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'll have in our journal coming out in July called clear thinking. We had Doug Geivett on four weeks ago, who has written a whole book on the problem of evil and we talked about the ins and outs of the issue.
I was thinking more about this the other day. I often try to think through some of these issues to see if there is a shortcut to the solution that won't undermine the argument, that won't rip the guts out of it.
When we talked to Dr. Geivett, he spelled out the classical objection to the problem of evil, the most damaging objection, potentially, to Christianity. That objection is this: there is something inconsistent in what Christians believe about the nature of the world and the nature of God. In other words, the Christian belief is contradictory. As Dr. Geivett 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 the Christian world view 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 disproves the Christian view of God.
See how that argument works? It is called a defeater. This observation of an apparent contradiction defeats the Christian's view 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. In his response Dr. Geivett questioned both of the premises. His question was, "What makes you think that taking away evil in the world has anything to do with God's strength?"
Here is how it can be played out. This will make it very clear. When this comes up again I'm going to tell this story.
Let's pretend that you claim to be 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.
"OK," I say, "let's see if you can prove it."
"Just give me any test you want" you respond.
"If you are so strong, then make a square circle."
"I can't do that."
"You're not very strong, are you?"
"This has nothing to do with strength, does it? Because no matter how strong I am, 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. This test 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 let me ask you a question. Is it a good thing that God created human beings as free moral creatures, capable of making moral choices? It strikes me that the answer to that is yes. Because God is good--which is one of the things in question here--God created free moral creatures.
But this changes everything, doesn't it? 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, now we're back to square circles. It's 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. The task has nothing to do with His strength. It has to do with the nature of the problem. If you're going to have morally free creatures--that is, human beings that can make moral choices for themselves--and if God is good, then He is going to create creatures that will be truly morally free. But that entails, of necessity, at least the possibility of evil in the world.
This has nothing to do with God's 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.
Now you know why this is not a good argument against the existence of God. It just doesn't apply. One could even argue there's a kind of category error here because in this particular case, according to Christianity, 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 did the good thing by creating morally free creatures that went bad, yet still did the loving thing by cleaning up the mess man created in such a way that greater good results. Now that's the result of a Master mind.
This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It is made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason. Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. ©1995 Gregory Koukl