Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 8) – Possible Objections to a Unified Theodicy

Objection I: “God could display His love without allowing evil, such as in the case of the Trinity. The members of the Trinity love each other fully and in a perfect manner, but no evil is presence. Therefore, couldn’t God have loved us and we loved God without evil?”

The Trinity is a relationship of equals, of persons who share the same essence, so logically sacrifice will be different. Within the Trinity the love occurs among equals, therefore the Father shares His glory with the Word and Spirit. The Father, Word, and Spirit all work together, but do so as one within the same essence. We, however, are not of God’s essence, but instead are created. Thus, we cannot experience love in the same way that love is experienced within the Trinity.

Since the Three cannot be divided and are One, the love expressed between the Three, that is, the love expressed within Community of God, is not experienced outside of the Trinity. How, then, do lesser creatures experience the perfect love of God? Since God cannot share His nature with us – since He is uncreated and we are created, He is infinite and we are finite, and so on – the Father cannot display His love by allowing us to share fully in His nature. Likewise, the Word and Spirit cannot submit to us as they submit to the Father for they are of one will with the Father, one nature with the Father, and infinitely above us. The One who is above does not submit to the will of the one who is below.

God must display His love in a different way to the created beings. The best way to display this love, then, is through sacrifice. But how can God sacrifice in a perfect world? While the act of creation is a sacrifice, it is not the ultimate sacrifice. What is it that all finite beings fear other than to cease to exist or to meet their end? Thus, in order to sacrifice God had to “meet His end.”

Of course, since God is eternal He cannot die, therefore He came down in the form of a man to die on our behalf (though it was the human nature of Christ that experienced death, not His Divine nature). God knew that in creating free will creatures, death would inevitably occur, but knowing this He also knew that He could fully display His love by giving His only begotten Son on our behalf in an act of gratuitous love. Therefore, we cannot imagine a world that God would create where death wasn’t required for Him to fully display His love.

Objection II“The argument only works up to the Cross, but if Christ has already died on the cross and God’s love has been displayed, why is evil necessary anymore? Wouldn’t this mean that after the event of the cross, it’s no longer logical for God to co-exist with an evil world?”

If God simply ended the world after the resurrection, only a few hundred would have been saved. In other words, while there has been evil since the event of the cross and the resurrection, there has also been a substantial amount of good, namely people who have come to Christ. Thus, if God ended the world after the resurrection, it would have prevented multiple people from existing and eventually coming to Christ.

The other aspect of this answer is that while the cross works as an answer to the problem of evil, that is not the only purpose of the cross. Once we come to Christ we are learn to grow in Him while on this earth. Where would be the act of theosis, or sanctification, if the world simply ended after the cross?

Objection III – “Couldn’t God just be evil or contain evil? If God contains evil then as theists we have an easier job of answering the problem of evil.

Such an objection does make sense if we consider other theodicies that seek to take away God’s foreknowledge; if we can limit God’s foreknowledge, then why not limit His goodness as well? However, arguments that seek to impose a limit on God (unless the limit is a nonlogical one) always end up being irrational. Saying that God contains evil is one such argument.

For God to be God, He must be wholly good or wholly evil, He cannot be both. The reason is that evil is the opposite of good, it is a contradiction of good. Therefore, one must be the absence of the other. Thus, if God contains evil, then He is wholly evil and has no good within Him. The reason is that God cannot contain an absence of Himself, nor could He hold two contradictory substances within Himself. In both instances He would be a contradiction and therefore would not exist.

I would argue that we know that God is wholly good and not wholly evil. If there were no good in Him then He would embody every attribute of what it means to be evil, including narcissism. Were God narcissistic then He would have a desire to worship and reflect Himself and Himself alone, thus we would not exist. Even if He desired to torture us by causing us to exist, there would be no need as His need for narcissism would negate any desire to torture rational creatures.

Even if one doesn’t buy the narcissistic argument, we could also consider that we have bouts of good in this life, but this begs the question as to why a purely evil god would allow goodness. Certainly if God were evil then He would simply torture us in a Hell-like world. But let us consider the following; having free will is a good thing, thus an evil God would not create creatures that have free will. Existing is better than not existing, so God wouldn’t create creatures that exist. Therefore, if God were evil we would not exist. We exist, therefore God is not evil, but instead is good.

Objection IV“Doesn’t your argument concerning God logically needing evil make God reliant upon evil to exist?

While I stated that in order for God to achieve His ends (displaying His love in the best possible way) He needed to allow for the existence of evil, this doesn’t mean that God is necessarily dependent upon evil. For instance, we can conceive of a world where He created no intelligent creatures, just the cosmos, for the simple act of His enjoyment. Or we can conceive of God not creating anything. The only time the allowance of evil becomes necessary is when free will agents enter into the equation.

What is more important to realize, however, is that by allowing free will, evil becomes inevitable. The inherent problem with G-G theodicies is they attempt to say that God is reliant upon every act of evil so that a greater good might come about. This is not what I’m saying. Rather, I’m saying that because evil was a foregone conclusion, an inevitable outcome of creating humans, He utilized this fact in order to optimally display His love. Thus, while I use the phrasing, “God logically needed evil to achieve His ultimate end,” one could easily argue that this is either poor phrasing on my part, or that there is no better way to put it. However, the connotation I wish to get across is merely that because evil was an inevitability, God used it to achieve His ultimate end; but it couldn’t have happened any other way (in any possible world where free will agents exist).

Objections to the Unified Theodicy on the Evidential Problem of Evil

Objection I – “Aren’t you still teaching a G-G theodicy by saying that God allows evil for a purpose?

While some could misconstrue what I am arguing, it would be a mistake to think that I’m a proponent of a G-G theodicy. Rather, what I argued on the evidential side of the argument is that while God allows some evil for a purpose, the good He seeks to bring from a specific evil may not always actualize. For instance, God might allow evil action E to occur in order that person S will bring about a specific good G through action x. S, however, decides to perform action x2, which prevents G from occurring and actually increases the evil (E+). Thus, in this event God allows E for the purpose of letting S perform x in order to lead to G. However, S sins and doesn’t actualize G, but instead causes E+. By saying that God allows all specific acts of evil for a purpose doesn’t make a Unified Theodicy a G-G theodicy, it merely denotes our responsibility in this world when we encounter evil.

One should also remember that I conceded that the effects of a good action do not always counter the effects of an evil action. For instance, if we go and help tsunami victims in Japan and give them food, water, and shelter, while we have brought about good, the effects of the good action do not outweigh the effects of the evil action. As much as we help survivors, we cannot bring their relatives back to life, we cannot restore their homes, and we cannot give them back their sentimental goods. What a Unified Theodicy teaches concerning natural evil is that God allows it because (1) we have brought sin into the world and therefore we must expect natural evil, because it is part of the curse (the curse of the ground found in Genesis 3) and (2) so that we might display His love to those impacted by the evil.

Finally, a Unified Theodicy teaches that God will allow evil so that we can react with Him against it and also be drawn to Him. Thus, there is a purpose in the allowance of specific evils. It is us, however, who make evil superfluous when we don’t respond to God’s invitation to react against evil or rely on Him when the evil impacts us.

Objection II – “Couldn’t God allow lesser evils and accomplish the same ends? If God’s purpose is to draw us to Himself, couldn’t He stop some of the greater evils and just use lesser evils?

Such an argument is one used against G-G theodicies and as such doesn’t really apply to Unified Theodicy. God allows the evil not only because He has a purpose in allowing it, but also because He won’t always interfere with our free will (sometimes He will act against our choices, but these are exceptions to the rule).

To lessen every specific act of evil would require God to limit our free will as a whole. While God can work against some of our choices, such as closing the mouths of lions so they wouldn’t attack Daniel or making Nebuchadnezzar crazy in order to acknowledge God’s power, these are exceptions to the rule. When God acts against some of our choices, then we are in tension with God, but our free will remains intact. If God worked against all of our choices, then our free will would be an illusion.

The other problem with this objection is what was pointed out earlier, namely that if God limited what we consider to be the most grotesque evils then logically he would have to eliminate all evil, which would ruin free will. Using the same example that Little did in his book (previously cited), if evil +5 is the greatest evil one can suffer and God stops it, then evil +4 becomes the greatest evil and must also be stopped. This logically leads to an eradication of all evil, no matter how minimal.

Objection III – “If ‘light always tramps out darkness,’ then wouldn’t this mean that good is greater than evil? Wouldn’t this be proof that the Unified Theodicy is actually a G-G theodicy?

A G-G theodicy will always look to the effects of the good action to trump evil, not to the substance of the good. By saying that “light always tramps out darkness” or that “good is greater than evil” doesn’t mean that the effects of the good will outweigh the effects of the evil.

What a Unified Theodicy teaches is that since “good” comes from an essence and is actually something rather than the lack of something, it is always greater than evil, though the effects may not be greater in all situations. This is a difficult concept, so think back to the analogy of a match, a flashlight, and so on. A match, in a dark room, will always overpower the darkness in the immediate area, though it may not overpower the darkness in the whole room. Likewise, since goodness is an actual substance it will always overpower evil in an immediate area, but may not undo or overpower all the effects caused by evil.

Objection IV – “If God created a world without free will then there would be no evil. Even though we enjoy free will, wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have it and could avoid evil?

While the eradication of free will would have eliminated evil, it wouldn’t have been the best of all possible worlds; such a world is a logical impossibility considering God’s reasons for creating. It is better to be free than to be a robot; someone who is free can truly love, can think for one’s self, and so on. Without freedom we would be moving vegetables, people who were mindless and had no control. Thus, a better world is one that has free will.

But since God can see all possible worlds, He saw a world in which we did not have free will and chose not to actualize that world. The reason is that if God prevented free will (which is good) in order to prevent evil, then evil would have triumphed over good anyway. If God prevented evil by also stopping something good (free will), then God would have been subjected to evil and succumbed to its power.

Finally, though evil is bad, it allows us to see the love of God in a way that we couldn’t have experienced were we not free. Being free will agents we understand what it is to love, so when we experience the love of God it means far more to us than it would mean to someone who lacks free will. Though the allowance of evil is the cost of free will, the experience of God’s love overpowers and will one day defeat evil.

Objections to the Unified Theodicy on the Existential Problem of Evil

Objection I – “What about those who do not know of God or do not have a relationship with Him? How can they rely on someone they don’t believe in?

That someone would lack a relationship with God is proof that the person has, in fact, rejected God and thus rejected His love. Therefore, the person’s rejection only perpetuates evil. Were they to embrace God and rely on Him then they could find ultimate comforting in all experiences of evil. But it is the rejection of God that prevents them from feeling comfort, a rejection that is in and of itself evil.

Objection II – “What if someone who is a Christian abandons God due to suffering? God knew this would happen, so why did He allow the suffering in the first place?

We must remember that most acts of evil that occur happen because of our free will. Disease is in this world as part of the curse of death, but oftentimes these diseases are brought about by the food we eat, the environment we live in, and so on. In other words, while death comes to us all, we don’t do ourselves any favors in attempting to prolong our lives. Our free will ultimately makes natural evils all that much worse.

When a Christian suffers evil and subsequently abandons God, had God stopped the evil then we must ask why not stop all evils? Why not prevent all evils for the Christian? Because it is through our experience of evil that we grow. James wrote that we should count it a joy when we go through trials because the Lord has found us worthy of experiencing such hardships. The Unified Theodicy’s response to evil is that we should grow from our experience with it.

Unfortunately, some Christians fail in this and will occasionally turn away from God. I would contend that any Christian who says they’ve never thought about abandoning Christianity or questioned God after facing evil is either lying or hasn’t lived a life worth living. As I write this I can think of numerous times where I was left asking God questions or finding myself wanting to walk away. But sometimes this is needed. Sometimes God lets us wander away because we need time to think things through, or to re-evaluate things in our lives.

In the 1950s, the late Francis Schaeffer had experienced the evil of a church split. It all caught up with him while he was staying in Switzerland, and he decided to take time and think through his beliefs. He wanted to see if the Christian life was worth it. What resulted from his experience was one of the greatest books on spirituality written in the modern times (True Spirituality) and his wilderness experience also paved the way for L’abri, which ministered to thousands of young people.

What if he hadn’t come back from that though? What if the negative experiences overtook him? I have several friends who went through a nasty church split, one that I went through as well. The split occurred over several years and wasn’t a sudden thing and a lot of people were hurt by it. Many have left not only the church, but the Christian faith because of what they experienced. Why would God allow this? What shall we say for these lost souls?

The answer is that they have merely perpetuated the evil they suffered; they have given into it and allowed it to consume them.  The Bible is replete with warnings that the Christian faith is one of being tested, not one of ease. Evil is allowed for Christians so that we can be tested and if we fail that test then it shows the weakness of our faith. It shows us that we need help, that we need to grow. Sadly, many people simply give up for one reason or another, but mostly because they have refused to rely on God. Thus, the evil becomes superfluous because of the person, not because of God.

Objection III – “If we are to love God and rely on Him, wouldn’t this mean we can’t question Him? Are we just supposed to blindly follow God?”

I remember sitting in a class where a professor brought in a lecturer who was extremely controversial. He basically said things that contradicted what the professor had taught us all year. At the end of the class when people began to ask questions and challenge the lecturer, two groups of people in the room remained silent and shocked; the South Koreans and the current military personnel. The reason is that in both cultures (the military is its own culture), it is considered rude and disrespectful to question a superior. Among conservative Christians, this often tends to be the case.

But we see that the saints of old constantly questioned God, so apparently it’s not implicitly wrong to do so. Sometimes questioning God leads us to rely on Him more, it draws us to Him and makes us learn from Him. After all, if God supplies the answers then we must supply the questions.

On a deeper level, we can look to Job who questioned why God had allowed evil to befall him. God’s response is the ultimate theodicy – “I am God, trust me.” God never chastised Job for asking questions on why God would allow evil. But God’s response doesn’t give a reason, He simply implies that Job should trust in Him. And this is truly the comfort with a Unified Theodicy; we trust that God loves us so that in the moment of evil, when there is no rational response, we can trust in God and grow in Him and find comfort in Him.