Article by Casey McFall
Note: This article is the sixth and final lesson in a series of apologetics-related articles that are a condensed version of an apologetics class that I taught. You can read the first one here.
Perhaps one of the most common questions about God that people, both Christians and non-Christians, ask is why does He allow evil in the world. Put another way, why does God allow good things to happen to bad people? While it is true that we can see good in the world and people being nice to each other, there is also an overwhelming amount of evil. One need only look at the number of lives lost or destroyed in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany to see proof of this historically. Even in this day and age, there are lives lost and ruined through human trafficking, tsunamis, hurricanes, drug abuse, genocide, and even more terrible things that should not be described here. This naturally leads to what has become known as the logical problem of evil.
The logical problem of evil
The logical problem of evil posits, or suggests, that the mere existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of God. This conclusion is based on the following argument:
Logically speaking, the argument seems to be both valid and sound (logically correct and factually true). It is because of this apparent validity and soundness that the question of why God allows evil in the world is such a widespread and powerful question. Now most Christians have heard this question asked multiple times and are familiar with the easy answer of: “Well, evil exist in the world because of the free will of man.” While this is technically correct, it also leaves a lot unanswered and does nothing to persuade the lost person who is truly struggling with this question in their heart and are unable to come to Christ because of it. We must therefore examine this question more deeply in order to give a fully comprehensive answer.
Why did God create us?
To answer the first question about why God allows evil in the world, we must first understand our purpose on this earth. After all, God did not create us by accident or on a whim; He created us for a specific reason and with a distinct purpose. Naturally then, that purpose will influence how He created us and how He interacts with us. It should influence our behaviors and actions! Fortunately, God does not leave such an important question to surmise or personal revelation and informs us quite clearly in His Word precisely why He created us. Please take a moment to read the following verses:
These verses clearly state that we were created for God and are designed to bring honor and glory to Him. This means that we were not created in order to live the easiest life possible completely without hardship or suffering. In fact, we are often commanded to rejoice when we suffer because it gives us greater opportunity to bring glory to God. Romans 5:3 says to glory in tribulations, while Acts 5:41 says that the apostles rejoiced after being beaten because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Now, it is true that God did want to give us an easy, pain-free life in the garden of Eden, but Adam messed that up with his sin. Which leads to the point about free will.
The reason for free will
There is no question that God did create us with a free will to choose our own actions and behaviors. But why did God create us with free will if He knew that we were just going to take advantage of that to mess everything up and make our lives significantly worse? Remember that a couple of paragraphs back, I said that understanding why God created us is important because it would naturally affect how He created us? Well, this is exactly what I meant. You see, God created us to bring Him pleasure through honor and glorifying Him; but an act without intent behind it is meaningless. In other words, if God had created us in such a way that we would honor and glorify Him in everything we said and do without an option or choice not to do it, it would not bring him any pleasure because there is no meaning or intent in those actions. Imagine that you create a robot that cleans your house, cooks for you, and tells you that it loves you throughout the day. Would you feel thankful to that robot for doing those things or respond to its words of affection? Of course not! Because you designed it to do those things, and it doesn’t have any choice. In fact, if it didn’t do those things, you would disassemble it and try to find out what broke and why it’s not doing what it is supposed to do. But if a spouse does those same things, you would naturally feel grateful to them and be really happy when they tell you that they love you. This is because this is intent and meaning behind those acts. Free will is a requirement for intent.
The requirements for will to be free
Now that the need for mankind to have free will in order to fulfill God’s purpose for creating us has been demonstrated, I would like to take a moment to look at some things that are required for free will to truly be free. Namely, a capacity to choose, the presence of a choice, absence of force, and associated consequences.
-Capacity to choose
In this context, capacity means the mental or physical ability or the power to produce, perform or deploy. In other words, something must have the capability of making a choice in order for it to have free will. If I were to take a pack of cards, shuffle them, and ask a computer program to pick a card; that program would not actually have the capacity to make a choice. Even if I were to code in a randomizer, the program would still not be choosing a card but would rather be returning a seemingly random result based on complicated algorithms. Similarly, if I were to hold the cards out to an infant and ask it to choose one; it may grab one at random but it would not truly be making a choice. Without this capacity to choose, an action or decision does not have any intent behind it and is thus not free will.
-Presence of a choice
Once something does have the capacity to choose, then the next requirement would be to have the opportunity to exercise that capacity. In other words, there must be the presence of a choice. Returning to the example of the cards, the average adult human certainly has the capacity to choose a card from a deck. But if I ask a person to choose a card from the deck and present them with a one card deck, then I eliminate their capacity to choose a card. Since the absence of a choice would thus negate the capacity to choose and, as we saw, the capacity to choose is necessary for free will; then the absence of a choice would also thus prevent will from being free. It is for this reason that God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden. If He had put Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and told them to obey Him but had not put the tree there, then Adam and Eve would have no opportunity to sin. No matter how much they wanted to choose to disobey God, there would be no other choice but to obey. Such a situation would have made a mockery of their free will and removed any meaning from their actions!
-Absence of force
The third requirement for free will is the absence of force. This is both physical force and a more subtle kind of force that I hope to demonstrate with an illustration. Going back again to the overused card example, imagine that I present the average human adult with a normal deck of cards and asked them to pick one but threaten to beat them up or shoot them if they do not pick the ace of spades. They have both the capacity to choose and the presence of a choice, but they do not truly have free will because of my use of force. Now, this is clearly a type of physical force that I am using in this example, but there is also a more subtle way of using force. Imagine a similar but different scenario now. Same person, same deck; but this time I tell the person that I can predict which card they will choose. I split the deck into four piles and ask them to choose a pile. They can freely pick whichever pile they want. They touch one of the piles and I remove that pile from the table, leaving three others. I ask them to choose another pile and again remove the chose pile from the table. Finally, with only two piles left, I ask them to choose a pile, turn that chosen pile over, and reveal the predicted card!
This sounds like I allowed them to have free will throughout the entire process, right? After all, they had the capacity to choose, the presence of a choice throughout the entire thing, and I wasn’t physically forcing them. The word “physically” is key here however, because there was a force happening. Being astute and smarter than average, I’m sure my readers picked up on the fact that I removed the first two piles that the person in my example chose while turning over their third choice. The thing is, I knew which card was at the bottom of pile “c”. So when they chose pile “a” then pile “b”, I could remove them because I knew that those piles did not contain the card that I had predicted. Now with only pile “c” and pile “d” left, if the person had chosen pile “d” then I would have once again removed the pile from the table and left them only with pile “c” (the one that contains the predicted card). If they had chosen pile “c” immediately, then I would have pretended like they were supposed to have chosen a pile to keep and pushed the other three piles off of the table. Thus, regardless of which pile(s) they chose, I would always end up turning over pile “c”. This makes it seem like they are exercising free will; when in fact, I am manipulating events and they have no impact on the final result.
I’ll admit that I have wondered before why God didn’t come down and accuse the serpent of lying while it was talking to Eve. After all, if God had happened by during that conversation, I highly doubt that Eve would still have chosen to disobey God and eat the fruit anyway. The thing is, that would have been that more subtle kind of force. After all, obedience only when authority is present is not true obedience at all.
The final requirement for free will is consequences. If the results of an action are removed then the action once again becomes meaningless. If I tell my children, “You have a choice; you can either eat your vegetables and get a candy, or you can throw your vegetables away and not get a candy.” I am presenting them with meaningful choice and the opportunity to exercise free will. If one or both of them decided to throw their vegetables away and I gave them a candy anyway, then I removed all meaning behind their choice because they made that choice in the expectation of certain consequences. Additionally, next time I present them with those two choices, they will know that those are not choices at all since the end result will be the same regardless of which one they choose. In the same way, it would have been a negation of free will for God to remove the negative consequences associated with the sin of eating that fruit. Thus we can see that God had to create people with the capacity to choose, give them the option to sin, abstaining from forcing them in any way, and allow them to bear the burden of the consequences of their choices in order for them to be able to fulfill His purpose for creating them. And we know that it is because their free will and all that goes with it, the first sin was committed.
The effect of sin
This first sin literally changed the world. Although the man, the woman, and serpent were all punished, there were two primarily important effects in this specific context. Namely, man was born spiritually dead after this sin, and the earth was cursed. These are important because they explain the two kinds of evil we see in the world: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is that evil which is brought about directly as a result of people (genocide, murder, torture, etc.). Natural evil, is that evil which is brought about with any direct human cause (tsunamis, hurricanes, and other natural disasters). Moral evil abounds because of the fact that man is born spiritually dead and because God will not suspend their free will. He still wants them to choose Him and to choose to give their lives to Him. If he removes their capacity to choose or hampers their free will in some other way, then if they did turn to Him it would be a meaningless act.
As for natural evils, those are the consequences of Adam’s sin (when the ground was cursed) and later sins which resulted in the world being broken even more during the flood. For God to fix this broken world and restore it to the state that it had been in when He created it would be for Him to remove the consequences of our choices. At that moment, our free will would become meaningless, because any choice we made were not be tied to meaningful consequences. So ultimately, the answer to why does God allow evil in the world does come down to “Because of free will”, but it is also so much more than that.
For those who want to learn more about apologetics and are looking for additional resources, I highly recommend Dave Hunt’s book “In defense of the faith”. Unfortunately, not all of the verses referenced in the book are from the KJV, but the majority of them are. Like all things written without the divine inspiration of God, I recommend testing everything said against the truth of the Bible! It is an excellent resource however and he answers many questions about the faith using apologetics. You can find it at Amazon here: In defense of the faith
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