In an effort to present the greatest-glory defense with sharper clarity, this section will seek to address three objections that may be levied against it. Although this defense may encounter countless additional objections, the three selected seem to be the most pertinent to the discussion.
One accusation that could arise from the greatest-glory defense is that it strips God of his goodness. If God decrees evil primarily for the sake of his own glory, and not the good of his people, then it is difficult to see how God can retain his benevolence by any meaningful sense of the word. Such a self-centered God as this does not comport with the God of love who promises to work everything together for the good of his children (Rom 8:28).
The purpose of this section is to present a viable theodicy.36 However, before embarking upon this endeavor, it will be helpful to temper expectations by briefly considering the parameters and limitations of any conclusions that are drawn.
A complete and acceptable answer to the problem need only demonstrate that the presence of evil in the universe creates no internal contradictions within a given theological system. A satisfactory solution is not required to alleviate every tension caused by evil or to provide the specific reasons for every instance of evil. The Christian’s answer need only prove that all his theological beliefs are sufficiently harmonized.
An additional consideration preliminary to formulating a theodicy is the recognition of its limitations. The answer to the problem is limited by mankind’s finiteness and inferiority.
Grappling with the problem of evil is a notoriously dubious endeavor due in part to the complexity of the problem. Therefore, if any viable solutions are to be reached, the specific kind of evil must be recognized and defined, and the theological system in which that evil resides must be identified.
The first step toward a profitable discussion of the problem of evil is to identify the kind of evil under consideration. The two categories of evil in the universe are identified as moral and natural. The former is the sin that mankind commits (e.g., murder, rape, neglect, deceit, etc.). The latter is the amoral events and circumstances that come about in nature that cause suffering or pain for God’s creatures (e.g., earthquakes, hurricanes, drought, etc.). In Genesis 3:17–19, Moses presents natural evil as the result of moral evil. Due to Adam’s rebellion and disobedience in the garden, all nature bears the weight of the curse (Rom 8:19–22). John Frame writes:
From DBSJ 22 (2017): 75-90. Republished with permission.
by Jonathan Moreno1
Elie Wiesel trusted in God. As a boy, he believed that Yahweh cared deeply for him and his people. All that changed in the grueling death camps of Nazi Germany. Elie was a Jew. Subjected to the horrific atrocities of Auschwitz, his faith was shattered as his God seemed to sit idly by while countless victims suffered through the darkest evils imaginable at the hands of wicked men. In the preface to his memoir Wiesel writes:
In the beginning there was faith—which is childish; trust—which is vain; and illusion—which is dangerous. We believed in God, trusted in man, and lived with the illusion that every one of us has been entrusted with a sacred spark from the Shekhinah’s flame; that every one of us carries in his eyes and in his soul a reflection of God’s image. That was the source if not the cause of all our ordeals.2
How could a good God exist in a world filled with such mindless cruelty? In the face of crippling evil, many have concluded with Wiesel that God is dead. If there truly was a good and powerful God, he would never permit such suffering and pain. Therefore, since evil exists, God does not.
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The Christian answer to the problem of evil and suffering begins with God himself. When we have a proper view of God, the apparent problems begin to melt away.
First, God is the standard for his actions—whatever he does defines concepts of justice, goodness, love, and mercy. Too many times the supposed problem of the justice of God begins when we mistakenly believe that there is some standard of justice that stands above God and to which God’s actions must conform. Such a view reflects the philosophy of the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. In reality, however, God is ultimate and his character sets the standard for what justice is. We can’t do all that God does, because of our limited knowledge and creatureliness, but God can do as he pleases and whatever he does is just.
Second, some people believe that God needs to justify certain actions recorded in Scripture. However, Scripture makes it clear that God does not need to defend his actions to us. He does not defend himself for giving Adam a wife who led him into sin (Gen. 3:12), or when he tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22), or when Job wants answers for his apparent unjust suffering (Job 23:1-7; 31:35ff; 40:4-42:6). God is the sovereign Almighty Lord who does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Eccl. 8:3) and owes no one an explanation (Rom. 9:19-21).
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Several other attempts have been made to address evil and suffering in our world.
Some Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, deny that evil and suffering are any more than an illusion. By denying that evil and suffering are real, they attempt to avoid any dilemma between the deities in charge of the world and the way the world is. The problem for this view, however, is that the experience of suffering is universal and undeniable. Additionally, these same Eastern religions seek to end oppression and alleviate the very suffering that they deny exists. This is clearly self-refuting.