evil is a lack.
Geisler: That makes a lack or privation. Some of the lacks in Adam are that his nature became corrupted, the world became corrupted. That has been passed on to you and to me. So the lack is a result of the free choice. It is good to be free. God created the fact of freedom, but man performs the acts of freedom. God is responsible for giving us the freedom. We are responsible for what we do with it. We can’t blame Henry Ford for mass-producing cars for all of the accidents that we cause with them. And you can’t blame God for creating creatures that are free. What we do with that freedom, we are responsible what we do with it.
Ankerberg: Lots of people say Christian theology is saying, because Adam did something, I am hung with it, I can’t do anything else. What is the relationship, what are the consequences, of Adam doing something that now affects me, and is it fair?
Geisler: St. Augustine put it very succinctly. He said we are born with the necessity to die and the propensity, or inclination, to sin. So that the consequences are, you and I are going to die. Romans 5 says the cemetery is a testimony of the fact that something is wrong with this world and something is wrong with us. [Rom. 5:12] Also, we are born with this inclination to sin. We are not born in neutral. We are not created in neutral. We are born with the propensity to sin. That would be unfair if nothing had been done about it and it weren’t reversible. But something has been done about it – the cross of Christ – and it is reversible. All we have to do is to receive by faith the power of God to overcome it.
Ankerberg: But, in a sense, what would you say to the guy who comes back and says, “I didn’t have the choice then, really. I just got hung with this and the only thing that I have left is to choose to get out of this.”
Geisler: I would say he is right. I’d say he has got it exactly right. Adam made the original choice; Adam was our representative; he was the first one. Romans 5:12 says all men sin in Adam. We were potentially, seminally, present there in Adam, and as our representative, he made the choice for us. And we proved that we would have done the same thing, because we make the same choices ourselves. It would be immanently unfair if Adam was not our representative and we had no way to escape from the dilemma.
Ankerberg: One of the highest men in the state of Illinois in law, one of the judges, has a problem right here. He says, “Okay, let’s say that God knows everything, and that is what you are saying in Christianity. Then, before that happens, because He knew it would happen, and the consequences are as real as you are making them out to be, a real hell, real pain and suffering coming as a result of this choice, then, if God is loving, why did He ever let man start the ballgame?
Geisler: “It is better to have loved and to have lost than not to have loved at all.” Just because God knew that someone was going to turn it down, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t loving. I think it is more magnanimous on God’s part to offer something knowing it is going to be refused than not to have offered it at all. Anybody can give the people who are going to praise them, but God gave the people He knew were going to curse Him. Jesus chose twelve people, one He knew would betray and made him treasurer of the group. I think that manifests greater love.
Ankerberg: The problem is the price that the people that turn him down, He has got to know what it is going to cover all those people in terms of punishment, if hell is correct. You have got hell forever and ever and ever, everlasting punishment. You have lots of suffering in this world: people who have got cancer, people who are suffering, people who are incapacitated. All of that to a loving God’s heart, how on earth can that be better over just the fact that giving men the choice to love Him?
Geisler: Of course, there is a way to solve all those problems. There is a very simple solution to all those problems. No pain, no cancer, no hell – create no free creatures, don’t give anybody any freedom. Then we will get right back to, where is the atheist who really wants a God to create only robots? Where are the Madalyn Murray O’Hairs of this world who really want that no one could be free to express their views? You see, if the atheist is right, what he is saying is God should intervene in this world and stamp out all evil.
I can tell you how He can do it. Every time an atheist opens his atheist’s mouth to utter his atheist’s thought, God could cram it full of cotton. That would stop a lot of evil right there. Now what atheist really wants that? Every time he would think an atheist thought, God could give him an Excedrin headache # 2. Every time they pick up their atheist fountain pen to write an atheistic idea, God could explode it in their hands. Then what would they say about that kind of God? “That’s not fair, that is not loving, He is manipulating me.”
No, God is so loving that He will allow people to curse Him. He is so loving, as C. S. Lewis put it beautifully in his book, The Great Divorce – and he was an atheist himself once and became a Christian – on this very problem of evil. He said there are really only two kinds of people in the universe. One says to God, “Thy will be done in my life.” The other one, God looks at him and says, “Thy will be done. Have it your way.” And in a free universe that is all you can have.
Ankerberg: Another way this question comes up, Norman, which you know very well: if God is all-knowing, and He is, He knows all about things, he is all-loving, He really cares about us, and He is all-powerful. There is a time-line on this one. People want an all-loving God, if He is loving, show it to me now. I am hurting right now. What are you waiting for? If you are all-powerful and you are really God, what are you waiting for, again? You can do it. If you are all-powerful there is nothing that you couldn’t do. You love me completely, you are all-powerful and I am in pain. My husband just divorced me. I just lost my job. My kid who was the apple of my eye just died. God where are you right now? Isn’t that an evil and doesn’t it keep people back from God? Norman, if God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving, why isn’t He doing something about it NOW?
Geisler: I think the putting of a time limit on it is shows that the atheist or objector to God is really assuming to be God. The argument goes like this: if God is all-powerful, He can defeat evil; if He is all-good, He would defeat evil; but evil is not yet defeated. Now the assumption of the objection is that it never will be, that because God hasn’t defeated it yet as of today, that He never will do anything in the future. As a matter of fact, the assumption is also wrong that He hasn’t done anything yet today. God has done something about evil. Christ came and died for our sins. He officially defeated evil at the cross. He is going to return and officially destroy evil. So what he is saying is, because God hasn’t finished the job as of today that He never will in the future. But the only way he could know that is if he were omniscient, in other words, if he could say, “I know that since evil has not yet been totally defeated as of now, that it never will be in the future because I know everything in the future.” Well, if he knows everything, then he is omniscient. If he is omniscient, then he is God. So he has to play God in order to defeat God. He is arguing, as C. S. Lewis said, in a big circle.
Ankerberg: What would you say to somebody who is in the hospital who might be watching us tonight? Everything was going great, and because they were struck down with a stroke or a heart attack, their family is in jeopardy, he might lose his job, he doesn’t know what the future holds. He is saying, “Why?” How about something worse? I can’t think of anything worse than having a little child, one or two years old, and you love this child, and all of the sudden he gets run over by a truck or some other kind of accident, or a disease, and they die. They say, “God why? It hurts too much.” What would you say to these people who are feeling this pain and they say, “You know, okay, Jesus died on the cross, but how does that help me now?”
Geisler: I would say what I heard Paul Harvey said a number of years ago. He went to visit a young man in the hospital dying of cancer. His career was nipped in the bud. And he was saying, “What can I say to encourage this young man?” He said, “When I came away from that hospital, I was encouraged because this young man who was dying looked at me and said, ‘Paul, I don’t believe that the divine architect of the universe ever builds a staircase that leads to nowhere.’”
And I would say that all of the evidence that we have that God exists, all of the scientific, philosophical, historical evidence for the existence of God, goes into assuring us that there is a solution to the problem. Because let’s look at this argument a little differently: if God is all-good, that means He will do something about it; if God is all-powerful, He can do something about it; if He hasn’t yet done anything about it, what is the only conclusion that follows from those three premises? He will do something about it. Because an all-good God wants to and an all-powerful God can, and if He hasn’t yet explained it, or if He hasn’t yet performed his ultimate good, just hang in there, God is going to do something. “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right,” Abraham was told in Genesis. [Gen. 18:25] And Job was a classic example that we can always tell on the scene, unless we know behind the scene and beyond the scene, we can’t explain what is going on on the scene.
Ankerberg: That is the answer to the big question that people ask. They assume that God is never going to do something because He doesn’t seem to be doing something now. And yet He has given us proof through Jesus Christ that something is coming right up ahead.
Geisler: And we know why we don’t know why. You see, there is a difference in not knowing why and not knowing why you don’t know why. I know why I don’t know why to all the questions. Because there is a sovereign God who knows everything and I don’t know everything. Deuteronomy 29:29 says “the secret things belong unto the Lord our God. But unto us and to our children are the things that are revealed.” If I know that God is all-good, I know He has a good purpose for it. If He is all-powerful, I know He will win in the end. Williams James who formally taught at Harvard University, father of pragmatism, said “the world is better for having the devil in it [personification of evil] providing we have our foot on his neck.” What he meant was, it is good to have the occasioning presence of evil because you can perform greater heroic acts of good. Without tribulation, no patience; without sin, no forgiveness; without situations of evil, you couldn’t have courage and magnanimous love develop. Well, it is good to have some evil in the world provided we have our foot on his neck. But the only guarantee there is a foot on the neck of the devil is there is a God who is more powerful than the devil, that all-powerful God.
Ankerberg: If God is the great creator, are you telling me that He didn’t create the best of all worlds?
Geisler: I am saying that God created this world, which was perfect to begin with. And one of the things He created was freedom. Free will brought evil. This world as it is now, as a result of Adam’s sin, is not the best of all possible worlds. I could improve it; you could. One less crime tomorrow would improve the world, one less rape, one less war. But that this is the best of all possible ways to get to the best of all possible worlds. That while this world is not the best of all possible worlds, God forbid, it is the best way to get to the best one, namely a free choice where everybody makes up their mind: do I want to serve God or do I not want to. To say either that “thy will be done,” as Lewis said, or have God say to you, “Thy will be done.” And then as 2 Peter puts it, “the Lord is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish.” [2 Pet. 3:9] Give everybody a chance, make it fair, everybody decide which way he wants to go. And when he chooses, then solidify his choice in accordance with his free will and say, “Have it your way.”
Ankerberg: What is going to happen up in heaven? Why is this a stepping stone to the next world?
Geisler: It is a stepping stone to the next world in the way that engagement is a stepping stone to marriage. When you make that decision and make that relationship permanent, we are freely choosing who we are going to be married to or divorced from forever. That is why C. S. Lewis called the title of his book on heaven and hell The Great Divorce. It is not going to be a great marriage of people who don’t want to get married. There will be no shotgun weddings in heaven. God never puts the gun to somebody’s head and say, “Love me or else,” because forced love isn’t love. Forced love is rape and God is not a divine rapist. The reason there is a hell is because God is so loving that He won’t force people against their will to go to heaven.
Ankerberg: Now talking about hell, isn’t hell a serious case of overkill? Why doesn’t God just annihilate people?
Geisler: I think the reason He doesn’t annihilate people is that would be unloving. If I said to my son, “I want you to grow up and be a doctor,” and he grew up and became a plumber, and I say, “Okay, bang, I shoot you,” how loving a father am I? I have to be able to handle his free choice and love him even if he chooses to do something I don’t want. God doesn’t force people against their will. He doesn’t say, “If you don’t go my way, I’ll take you out of existence.” In fact, one of the most famous atheists who ever lived, Friedrich Nietzsche, he was the one who said, “God is dead, signed Nietzsche,” and somebody wrote under it “Nietzsche is dead, signed God.”
Well, Nietzsche wrote a book called The Genealogy of Morals. In the last paragraph he answers this question, basically. If he were to stand before God and God would to say before Nietzsche, “I give you three choices: bow down and worship me and repent of everything you ever said, or go on thinking and willing the way you want to think and will or I’ll snuff you out of existence,” which one do you think Nietzsche would have chosen? I think he would have chosen the one that says “I’ll go on thinking and willing the way I want.” Because here is what he said, “I would rather will nothingness than not to will at all.” It is not fair to a free creature to say I’ll let you have your freedom as long as you do what I want. Well, then they are not really free. God is so loving to people He says, I’ll let you have your freedom even if you reject me, forever. Do your own thing.
Ankerberg: What about natural evil in the world? We’re talking about people choosing, hey, but if a hurricane or an earthquake comes along, I didn’t choose that, and if God’s in charge of nature, what’s He doing? I mean, are you telling me that these people all had enough time to choose? Little babies, adults, cut down in the prime of life?
Geisler: When God takes direct charge of nature again, there aren’t going to be those things, and those things came only because we messed it up. In Romans 5 and Romans 12 it says Adam’s sin brought death and sickness, and even nature, in its turmoil is a result of the fall. So free will is the cause of the natural catastrophes, and God is going to restore this earth again. The paradise lost is going to be the paradise regained, and there are not going to be those kinds of catastrophes. That’s a reminder of sin. That’s a reminder that we brought that on ourselves and that God is using that as a great warning. As Lewis put in his book The Problem of Pain, God whispers to us in our pleasures, He speaks in our conscience, but He shouts in our pain. Pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a morally deaf world. And that’s a constant reminder this is a morally fallen world, and we are morally rebellious creatures and should turn to God.
Ankerberg: The last question would come right in there and that is this: what about those that haven’t heard? What about that have the earthquake happen to them that haven’t heard? What’s so good about that? What’s loving about that? That’s not even fair!
Geisler: Second Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish.” It’s not a question of there are people willing and haven’t heard, it’s a question of there are people who have heard and aren’t willing. Anyone anywhere, Romans 1:19 makes it very clear, that men hold down the truth they have, they suppress it, and that’s how darkness comes. And in Acts 10:35 it says, “In every nation he that feareth God and works righteousness is accepted.” And the context of that is Cornelius, who was seeking the truth. God sent him a missionary. God will send an angel, a missionary, drop him a Bible.
I was in Eastern Europe, working with the underground church, and there was a Communist girl who wanted to become a Christian, didn’t have a Bible, was seeking. And a Bible fell out of a building on her foot. And she picked it up and read it and became a Christian. God will drop a Bible out of the sky! He’s more interested in people becoming believers than they are. “Seek and ye shall find.” [Matt. 7:7] Hebrews 11:6 says that, “He that comes unto God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”
Ankerberg: So, in a sense there are no people that have not heard.
Geisler: There are no people who haven’t at least seen the light of nature or had the light of conscience, Romans 1 or 2, and if they seek that, God will give them more light.
Ankerberg: Okay. Thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate it.


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