Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist/Part 7

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2002
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 that evil does exist, is God the author of evil?

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Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist?—Part Seven

Dr. John 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?

Dr. Norman 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 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 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, 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 Phillip 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 and 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 fitted little alarm systems to lepers, something like a buzzer system, so when they got near fire, they would move, get a mild electric shock, 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 a stronger system on the leper and when they got near a fire, they would get a painful 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. So 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.”

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