The Strength of God & the Problem of Evil

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/20/2013

What makes you think the ability to take away evil from the world has anything to do with God’s strength?

I was thinking about this issue of the problem of evil. I’ve read a number of books on it. I’ve done a whole teaching on suffering, evil and the goodness of God. I wrote an article called “Sophie’s Dilemma” which we will have in our up-coming journal which will be coming out in June called Clear Thinking. We had Doug Gievett on four weeks ago, who has written a whole book on the problem of evil and we talked about the issue—the in’s and out’s about it. I was thinking about this the other day. I often try to think through some of these issues and try to get a handle on this to see if there is a shortcut to the solution without undermining the real argument.

When we talked to Doug Gievett, he articulated for us the classical objection to the problem of evil. The most damaging, potentially, objection to Christianity. That objection is that there is something inconsistent that Christians believe about the nature of the world and the nature of God. In other words, the Christian belief is contradictory. As Dr. Gievett pointed out, having an argument that is contradictory is the worst thing that could happen to you, because it means your view is false. Period. So if it can be shown that the Christian view is contradictory then at least at that point of the Christian world view it is false.

Here’s how the objection is usually stated: If God were all good, as you say, He would want to deal with the problem of evil. And if God were all powerful, as you say, then He would be able to deal with the problem of evil. Obviously, evil exists, therefore He is either not all good or He is not all powerful, or maybe He is neither. In any case, the presence of evil in the world is disproof of the Christian view of God. See how that argument works? It is called a defeater. This particular observation of an apparent contradiction defeats the Christian’s viewpoint of God.

Now of course if the argument is sound, then Christianity has been defeated. I think that is fair to say. I don’t think the argument is sound, though. And we’ve talked in different ways about how Augustine has argued and C.S. Lewis has argued and others have unfolded this particular argument and for some it might have been complex. Well, I’m going to give you a short cut. Because what Doug Geivett said really stuck in my mind. He questioned both of the premises. And his question was, What makes you think that taking away evil in the world has anything to do with God’s strength? Because that is what the assumption is to make the point against Christianity.

Here is how it can be played out. This will make it very clear. When someone raises this to me, I would tell them this story. Say, Let’s suggest that your claim is that you are the strongest person in the world. More than that, you are the strongest person in the universe. You can pick up an entire building. You are so strong that you can pick up an entire city. You are so strong you can pick up an entire country. In fact, if you had a place to stand, you could lift the entire planet, even the solar system. You have so much strength, you can do anything that strength allows you to do. This is your boast to me. I say, OK, let’s see if you can prove that. And you say, Just give me any test you want. I say, If you are so strong as you say, then make a square circle. You say, Well, I can’t do that. So I could say, You are not very strong, are you?

You say, This has nothing to do with strength, does it? Because no matter how strong I was, I could never make a square circle because making a square circle has nothing to do with power. It is a self-contradictory concept, having square circles. They can’t be made by anybody regardless of how strong they are. It is unrelated to the issue of power.

Now, how does this tie into our discussion of the problem of evil? Simply this. God certainly is strong enough to obliterate evil from the earth or to have prevented it in the first place. No question about that. But is it a good thing that God created human beings as free moral creatures, capable of making moral choices? The answer to that strikes me as Yes. Because of God’s goodness, which is what is in question here, God creates free moral creatures.

Now we come to a different kind of problem. What makes you think that strength has anything to do with God creating a world in which there are genuinely free moral creatures and no possibility of doing wrong? You see, that’s the square circle kind of thing. It is just as ridiculous to ask God to create a world in which we have genuinely free creatures with no possibility to do wrong, as it is to ask Him to create a square circle. It has nothing to do with His strength. It has to do with the nature of the problem. If you are going to have a particular good, morally free creatures, human beings that can make moral choices for themselves, if God is good, then He is going to create creatures that can be morally free, but that entails of necessity the possibility at least of evil in the world. It has nothing to do with His power. It is unrelated to the issue of power just like making square circles is unrelated to the issue of power. It relates to the nature of the good universe that God created. A universe that was populated by beings that were morally free. Morally free creatures by necessity, by definition, have the possibility of going bad. That’s why that is not a good argument against the existence of God. It just doesn’t apply. One could argue that it’s a kind of category error because in this particular case, in the Christian world view, capability of dealing with evil has nothing to do with strength. It has to do with the nature of the game itself.

What’s neat about the Christian point of view, is that God was capable of doing the good thing and creating morally free creatures that did go bad and still cleaning up the mess that they created in such a way that greater good results. Now that’s the result of a Master mind.