The Problem of
by Louis A. Turk, B.A., M.Div., Ph.D.
One of the main arguments liberal theologians,
humanists, and atheists give against the existence of God is the existence
of evil in this world. The Episcopal
bishop John Shelby Sponge (a self-confessed humanist) words what humanists
call “the problem of evil” argument like this:
The presence of evil still confronts us with
a threat to the reality of God. It
suggests that either the all-powerful God desires evil or that the presence
of evil reveals the impotence of God. Perhaps it argues that there
is no God at all, and that all of us are at the mercy of a power called
fate....But to talk of these things is to open Scripture to depths so far
beyond literalism that many simple yet sincere Christians would not even
comprehend the words I used. I, for example, do not believe in a
God who willed Jesus to suffer for my sins. I do not believe in a
God whose inner need for justice is satisfied when his son is nailed to
a cross. I regard the substitutionary version of the atonement as
a barbaric attack on both the truth of God and the meaning of human life.1
In other words Spong is saying that the presence of evil in the world proves
that there is no God, and also proves that nothing the Bible says
The “Problem of Evil”Argument Turns Many People Away From God
The “problem of evil” argument is repeatedly given in humanist literature,
and is undermining the faith of many people. Consider, for example,
Ted Turner, the husband of Jane Fonda, and the founder of Turner Broadcasting
Systems, the Better World Society, and the Goodwill games. Turner
was proclaimed the 1990 Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association;
he is an atheist. But he says that as a youth he wanted to be a Christian
missionary. Here is how he says he lost his faith:
For quite a while, I thought I was going to be a missionary.
I got permission to go to church on Wednesday nights and Saturdays, as
well as Sundays, plus vespers and all that other stuff. I mean, I
was into it, okay? Then my sister got terminally ill. It took
her five years to finally pass away. It was real harsh, and I prayed
for her—I prayed and prayed and prayed, and nothing happened. And
I couldn’t understand why this loving, wonderful God that I had been taught
was so kind would allow someone to suffer so—someone small, someone who
hadn’t done anything wrong. I prayed and nothing happened, of course,
and so I thought to myself, “I’m not sure that I want part of this.”
Now I hadn’t said this to anybody, but if God is love and if he is all-powerful,
then why does he allow these things to happen? And there’s this interpretation
that says, you know, it’s his will. Well, if its his will, I can’t
be enthusiastic about it.
So, I began to lose my faith.2
The Truth In the “Problem of Evil” Argument Must Be Noted
There is generally an element of truth in humanist arguments, else no one
would believe them. That element of truth is twisted in order to
persuade people to believe a lie. However, the thinking man will
recognize that element of truth as contradictory to other humanist doctrines.
In the “problem of evil” argument the element of
truth is its admission that there is evil in the world.
Since Humanists (wrongly) think this fact disproves the existence
of God, they proclaim it loudly and clearly as absolute truth. We
are quick to heartily agree—it is the absolute truth.
The Fact of Evil Contradicts the Humanist Doctrine That There Are No Absolutes
This admission of the fact of evil contradicts one
of the foundational doctrines of humanism—the doctrine that there are no
absolutes. Now if there are no absolutes,
then nothing is absolutely evil. And if nothing is absolutely evil,
then how can evil be a problem, for it would not even absolutely exist!
And if evil doesn’t absolutely exist, then the “problem of evil” argument
is utter nonsense. The truth,
of course, is that both the “problem of evil” argument and the doctrine
of “no absolutes” are nonsense.
The Fact of Evil Contradicts the Humanist Doctrine That Human Nature Is
By admitting that there is evil in the world, the “problem of evil” argument
contradicts the basic humanist belief that human nature is basicly good.
The question that naturally arises is this: If human nature is basicly
good, then why do people do evil—murder, rape, rob, cheat and deceive,
and wage war with each other? If people are basicly good, and nothing
is absolutely wrong, then why do we have government and why do we
Flaws in the “Problem of Evil” Argument
The Problem of Evil Argument Is Not Logical
Now if one does not believe in God He cannot logically ask, Why does God
allow these things to happen? And if one does believe in God he must
accept God’s explanation as recorded in God’s Word. For
an atheist to ask the question but refuse God’s explanation shows insincerity
and bigotry on the part of that atheist—he does not really want to know
the answer for he has already decided not to believe in God or the Bible.
That Turner did not accept God’s explanation makes obvious that Turner
never really believed in (perhaps never even knew about) the true God.
Had Turner really believed in God and in Heaven, and really believed that
his sister “hadn’t done anything wrong,” he would have been comforted at
her death, knowing that she is now free of pain and rejoicing in the presence
of Jesus. And he would be looking forward to being reunited with
her someday in Heaven, both she and he permanently rescued from the problem
of evil. Certainly that is more hope than atheism offers.
The Problem of Evil Argument Is Deceptive In Its Definition of the Word
The noun evil is defined by Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary
evil, n. [ME. evel; AS. yfel, evil.]
Note that there are two definitions.
The meaning of the word evil depends on the
in which it is used. Humanists deceptively combine these two
definitions into one in an effort to try to force the Bible to contradict
itself by making God both righteous and morally depraved. But careful
study of the Bible makes clear that some verses use the word evil in the
sense of moral depravity or sin (the second definition of evil), and make
no reference to the first definition at all. For example:
1. anything that causes displeasure,
injury, pain, suffering, etc.
2. moral depravity; wickedness;
anything morally bad or wrong.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot
be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted,
when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. (James 1.13-14)
One the other hand, other verses are not referring to moral depravity or
sin at all, but are referring to the punishment (displeasure, injury, pain,
suffering, etc.) God is going to bring upon evildoers. For example:
So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy
thousand men. And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it:
and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil,
and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand.
And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.
(1 Chr 21.14-15)
In summary, God cannot sin (second definition of
evil), but as the righteous judge of all the earth God can (and does) bring
judgment (first definition of evil) upon sinners.
As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us:
yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn
from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. Therefore hath the
LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God
is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice.
The Problem of Evil Argument Rests Upon False, Conceited, and Bigoted
The False Presupposition That Philosophy Can Determine the Truth About
Man is locked into a finite body which is incapable of sensing the vast
majority of events occurring around it. We can see only a small band
of light rays. We can hear only a small range of the sound.
We can smell, taste, and feel only a limited range of phenomena.
For instance, we will never be able to see an electron, for the moment
we shine upon it the light necessary for our eyes to see it, we change
it. Nor can we ever know for sure what the stars are like today,
for they are so far away that by the time the light from them arrives to
earth they may not have existed for thousands of years. And we have
no way of knowing that the arriving light rays have not been drasticly
altered or distorted in their inconceivably long journey through space.
Also, we humans are locked into time, and time goes only one way.
We were not there when the earth was created, and can never reproduce that
event in the science laboratory. Nor can we determine the future
scientifically. Because of these limitations science and human wisdom
can never answer such questions as: Where did the universe come from?
Where did humans come from? Why do humans exist? Is there an
afterlife? Is there a God? Only God, Himself, can reveal such
things to men, and He did so in the Holy Bible.
The False Presupposition That the Bible Is Not God’s Infallible
Revelation of Himself to Man
Is it sensible to refuse to hear the testimony of the only witness who
was there when it happened, in favor of the guesses of men living thousands
of years later and whose theories have often been proven wrong? God
was there in the beginning of the universe and of life and of evil.
Only God’s testimony is authoritative. Only the Bible has the answers
we must have.
He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is
earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above
all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no
man receiveth his testimony. He that hath received his testimony
hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent
speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto
him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his
hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he
that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth
on him. (John 3.31-36)
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for
this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He
that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth
not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that
God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given
to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 Joh 5.9-11)
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
(2 Tim 3.16)
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how
unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For
who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory
for ever. Amen. (Rom 11.33-36)
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this
world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after
that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased
God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For
the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we
preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks
foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ
the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness
of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
(1 Cor 1.20-25)
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is
written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The
Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. (1 Cor
The False Presupposition That Being Born Again Is Just a Delusion Suffered
by Emotional Fools
I do not just believe God exists, I know He exists,
for I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and have been born
again. God’s Spirit lives in my heart. In fact, it is possible
for anyone to know the truth of God’s reality in an instant by being born
again. This is, in fact, the only way to know God this side of death.
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3.3).
If a person refuses to be born again, that person doesn’t want to see the
truth. He is like a person who says he doesn’t believe in electricity,
and then refuses to flip light switches (or even touch the bare wire) because
he doesn’t want to “look ridiculous” in the eyes of his friends.
He looks at the electric wires, and sees that they are not hollow tubes,
and he cannot see the electricity because it is invisible. How can
energy flow through something with no hole in it? he reasons. He
asks believers, and they too admit to not completely understanding it,
even though they assure him it is true. Whoa! He doesn’t
intend to accept something he can’t understand. No way! Not
him; he is an intellectual. So each night he lives in darkness unnecessarily
because of unbelief. He could easily have light in his house if only
he would have enough faith to flip a light switch. But, no, he will
not flip a switch until someone can prove to him that there is electricity.
Yet only flipping a light switch (or touching a bare positive wire) could
prove to him that there is electricity. People who use electricity
everyday can but feel sorry for such a fool. People turn lights on
all around him, yet he closes his eyes to the light. So is the atheist
that has rejected God and the new birth by refusing to accept Christ as
personal Lord and Savior. God would reveal Himself to him in an instant
if only he would believe; but he will not.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that
the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is
not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because
he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men
loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light,
lest his deeds should be reproved. (John 3.17-20)
Why a Loving God Allows Evil
Having put aside the flawed logic and phony presuppositions of humanism/atheism,
let us go to the Bible for the true answer to Turner’s question: “If God
is love and if he is all-powerful, then why does he allow these [evil]
things to happen [especially to small innocent children]?”
Before one gets too huffy about God allowing evil, he should consider
the alternatives. Reading Genesis chapters 1-3, we notice that Adam
and Eve were intelligent, free moral agents, allowed by God to do as they
pleased. God could have kept humans from evil by making them robots
with computer chip brains, unable to do anything but what they were programmed
to do. But then would they really be humans? No, and they would
not have been able to return God’s love, for computers can’t love.
Or God could have put Adam and Eve in chains in jail cells so they could
never have approached the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
That way they would never have sinned, and therefore would have lived for
ever—there would be no sorrow, sickness, or suffering in the world today.
But wait! Maybe there would be. Would not that imprisonment
of innocent people itself have been evil? Would not that imprisonment
itself have caused suffering? Would you not rather live in a free
society even if that means that people, having the opportunity to do good,
also have the opportunity to do evil? Does not justice demand that
people be allowed freedom as long as they do no evil? What value
is life without freedom?
As parents, we allow our children out of the house, knowing that by
doing so we give them opportunity to do wrong. Still we let them
out, hoping that they will choose not to do evil. Is it evil of us
to give them this opportunity to do wrong? The answer, of course,
is that we are not giving them opportunity to do wrong; we are giving them
opportunity to do right. If they abuse their opportunity, and do
wrong instead, that is their choice and their responsibility, not ours.
If we locked them in chains in their rooms to keep them from ever doing
wrong, that would be our choice, and it would be child abuse. We
then would be evil ourselves.
So the answer to Turner’s question is really very
simple: God loves humans so much he wants them to be free. God allows
the presence of evil because that is necessary to allow freedom.
Freedom implies choice, and humans would have no choice if righteousness
were the only choice, because only one choice is no choice.
Having given a brief answer to Turner’s question, let us now give a
more detailed answer.
God Did Not Create Sin
God did not create sin, nor did God create man with a nature inclined to
sin. “God hath made man upright” (Ecc 7.29a). Adam and Eve
were not created with natures of lust, hate, bitterness, wrath, greed,
etc. To the contrary, they just naturally treated each other with
honor, kindness and love. Adam and Eve just naturally agreed with
each other, so there was no need for God to command Eve to submit to Adam.
Also, in the Garden of Eden before man’s fall into sin the curse of Genesis
3:17-19 (the Second Law of Thermodynamics) was not in effect. Nothing
ever wore out, no one ever got sick, nor did anyone die. No one ever
stole or lied or murdered. It was truly paradise on earth, and in
the rest of the universe also there was neither sin nor evil. “And
God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And
the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Gen 1.31). Adam
and Eve may never have sinned had they not been tempted by Satan.
Of course, at this point the humanist/atheist will scream, “How can God
be called good seeing He created a monster like Satan?
God Did Not Create Satan
God created a perfect archangel whom God named Lucifer. Lucifer was
not a monster when God created him, but Lucifer was a free being.
Of his own volition Lucifer chose to rebel against God’s will. At
that point Lucifer became Satan—the Devil. Many years later when
the King of Tyrus was possessed of Satan, God commanded the prophet Ezekiel
Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto
him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom,
and perfect in beauty. Thou hast
been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering,
the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper,
the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship
of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou
wast created. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have
set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked
up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect
in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found
in thee....By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst
of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee
as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering
cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted
up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy
brightness.(Ez 28.12-17) [Boldface emphasis added]
So we see that—like humans—Lucifer was very good on the day God created
him. Lucifer was, in fact, glorious in beauty and wisdom. Pride
later entered his life and brought him down, just as it brings down many
humans. God did not make Lucifer a monster; God did not create a
Satan. Rather Lucifer made himself to be the Devil and Satan.
God Did Not Create Death
Certainly of all evils, death is the greatest. Let it be clearly
stated that death was not a part of the original
creation. Death was not part of God’s plan. In the beginning,
humans and animals did not die.
Consider the lengths God went to to encourage Adam to always choose life:
And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put
the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the LORD God to
grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree
of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good
and evil....And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden
of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man,
saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the
tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in
the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. And the LORD God
said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help
meet for him....And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam,
and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead
thereof; and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a
woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone
of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because
she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father
and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Gen
In the above verses, notice three things. First, only the fruit of
one tree out of all the hundreds of varieties on earth was forbidden.
It wasn’t like God would only let them eat one boring kind of fruit.
They had a tremendous number of good choices, and only one bad choice.
And not one good thing was withheld from them.
Second, their environment was perfect, so
there was certainly nothing environmental to provoke them to sin.
And third, God clearly warned them not to
eat of the one and only dangerous tree.
That was before humanity’s fall from innocence. But consider how
good God is to us even now after the fall. He could imprison us in
Hell forever the instant we commit our first sin so we could never hurt
anyone again. But instead he gives us opportunity to repent.
Usually for years God chooses to delay our physical death so as to give
us as long as possible to choose God and Heaven instead of Satan and Hell.
Only our own sins enslave us, and in His unlimited love God has sent His
Son, Jesus Christ, to deliver us even from that bondage. God wants
you to be free! But like Adam and Eve you have a choice in the matter.
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have
set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore
choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: that thou mayest
love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou
mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days.
To learn how to choose life, read "Ye Must Be Born
1John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the
Bible from Fundamentalism (New York: HarperCollins Publishers <Imprint:
HarperSanFrancisco>, 1991), 68-69.
2Ted Turner, “Humanism’s Fighting Chance,”
The Humanist, January/February 1991, 12-13.
(C) Copyright 1994 by Louis A. Turk. All rights reserved. You may
reprint this article, provided you do not edit it in any way without the
author's consent, and provided this paragraph is printed at the end of
the article. Other publication requires advance permission of the
Louis A. Turk, B.A., M.Div., Ph.D.
The website dedicated to the study of eternal life.
ETERNAL LIFE IS NOT TEMPORARY LIFE!