Hamartiology: If God Exists Why Is There Evil?

With all of the natural disasters and acts of evil we see in the world, it is quite easy for someone to be troubled over God’s existence. After all, if God does exist, why does He allow these evils to occur?

The problem of evil is a very important area to study within Christianity. As stated by Elwell Walter: “many atheists have argued that theism and religion in general are not worthy of adherence because of an alleged inability of all theistic positions to solve their problem of evil.”[1] There are three notions about God atheists and theists both find flaws in and they are “God is all loving”, “God being all powerful”, and “Evil exists in a world created by such a God”[2]. After all, if God is the essence of perfection and everything He does is perfect, some argue evil should not exist at all. As we know, this is not the case, but is important to understand why.

Evil can be grouped into two main categories. These categories are known as moral evil and natural evil. The Bible presents natural evil as the consequence of moral evil, but they are not necessarily separate[3]. To put it simply, when man chooses to act against God, natural evil is developed. This is so because God is the author of morality itself and our actions against His definition of morality are bad and have consequences. Of course the Garden of Eden and man’s fall resulting from eating the Forbidden Fruit is the initial act that all resulting evil can be traced to. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they were acting against God’s command to avoid the tree and that is an example of moral evil. The resulting natural evil is that they were cast from the Garden of Eden, covered in sin, and punished with the man being told to bring forth the earth’s fruit and the woman bringing the fruit of the womb in agony[4]. Also, as Barth states, mankind falls into the laws of sin and death as a result[5]. Through this, sin is present among all of mankind and that barrier separates us from God. A more modern example would be pollution. God allows man to live in the world and asks man to take care of it. Pollution is a moral evil against God and global warming along with varying health conditions are the natural evils resulting from it.

Personal experiences can do a great deal in regards to man’s perceptions of the problem of evil. For example, look at the Sandy Hook shootings. For some, it would affirm to them that there is no God because God would not allow for such an act to occur, let alone against small children. On the other side, a theist can make the argument that God cannot be held responsible for the evil actions of a flawed human being.  Also, man must consider Job during his trials in life. Our relationships with God are challenged every day and can be shaken in the face of personal events or natural disasters. Man must remember that through all the struggle, God is still there and still with them. The words of Job put it the best way possible: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”[6]

There are several theodicies that seek to reconcile the existence of both God and evil. Theodicies must be internally consistent in regards to the specific theology. Whether or not a critic objects to the theodicy on grounds they disagree with is irrelevant as long at the theodicy squares with itself[7].

Gootfried Leibniz states that God is obligated to create the best world possible among many finite worlds and evil must exist morally and physically in a metaphysical sense otherwise God would be morally reprehensible[8]. John Hick presents the soul-building theodicy. He argues that man was not created perfect and was in need of moral development[9]. Hick is wrong in regards to the Garden of Eden and how prefect Adam and Eve were before they ate from the Tree of Knowledge[10]. Also, God cannot be good while creating evil, the two elements contradict one another. A modified rationalist would say that God created a world that was initially good and that evil was introduced by His creation[11]. This theodicy is a good one and leads into the argument that free will’s existence is representative of a loving, all powerful God. However a theodicist using the free will defense must make the distinction that God is not the cause of evil, the human abuse of free will is[12]. I would argue that this theodicy is the most accurate and one that I share personally. It is consistent because it allows God to be all powerful and all loving while acknowledging that evil is the result of man’s actions. The best way of looking at it is how we create a robot. That robot is confined to the laws and specifications the creator assigns to it and cannot ever truly be capable of choosing freely. We, as human beings, are given a mind to reason and discern with and God giving us the gift to decide for ourselves is the ultimate expression of His love.

In all cases, debate is a bit helpful in regards to God, who He is, and why He permits certain elements in the world. It is entirely possible to have healthy discussion without directly attacking God, because man ultimately does not have the answers. Theories are what help man to better understand God or see Him in a different way. No matter what belief one has in regards to evil, no one can deny that evil ultimately exists because man allows it and permits it to continue.


[1] Elwell, Walter A.  Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.  2nd ed.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001. p. 413

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, p. 412

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, p. 436

[6] Job 13:15

[7] Elwell, p. 1184

[8] Ibid, p. 1185

[9] Ibid. p. 1186

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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