PREDESTINATION OR FREEWILL: PART SIX
(FREEWILL AND THE ISSUE OF EVIL)
In the previous essay we examined at some length the issue of predestination and freewill in association with our being accountable before God which presupposes our having freewill and the ability to choose between alternatives. In Part Six of this series, we need to address the issue of freewill as it relates to the presence of evil. The existence of evil has been discussed and examined by theologians and philosophers throughout history. The question that is asked is if God is a good God and has absolute power, authority, control and rule over all things, why is there evil? How can a good God allow for the great amount of evil that exists in the world?
Some have turned to atheism following a major traumatic encounter with evil. One example is Richard Rubenstein, author of the book After Auschwitz. Mr. Rubenstein concluded that the evil in the concentration camps is simply incompatible with God, and since the reality of evil could not be denied, mankind should abandon any notion of a "personal God of love."
Skeptics often reject the existence of the Christian God or conclude the Christian God is an evil God because of the prevalence of pain and suffering in the world. It is believed a good God would not allow this to be the case. Furthermore, events such as the Noachian Flood and the God ordered destruction of entire nations as seen in the OT, is viewed as evil perpetrated by a God that is purported to be loving, compassionate and kind.
It is argued that if the Christian God is a good God and has absolute power and authority over His creation, He would not allow for what are considered the evils of human suffering in all its forms. Why does God allow war? Why does God allow cholera, malaria and typhoid to infect multiple millions of people throughout history causing untold suffering and death? Why does God allow so-called natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis to disrupt human lives and create tremendous pain, misery and death? Why did God create carnivorous animals that attack, kill and eat each other causing great pain and distress for such creatures?
Skeptics consider all these things as evils a good God would not allow to occur. Because they do occur, it is believed God does not exist or if He does he is an evil God. How do we answer the charges of the skeptic, atheist, agnostic or philosopher who sees the Christian God as malevolent as opposed to benevolent? We need to address this issue by examining the nature of evil.
The nature of evil:
What is evil and is all evil bad. Is there such a thing as good evil? Some view any behavior, activity or event that results in pain or suffering an evil. By such definition, most sports could be defined as evil as pain and distress is common to many sporting activities. Under this definition, many forms of human labor could be considered evil as various types of human labor produces pain and distress both physically and mentally. According to this definition, all physical pain associated with injury would be considered evil even though such pain is instrumental in identifying an injury and doing what is necessary to treat the injury. So should any behavior, activity or event that results in pain or suffering be considered an evil and if so should it be considered bad evil?
Most people view natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes as evils. Birth defects and genetic diseases are seen as evils. Behavioral evil is what usually comes to mind when the subject of evil comes up. Failure to treat others justly, with respect and according to the laws of the land, is usually considered evil and those who consistently behave this way are considered evil persons. Almost everyone would consider murdering another human an evil.
Behavioral evil generally results from behavioral choices we humans make and not from circumstances beyond human control such as natural disasters. The existence of behavioral evil, even though it results from human choices, still raises the question why a good God allows such evil to pervade human civilization and cause the tremendous amount of pain and suffering that it does. Let’s begin by looking at behavioral evil.
When Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God said they had become like God in that they now knew good and evil. What kind of evil did they come to know as a result of eating of the tree? Adam and Eve came to know behavioral good and evil. They came to understand evil verses good through their act of disobedience. We find throughout Scripture that any behavior contrary to God’s will is to commit behavioral evil. For example, idol worship is contrary to God’s will and is considered evil. All behavior contrary to the will of God is considered evil.
Deuteronomy 4:25: After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time--if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger…
Deuteronomy 28:20: The Lord will send upon you curses, confusion, and frustration, in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your doings, because you have forsaken me.
It is clear from a reading of the book of First Samuel that God did not want Israel to have a human king. That was not His will for Israel. God was their king and choose to rule them through judges. Israel wanted to be like the nations around them and clamored to have a human king. God granted them their desire but their desire was contrary to God’s will for them and considered an evil.
1 Samuel 12:19: The people all said to Samuel, "Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king."
Throughout Scripture we see sinful behavior as evil behavior. Behavior contrary to the will of God is evil behavior. It is the will of God we live the law of love. The law of love involves behaving according to the Golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Behavior contrary to this rule is evil behavior and someone who consistently behaves contrary to this rule is considered an evil person. In this respect, evil is seen as deliberate behavior that negatively affects the lives of others.
Some believe God violates His own law of love by allowing for human suffering. It is believed a loving God would not permit the evil that brings about the suffering that permeates the creation. Under this perspective God could only be perceived as good if He would prevent all war, murder, theft, injustice and all other behaviors that cause pain and suffering.
In dealing with this issue of evil we need to be careful as to how we view evil as to certain behaviors, activities and events. While punishment for sin may be considered evil because pain and suffering are involved, such punishment can also be viewed as justifiable evil. Committing murder is usually considered an evil act. Is it also evil to put someone in prison for committing murder? Is this a violation of the law of love? After all, prison life is not exactly a rosy existence. Imprisonment produces both physical and psychological pain. When we punish our children, are we committing evil?
We find in the Scriptures that God initiates evil. Let’s look at several of these Scriptures in the KJV.
Isaiah 45:7: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
Amos 3:6: Shall a trumpet be blown in the city and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?
Some have used these passages to say that since God creates evil, He is an evil God. God is seen as responsible for all evil. It is believed that if He is the all-powerful sovereign Being He is purported to be and if He is a God of love, He would not allow evil to exist with its associated pain and suffering. Therefore, God is seen as either being unable to control evil or as purposefully facilitating evil which makes Him an evil God.
We see in the Scriptures that sin is considered evil. Who commits sin? We humans commit sin. God allows us the freedom to commit sin. Sin produces physical and spiritual pain and suffering both for us and for those affected by our sin. Now God could have made us without the freedom to choose between good and evil. God could have made us automatons without any choice of behavior. God could have made us to always behave in a manner He defines as good. God did not make us that way. He did not make us robots. God wants His human creation to freely choose to do His will. By giving us the ability to make choices between good and evil, God has created the potential for evil. But, it is we humans who choose evil versus good and thus commit evil. God doesn’t make us behave in an evil manner. We can’t blame God for the evil we commit and we should be thankful we have freewill and that God choose not to make us mindless automatons.
By providing His human creation with freewill, He allows for evil to occur. It is not God’s will we behave in an evil manner. It is God’s will we avoid evil. It was not God’s will that Adam and Eve behave in an evil manner. It was not God’s will they eat of the tree and learn evil. God plainly told them not to eat of the tree. It was God’s will that they have the choice of whether to eat or not eat of the tree. That choice stares us in the face every day. We can choose to eat of the tree, figuratively speaking, or we can choose not to eat of it.
Psalm 5:4: Certainly you are not a God who approves of evil; evil people cannot dwell with you (NET).
The Scriptures clearly teach that God does not approve of evil. Does He allow evil? Of course He does. Does He approve of it or like it? Absolutely not. God tolerates it because He has made freewill the primary attribute of our humanity and by and large God does not interfere with the choices we make. However, the history of human behavior clearly demonstrates that there are negative consequences associated with choosing behavior contrary to the will of God. Sometimes those negative consequences include direct intervention by God to bring judgement upon the perpetrators of evil. While God does not by and large predetermine our choices, He does predetermine the consequences of our choices. This brings us back to Isaiah 45:7.
Isaiah 45:7: I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things (KJV).
The Hebrew word rah, translated “evil” in the KJV rendering of this passage, has a wide range of meaning. Since we know from Scripture that God does not create sin but only the potential for sin through providing us the freedom of choice, God is not saying through Isaiah that He creates the evil of sin. Let’s look at other translations of this passage
I am the one who forms light and creates darkness; the one who brings about peace and creates calamity (Hebrew rah) (NET).
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things (NIV).
I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the Lord, who do all these things (RSV).
The various renderings of the Hebrew rah in these translations show the range of meaning of this Hebrew word. Furthermore, if you read this passage in the context of Isaiah 45, you will see God is speaking of providing Cyrus with the wherewithal to defeat nations in battle and prepare the way for the return of Judah from captivity. There is nothing here to suggest God creates evil in a sinful sense. The context shows God creating calamity as a method of judging nations and accomplishing His overall purpose which God has every right to do as creator and sovereign over His creation. What about Amos 3:6?
If an alarm sounds in a city, do people not fear? If disaster (Hebrew rah) overtakes a city, is the Lord not responsible (NET)?
When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it (NIV)?
If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it (NAS)?
Skeptics will use this Scripture to say God is responsible for all the calamity that is experienced in the world. Is that what this passage is saying? The entire chapter of Amos 3 is about God bringing judgement upon Israel for their sin.
Amos 3:1-2: Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel--against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins."
When God speaks of bringing disaster to their city He is speaking about punishing Israel for their sin. This is not some universal principle that applies to all cities for all time that experience calamity. God is addressing a specific nation with a specific message that He will bring about a specific calamity because of their sin. To yank this passage out of its context and give it some universal application in concluding God brings about all calamities and therefore is this evil God who is directly responsible for all human suffering is sheer nonsense.
There is no question that God has and does bring calamity, destruction and disaster at times. To those on the receiving end of such calamity, destruction and disaster, it certainly is seen as an evil. God brought about the Noachian Flood. God would have destroyed Nineveh if they hadn’t repented. God was going to destroy Israel after the golden calf incident and Moses virtually talked Him out of it. God is seen as using evil to bring judgement.
Joshua 23:14-16: Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. But just as every good promise of the LORD your God has come true, so the LORD will bring on you all the evil (Hebrew “rah”) he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD's anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you."
Does God bring evil upon His human creation, yes He does. But this evil is always in response to a failure to repent of sin. The OT record shows that God literally pleaded with Israel to repent and turn from sin. He gave them every opportunity to turn things around. He did the same with the human race before the flood. He gave man 120 years to change while the ark was being built. But God’s patience is not without end. There does come a time of reckoning.
This is no different from how we relate to our children. When our children misbehave, we may warn them, we may give them some time to turn things around. But, if things don’t turn around and misbehavior continues, we have to take disciplinary action. Does this make us evil? Not at all. It makes us responsible parents who want to insure that our children are protected from the consequences that will befall them if allowed to continue their misbehavior.
Now granted, we don’t destroy our children as God has done in many of the recorded judgements in the OT. We don’t have that prerogative. Only God has that prerogative. God is sovereign. He created us and He can destroy us. He did exactly that with the Noachian Flood. But God is not out to destroy us. God is out to have us live within the context of the law of love and reap the benefits of such living. When we don’t do so and consistently don’t do so, God has and will at times bring judgement upon us. Most of the evil we experience in life directly results from the negative effects of sinful behavior, either ours or others we interact with.
If you go to atheist websites, you will often find complaints that the God of the Bible arbitrarily ordered the destruction of entire cities such as Jericho. God is accused of committing atrocities and practicing virtual genocide. God is charged with being a moral monster for ordering the total destruction of the Amalekites where He ordered King Saul to destroy men, women, children and even the animals.
One thing we must remember when reading about these events is that we can’t characterize God based on standards we have developed or even according to the standards God has established for us humans such as seen in the moral law revealed in Scripture. The moral law applies to us humans not to God. God can’t steal or covet. He owns everything. The Scriptures say God cannot lie. Laws prohibiting idolatry and sexual misconduct don’t apply to God. God didn’t establish law for Himself. He established it for the physical creation and the human race.
We sometimes criticize our fellow humans who behave in ways that suggests they think they are above the law and act as though they are a law unto themselves. In the case of God, He is a law unto Himself. God is above law He has established for mankind. We can’t judge God based on human standards or even the standards God has established for humans.
Because of excessive sin and a failure to repent, God chose to destroy His human creation by a flood except for Noah and His family. Some consider this destruction highly immoral on the part of God. It is asked how God could justify killing young children and babies. What sin did they commit? What sin did the animals commit? These same charges are made relative to the killing of the Amalekites and the Canaanites in general where God ordered the elimination of men, women, children and animals. It is asked how could God order and require such brutality?
The stock Christian response is that God’s ways are higher than our ways and we can’t judge God according to our ways. Skeptics bristle at this response and see it as nothing more than an attempt to justify evil acts of an evil God. As we have seen, God does create evil at times to accomplish His will. Does this make God evil? God has every sovereign right to generate evil. Generating evil does not in and of itself make one intrinsically evil.
Some use corporal punishment on a child. By some reckonings this is evil and the perpetrators of such punishment are considered evil. Is this an unjust or immoral use of evil? Does this make the parent who administers such corporal punishment evil? We humans use evil to punish wrong doing when we execute a murderer or send someone to prison for theft. We inflict psychological pain by denying certain rights to someone convicted of a crime. If such behavior is perceived as evil, it is evil used to produce a good or righteous result. It is evil used to hold others accountable. When God brought evil upon Israel and other nations, He did so within the context of holding people accountable for their behavior. We do the same thing at the human level all the time.
If evil is to be defined as that which brings about pain, suffering and even death, then at times evil serves a useful and justifiable purpose. In other words, all evil isn’t synonymous with bad. Sin is bad evil and causes much additional bad evil. On the other hand, punishment in response to the evil of sin is justifiable at both the human level and the Divine level. Facilitators of such evil are not evil because they use evil to attain a righteous end.
Pain and suffering are not evil in and of themselves. Pain and suffering result from the occurrence of an evil. When you’re using a knife and cut your finger you may consider the accidental misuse of the knife an evil. The pain you suffer is a result of the slip of the knife. This is good pain. If you didn’t experience such pain you may virtually ignore the cut, do nothing about it and end up with an infection or even bleed to death.
What about natural disasters we humans have little or no control over. A lot of pain, suffering and death result from natural disasters. The Scriptures indicate God is in charge of the weather. He has the power to allow or prevent hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts and floods. Why doesn’t He prevent them and thus prevent the untold pain and suffering that accompany them. Skeptics insist that because these things occur and God does nothing to prevent them, He either doesn’t exist or He doesn’t care about the suffering these events cause and therefore He is an evil God.
What we must understand is that God has created the universe governed by physical laws which interact with each other leading to cause and effect events that occur on a continuous basis at all levels of the creation. God does not micro manage the universe in the sense that he interferes with the normal dynamics of cause and effect. God created certain causes which produce certain effects. He does not generally interfere with this process.
For example, if God were to prevent earthquakes, He would have to interfere with the working of a number of dynamics that He created as part of the way the universe and earth are structured and work. Let’s look at earthquakes.
Skeptics tend to believe earthquakes are capricious acts of an evil God that serve no purpose other than to make life on earth miserable. The implication is that earthquakes are a flaw in the design of the earth and that if a good God had really designed the earth, He would have had a much better design for the earth that wouldn’t allow for earthquakes and other types of natural occurrences that result in pain and suffering. This same argument is used in regard to disease. Skeptics argue that a good God would have better designed the human body and not have it succumb to parasites, viruses and bacteria. This argument is used by evolutionists to support their contention that life is the result of evolution as they contend life is too flawed to have been created by a good God. Let's look at the reason earthquakes happen and if they are an evil that God should eliminate if He really cares about us.
The reason for the existence of earthquakes is that the earth's continental crusts are floating on the earth's molten mantel. Since the continents are floating, the plates that make up the continents tend to run into one another from time to time. When these plates slip past one another, the grinding of these plates produces the release of large amounts of energy. This causes the plates to shake. So how could God eliminate this? He could eliminate the mantel and make all the continents fixed in position. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. After all, all other rocky planets in our Solar System have no molten core, and, therefore, no seismic activity. However, a molten interior of the earth is absolutely essential to the existence of life. The independent rotation of the molten interior of the earth results in a magnetic dynamo that produces a charged field around the earth. This magnetic field produces the Van-Allen radiation shield, which protects the earth from radiation bombardment. If this shield were not present, life would not be possible on the Earth.
The skeptic will ask why God designed the universe with deadly radiation necessitating the Van-Allen radiation shield. As it turns out, electromagnetic radiation is absolutely necessary to the ordinary functioning of the universe. It is necessary to the process by which stars produce light and heat.
God has designed the universe to operate in a synergistic balanced way and has designed our planet in such manner as to support life as God has designed life. Could God have designed things differently? Could God have designed the earth where no natural disasters occur? Of course He could have. Could God have designed life in such a way that no pain would occur? Of course He could have. Could God have designed us humans with limited free will where we could only choose between good alternatives and not evil alternatives? Yes He could have created us in this way. But then you would be looking at a very different dimension of existence from what is.
In reality, such questions are superfluous. God designed things the way He did because in his wisdom He determined that this was the way He wanted to design things. What is, is. While we humans have the freedom to place value judgements on God’s creation, we really have no business questioning God in these matters because God’s ways are truly so much higher than our ways as the Scriptures teach. Natural disasters occur because of the natural operation of natural law. If we humans happen to get in the way of the operation of natural law, we probably will experience pain and suffering. It often puzzles me that people will build a house over a known fault line or in a known flood plain where there is great potential for a calamity to occur. Sometimes pain and suffering, even when caused by natural disasters, are the result of the choices we humans make.
Scripture shows that God has at times used nature to bring about judgement. The Noachian Flood is a prime example of such usage. I’m sure the humans who faced the flood saw this as a great evil that had come upon them. In reality, it was a great evil. Remember, God does create evil at times to facilitate His will. God has every sovereign right to do this. God only does this, however, as a response to sin that is not repented of. God does not act in capricious ways to inflect pain and suffering on mankind. God does not deliberately create human suffering so He can sit back and watch people squirm. God does not get some kind of thrill out of seeing his human creation experience grief and agony.
Lamentations 3:32-33: Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.
Verse 32: For he is not predisposed to afflict or to grieve people (NET).
The Hebrew in this passage most often describes one’s initiative or motivation. It is not God’s internal motivation to bring calamity and trouble upon people. God brings grief when we deserve it and then He seeks to reconcile us to Himself and provide us peace.
God is sovereign. The word sovereign, as it relates to God, means to have absolute power, authority, control and rule over all reality. In this respect, God is ultimately responsible for all that occurs. However, as part of God’s rule, He has given us freewill to make righteous or unrighteous choices. In so doing, God has given us power to facilitate good results or bad results and experience the consequences of our actions. In this respect, God has transferred responsibility to us for our actions. Therefore, to hold God directly responsible for our evil behavior, which is what skeptics want to do, is ludicrous.
Evil comes in many forms. Most evil in the world is caused by human behavior that runs contrary to the law of love. Some evil is caused by God to punish humans for their evil acts. Some evil occurs as a result of the forces of nature acting according to established laws. God, in His sovereignty has purposed that evil exist. God has also purposed that we avoid evil by making righteous choices.
If evil is to be defined as pain and suffering, then there is good evil such as when we injure ourselves and the pain we experience causes us to treat the injury. It is good evil when criminals are punished. It is good evil when God brings judgement and punishment upon His human creation and holds us accountable for our behavior. This does not make God evil any more than we are evil when punishing our children or punishing a criminal.
Above all, we must understand that God is sovereign and His ways are truly above our ways. We are not in a position to judge God. Our job is to learn as much as we can about God’s ways and live in harmony with those ways.