The Problem of evil

 Defining evil


Evil is “a term used to describe something that brings about harmful, painful, and unpleasant effects” ( All “harmful, painful, and unpleasant effects” are simply not good. So throughout this study, evil is defined as force or action opposed to good.


Human beings from the ancient time are puzzled by the existence of evil in this world. Humans will always struggle with the problem of evil. We were trying to live good, propagate good, punish evil and eradicate evil. But still evil exists and is increasing in proportion. The Religious sects, political ideologies and World Wars have unleashed the horror of evil on innocent humans. In spite of all human efforts to eliminate or at least weaken the horrors of evil, various atrocities and horrors, such as genocides, terrorist attacks, tortures and mass murders continue to happen in this world.


Philosophers are uncertain about whether we should use the term “evil” in our moral, political and legal discourses. Or shall we dismiss it as an outdated and empty concept. What should we call evil? What is the basic criteria of evil? Is it a human character, human action or an outcome of a system? Can we formulate a universal definition of evil? Or is it relative to the social or cultural background.


In philosophical and Christian perspective, three kinds of evil exist.


1.     Moral evil is committed by humans. It volitionally and intentionally originate in human beings. It includes various forms of sin, war, murder, theft, lying and cruelties. Human beings commit these evil because they have free will to choose good or evil.


2.     Natural evil occurs independently of human beings. It also causes pain and suffering. This includes all natural disasters. Some philosophers consider natural as simply part of nature and not evil at all.


3.     This finite (limited) condition of the temporal world is the metaphysical evil. This world is limited in matter, space and time. So it is limited or finite. Metaphysical evil is the lack of complete being. Every creature falls short of infinite being. That short fall causes defects such as we see in moral evil. It is, in and of itself, not evil. Dharma religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism explain this as something humans cannot avoid.


Evil is relative


C.S. Lewis (Clive Staples Lewis) was a British writer and Anglican lay theologian (29 November 1898, Belfast, United Kingdom - 22 November 1963, Oxford, United Kingdom). In his book, The Abolition of Man, he states that certain human behavior and acts are universally considered evil, such as treachery, rape and murder. Some other acts are considered evil in certain historical and social era. The same may be accepted as normal human behavior in another period in history or in another society. The ancient Greeks found no evil in homosexual relationships. For 400 years, the United States of America, Great Britain, and many other countries practiced slavery of the African race. Nazis in Germany, under Adolf Hitler, committed genocide of Jews. It was not evil then for the Christians in Germany, neighboring countries and many in USA and Britain. Nanjing Massacre of the Chinese citizens by the Imperial Japanese Army, in 1937, just before the World War II, was the worst atrocity occurred during the period.  (December 13, 1937 – January 1938). More than 3,00,000 innocent people were murdered within six weeks. It was also justified at that time.


Today, the world and the Christian church are divided about homosexuality and abortion. Wars and genocides are defended by nations, races and religions.


But according to the Bible, evil is not defined by human beings, Satan or the world. Evil is measured against God’s glorious standard. Compared to His holiness, justice, purity, and righteousness, we all fall short. 


Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (NKJV).


Everything that is not in par with God’s goodness and holiness is sin and evil.


Human beings everywhere and always do not profess the same understanding of Evil. The three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have different interpretations. Even people of the same faith have different understanding of evil. Many people believe that some evil is good as long as it serves a good purpose. Evil, whether it is given as a punishment or a test, can help people to grow to become more mature before God.


Skeptics believe we should abandon the concept of evil. They give three main reasons to abandon the concept of evil:


1.     The concept of evil accepts the existence of metaphysical dark spirits, the supernatural, or satanic powers. These creatures possess powers and abilities that defy scientific explanation and perhaps human understanding. We do not have proven evidence for their existence. So it is rational to dismiss the term “evil”.


2.     The concept of evil is a useless concept. It lacks explanatory power. We cannot explain why certain actions were performed and why these actions were performed by some humans or nature. We cannot explain why many others are not doing evil actions. To say that an event is a mystery is not a genuine explanation. An action or incident is not evil only because an explanation or information is unavailable now.


3.     The concept of evil can be harmful or dangerous when used in moral, political, and legal contexts. It can cause harm or danger when it is misapplied or used perniciously. It is harmful to use the concept without sufficient understanding to complicated historical or political contexts. The metaphysical and psychological explanation about evildoers are not always correct. The only solution we practice in order to escape or avoid evil doers is to isolate them (put in prison) or to have them executed. So the concept of evil itself is harmful or dangerous.


The problem of evil


The problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God. The Darwinian problem of evil is extended beyond humans to animals and nature.


Epicurus and evil


Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher who founded Epicureanism, a highly influential school of philosophy (born 341, Samos, Greece –270 BC, Athens, Greece). Epicurus’s statement of the “problem of evil” is the most famous philosophical argument against the existence of God. Though these arguments are attributed to Epicurus, scholars are doubtful about its real author.


He reasoned that, if God knows about our suffering (all-knowing), cares about our suffering (all-loving), and can do something about our suffering (all-powerful), then there shouldn't be any suffering. Therefore if evil is a reality in this world, God does not exist.


Epicurus’ logical arguments about the existence of God and evil are as follows:


Definition 1    -  God is omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent.

Definition 2    -  Evil is a force or action opposed to good.


Premise 1       - An omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God exists.

Premise 2       -  An omniscient being knows every way in which evil can come into existence, and knows every way in which evil can be prevented.

Premise 3       -  An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent and eliminate all evils.

Premise 4       -  An omnipotent God has the power not to create evil or to prevent evil from coming into existence. He must have the power to eliminate evil.

Premise 5       -  So an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God surely would not create evil or He would prevent the existence of it.

Premise 6       -  But evil exists in this world. God has neither prevented its coming into being nor has eliminated it. This is a logical contradiction to premise 1 to 5.


Conclusion 1 - Therefore an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God does not exist.

Conclusion 2 - Since God cannot be anything else than an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent being, He does not exist.


The whole argument can be condensed into two divisions: the logical problem and the evidential problem.


1.     The logical problem poses the question, “how” - how can a good God and evil coexist? The logical problem argues that the co-existence of God and evil is a logical impossibility. The co-existence of two contradictory concepts are logically impossible. An example is that, an immovable object and irresistible force cannot co-exist. If the force is irresistible, the object cannot remain immobile.    


The logical problem is that a good God and evil are contradictory concepts. So they cannot co-exist. The logical argument is as follows: If God is omniscient (all-knowing), then He possesses knowledge of evil. If God is omnibenevolent (all-good), then He desires to eliminate evil. And if God is omnipotent (all-powerful), then His ability is sufficient to permanently annihilate all evil. Therefore, evil cannot coexist with an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God. 


2.     The evidential or existential problem poses the question “why”? Evidences prove that there is evil in the world. So it is improbable that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God. It asks, why is God allowing evil? Why is He not rescuing humans from evil? If God exists why He is ignoring human suffering?


“How” is an intellectual question and “why” is an emotional question. According to the above arguments, if God is not omnipotent or omnibenevolent or omniscient, there is no problem of evil. If God lacks any one of these three attributes, the problem of evil is resolved.  


The “problem of evil” is the seeming contradiction between an all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful God and the human experience of suffering and evil in the world. Critics claim that the existence of evil is proof that the God of the Bible logically cannot exist. They argue that, since “bad things happen to good people” God is either nonexistent or less good or less powerful than Scripture suggests.


Theodicy (θiːˈɒdɪsi)


Theodicy (θiːˈɒdɪsi) is a branch of philosophy and theology that discusses the issue of evil in the light of the existence of God. The word “theodicy” is a combination of two Greek words. “Theos” means God and “dike/ dikaios” means righteous. Thus theodicy means, a justification of the ways of God towards humans. Theodicy is an attempt to justify God for the existence of evil.


Theodicy discuss the question, is God logically possible against the fact that evil exists in this world. If God is just and holy and good, then how do evil and misery exist? This is the question theodicy wrestles with. Theodicy explains what is evil and God’s reasons for permitting evil. By allowing evil God attains greater good than possible without evil.


Theodicy is not an attempt to make God appear as palatable as possible to us. Our dislike of something does not make anything false. God in the scripture is not always compatible with our personal preferences. God does not act according to our moral preferences. God never promises to make everyone’s life easier or better. He never promised to alter logical principles behind the universe according to our demands. He has not promised to alter the cause and effect principle as we wish.


Theodicy logically proves that the Christian God exists even while there is evil in this world. God does not have to create evil in order for there to be evil. There is an eternal and spiritual context to suffering and evil in this world. This is a key part of any reasonable theodicy.


Theodicy presupposes three assumptions:


1.     God is all knowing, all good and all powerful (omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent).

2.     The whole created universe exists in contingent (depending) relationship with God.

3.     It is a fact that evil exists in the world.


Before we go to the discussion of Biblical defense, let us go fast through the concepts and theories of some ancient religions, philosophers and scholars, about the co-existence of God and evil.


Ancient religions


The ancient Egyptian religion absolved their gods from any blame for evil. They followed a negative cosmology and the negative concept of human nature to explain evil. The Pharaoh was an agent of the gods and his actions as a king were aimed to prevent evil and curb evilness in human nature.


Ancient Greeks acknowledged the fact that evil was present in the world. But they didn't believe in any "evil" gods. Incidents, both good and evil, were caused by Fate who was more powerful than gods. In Greek mythology, Fate was represented by three very old women who spin the threads of human destiny. Greeks justified all unfortunate events as the random works of these goddesses. They spin, dispense and cut off the thread of human fate.


In Roman mythology, the goddesses of fate were known as Parcae (singular Parca). They were also three in number. They directed lives and death of humans and even gods.




Neo-Platonism, a school of philosophy, started with Plotinus, who was a philosopher in the Hellenistic tradition. (born 204/205 AD, Lyco, or Lycopolis, Egypt—died 270, Campania, Southern Italy, lived in Rome). Plotinus initiated a new phase in the development of the Platonic tradition.


According to the Neo-Platonists, evil does not exist as a substance or property. It is a privation of substance, form, and goodness. (Plotinus, Enneads, I, 8; See also O’Brien 1996). For instance, the evil of disease consists in a privation of health, and the evil of sin consist in a privation of virtue. Since evil is a privation of goodness, it is not created by God. All of God’s creation is good, evil is the lack of being good.




Dualism is the belief in two supreme opposed powers, God and devil (Satan). In dualism, both these powers have active part and contribution in the creation of the universe.


Zoroastrianism is an Iranian religion and one of the world's oldest organized faiths. This religion was founded by an Iranian prophet Zoroaster. He was also known as Zarathustra. Details about his birth and death are not clearly available. It is reckoned that he lived before 500 BC and died at the age of 77. Some historians believe the religion had been practiced from 2nd millennium BC, though recorded history is available from the middle of the 6th century BC only. It has a dualistic cosmology of good and evil within the framework of a monotheistic ontology and an eschatology. It predicts the ultimate conquest of evil by good.


Zoroastrianism attribute evil in the world to the god of evil as opposed to the god of good. They believe that the struggle between good and evil in the world will eventually come to an end. Zoroastrianism talks about our moral evil as something avoidable.


Manichaeism was a dualistic religious movement founded in Persia in the 3rd century AD. The basis of this religion is the revelation received by a person known as Mani. It was first considered to be a Christian heresy, but later identified itself as a different religion.


According to Manichaean dualism, God and the Prince of darkness are two co-equal and co-eternal powers. God is nor the sole creator of the world. God created all good and the Prince of darkness created all evil. Humans have a good soul and evil matter. There is an ongoing battle between these two powers. God is not all-powerful. So He cannot prevent the devil. 


Other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism teach that evil unavoidably manifests in the world because of karma. Taoism (also spelled Daoism – an ancient Chinese religion) views evil as basically unreal. Thus it resembles the Dharmic religions. Confucianism talks about moral evil as good in society.


Gottfried Leibniz


Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was an 18 century German polymath. (1 July 1646 – 14 November 1716). A polymath is a person who knows a lot about many different subjects. He was active as a mathematician, philosopher, scientist and diplomat. He coined the term "theodicy" in 1710 in his work Théodicée.


He has presented a complex philosophical theory to explain the problem of evil. Leibniz framed three types of evil: metaphysical evil, moral evil and natural evil.


In this three-fold schema, Leibniz argued that moral evil is an inevitable and necessary consequence of finitude. Finitude is a metaphysical lack of complete being. All creature falls short of infinite being. This shortfall causes defects such as we see in moral evil.


Leibniz’s arguments fails to the Biblical notion of evil. If evil is a metaphysical necessity for all creatures, Adam and Eve had to have been evil before the fall. And all humans have to continue to be evil even after glorification in heaven.


Leibniz believed that despite our sufferings, we live in the best of all possible worlds. God is in control. God allows sufferings in order to prevent the occurrence of a worse terrible event. God is able to anticipate and prevent consequences that we cannot see. Since God is good and loving, we can trust that God creates and sustains the best possible world.


Friedrich Nietzsche


Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a nineteenth century German philosopher, prose poet, cultural critic, philologist, and composer whose work has exerted a profound influence on contemporary philosophy. (born 15 October 1844, Röcken, Lützen, Germany – died 25 August 1900, Weimar, Germany).


Nietzsche argued that the concept of evil is dangerous and so it must be avoided. It does not describe a moral reality. It is used to demonize enemies. The concept exercise negative effects on human potential and vitality. It promotes the weak in spirit and suppress the strong. In On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic, he contends that the powerless and weak created the concept of evil to take revenge against their oppressors. Creative self-expression and accomplishment is more valuable than a relief from suffering.


Monotheistic religions


Monotheistic religions believe only in one God. They are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All monotheistic religions agrees that evil exists, but none of them glorifies it. But they differ in explaining the origin and purpose of it. They attribute three qualities to God: absolute knowledge (omniscience), absolute goodness (omnibenevolence) and absolute power (omnipotence)


God cannot and has not created evil. The presence of evil is due to the moral downfall of human beings. Humans were tempted to disobey God’s command by the fallen angel, Satan. This disobedience is sin. And sin caused all evil to enter into world. Thereafter God permits evil either as a punishment for humanity's moral downfall, as a test for their growth of for any other divine purpose.


Monotheistic religions blame a personal identity called Satan as an agent of temptation. But they do not consider Satan as powerful or equal to God.




In the Old Testament, through the life of some persons who suffered evil assert the view that, God is greater than suffering, He is powerful, creative and committed to His creation. He always has the last word in everything that happen in this world. Genesis says that all God's creation were "very good" and later evil entered into the created world as a result of human choice.  




The holy book of Islam, Qur’an, teaches that evil originates from the rebellion of Satan (Shaytan) against Allah. Allah asked Satan to bow down to Adam, but the devil refused. So Allah cast out Satan from heaven. In revenge, Satan vowed to tempt humans to commit sin.


Muslims believe that all human beings are born with an instinct to live according to the laws of Allah. Humans are responsible for everything they do. Human beings choose right, by the guidance of Allah, or wrong by falling into the temptations of Satan (Shaytan). However Muslims do not believe in absolute free will. Allah can intervene in their lives at any moment.


This short life on Earth is a test from Allah where they must endure evil and suffering as preparation for Paradise. Muslims believe that suffering is caused by the selfishness and evil of human beings. This selfishness and evil leads to bad decisions. Human beings can overcome suffering in their own lives and help to ease the suffering of others by following Allah’s path.

Allah has forgiven Adam and Eve, who fell into the temptation of Satan (Shaytan) to eat the forbidden fruit. And he shall also forgive anyone who sincerely repents from their wrong doings. 


They believe that Allah is in overall control. Muslims often try to see a purpose in suffering. Suffering may be Allah’s way of educating, a retribution for a wrong action or a test. If humans are patient and remain faithful, they will have increased reward in the afterlife.


Jehovah's Witnesses


Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Satan is the original cause of evil. Satan was once a perfect angel. But he developed feelings of self-importance and craved worship. He challenged God's right to rule. Thus Satan posed a competing claim against God (Jehovah) for the universal sovereignty. So God cast him out of heaven. Some angels sided with Satan and became demons. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by the deceit of Satan, humanity became participants in the challenge. 


Jehovah’s Witness believers explain God's subsequent tolerance of evil by the value of free will. They also hold that this period of suffering is one of non-interference from God. This age of sufferings demonstrate that Jehovah's "right to rule" or “universal sovereignty” is both correct and in the best interests of all intelligent beings. This age also offers humans the opportunity to willingly submit to God's rule.


At some future time known only to God, He will settle forever, the issue of the right to universal sovereignty. "Faithful" humankind will be reconciled through Christ and non-conforming humans and demons will be destroyed. Thereafter evil will be summarily eliminated.


Evil as illusory – Christian Science


According to Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), founder of Christian Science, evil is ontologically unreal in the world created by God who is absolutely good and perfect. (Ontology - branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being). Evils such as suffering and disease only appear to be real, but in truth are illusions. So in reality evil does not exist. 


The theologians of Christian Science posit that the spirit is of infinite might. Mortal human beings fail to grasp the infinity of the spirit. Instead they focus on evil and suffering, that have no real existence as "a power, person or principle opposed to God".


The illusion theodicy has been critiqued for denying the reality of crimes, wars, terror, sickness, injury, death, suffering and pain to the victim. If evil is simply ontologically unreal, how can one explain Hitler killing six million Jews? Didn't it truly cause substantial pain and suffering to them and also to others who survived the Holocaust? Why God would create this "illusion" of crimes, wars, terror, sickness, injury, death, suffering and pain; and why God does not stop this "illusion". The illusion argument merely shifts the problem to a new problem, as to why God created this "illusion" and why He does not stop it.




In Christianity, scholars generally agrees that the Bible does not admit a singular perspective on evil. The Bible focuses not on rational or logical justifications about the problem of evil, but on moral and spiritual remedies. Sin is a moral evil. The spiritual world contains hostile spiritual forces. Suffering and misfortune are, sometimes, represented as evil in the Bible. But Christianity mainly focuses on "the salvific value of suffering".


The Bible does not leave the problem of evil unaddressed. The Bible, in both testaments, acknowledges that evil does exist. Scripture speaks about evil, God responses to the problem and offers solutions to it. The Bible argues that, freedom of human choice allows for the possibility of moral evil. Moral evil leads to physical and natural evil. God has always acted to restrain, eradicate and soften the effects of evil on humanity. Salvation through Christ is the only way to escape from evil. One day, God will defeat and destroy evil forever.


Who created evil?


Who created evil is the “how” question of the problem of evil. In order to defend the existence of an all knowing, all good and all powerful God, theodicy has to answer three important questions: 


1.     Who created evil or how and why evil originated in the world?

2.     Why God did not prevent the origin of evil?

3.     Why God permits or causes evil to happen today?


These questions are answered in different ways.


1.     First way is to qualify or negate the total goodness of God, that is, to say that God must be evil as well as good. This position has been taken by Christians like Frederick Sontag, a professor of philosophy and author. (October 2, 1924 – June 14, 2009, California, USA).


2.     Second way is to qualify or deny the omnipotence of God, that is, to regard God as a finite God. If God is not omnipotent, there may be another power equal or lesser to God. This theory is proposed by dualistic religions like Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism. Even some Christians theologians like Edwin Lewis have taken this dualistic position. Edwin Lewis (1881–1959) was an American Methodist theologian.


3.     A third logical way is to qualify the existence of evil, by saying that evil is just non-being or privation of good. This theological and philosophical concept was proposed by Saint Augustine and later followed by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas defines evil in his Summa Theologica Aquinas, as the absence or privation of good. This is a commonly accepted theory in Christianity.


Evil as a deviation from God’s goodness


There are more than once theory about how evil came into existence. God is a perfectly good. He is the only perfectly good being. So not only that God cannot create evil, but also nothing different from Him cannot be perfect or good. If the absolute and complete perfection is changed, God extinct to be absolutely and completely perfect. That means, if absolute goodness is changed from God, He cannot and does not exist.  


Anything that God creates is different from Him and so it must be less than perfect. This world and everything in it is a creation of God. So it cannot be perfectly good. Human beings are also created by God, hence not perfectly good. Thus, evil is not a creation of God, it is simply a deviation from God’s goodness.


After creating everything in this world, God said “very good”. Adam and Eve were created without sin, in God’s image and likeness. They were perfect beings without lacking anything as human beings. But they were humans not equal to God. They are created “a little lower than the angels”


Psalms 8: 4, 5 (Hebrews 2: 6, 7)

4    What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?

5    For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. (NKJV)  


Evil as disunity with God


Christianity teaches that evil is a result of disunity with God's will. The Mosaic Laws in the Old Testament era and the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament era reveals the will of God. But people continues to commit moral evil (sin) by disobeying God's will.


God created angels, the universe and humanity as good (Genesis 1:31). Angels and humans were gifted with free will to choose between obedience and loyalty to God or rebellion against Him (liberum arbitrium). Satan was created as a good angel. However he rebelled against God, fell into sin and thus became an evil spirit called Satan. A host of angels aligned with Satan also fell from the glory of heaven. They were cast out of heaven by God.


After the creation of humans, Satan deceived them to follow his path in rebellion against God. Thus humans disobeyed God’s command. The fall of Adam and Eve was caused not by free will but by their volitional disobedience. Their sin has been inherited to all their offspring as "original sin". So all humans are depraved, have lost their ability to choose to follow God, and are inclined to use their free will to choose evil.


The origin of evil lies not with God but with humanity. When God created human beings He gave them a choice to obey or disobey. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God they brought evil into the universe. Evil is an action or relationship, not a created substance.


Pandora box


The disobedience of Adam and Eve was like opening the Pandora box. The story of Pandora is a Greek myth.


Greek poets, Homer and Hesiod lived in about 750 - 650 BC. They were credited with establishing the customs and myths of the ancient pagan Greek. Hesiod in his poems Theogony and Works and Days narrates the story of Pandora. Prometheus, the Greek god of fire, stole fire from heaven and gave it to humans. So Pandora was created by gods to counteract the blessing. Pandora was, according to the myth, the first woman on Earth, created by gods. Her name means “the one who bears all gifts”. Prometheus brother, Epimetheus married her. As a wedding present, Zeus, the supreme Greek god, gave Pandora a box (a jar) called “pithos” in Greek. Zeus told her that the box contained special gifts from them but she was not allowed to open the box ever. 


Out of curiosity, Pandora opened the box. And all illnesses, hardships and sufferings that was in the box sprang out of it. Pandora became afraid and closed the box, shutting in Hope. Thus everything in the box came out of it into the world except Hope. According to the poet Hesiod, Hope stayed inside because that was Zeus’ will. Zeus wanted to let people suffer in order to understand that they should not disobey their gods. 


Disobedience of Adam and Eve was like opening the Pandora box. All evil sprang out automatically and filled the world, as they committed sin. Disobedience was sin that contained all evil. Adam and Eve were forbidden by God to yield to disobedience. But they chose, by exercising their free will, to disobey God. As the consequence, they fell into sin. Thus the whole world was filled with evil. Every moral decision thereafter became a struggle between doing what’s righteous and doing what’s sinful.


Did God Create Evil?


Critics of Christian faith often cite two verses in the King James Version of the the Bible to argue that God created evil. One is from Isaiah 45 and another is from Amos 3.


Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (KJV)


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? (KJV)


In Isaiah it is said, “I (God) make peace and create evil” and in Amos it is “shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” These sentences give us the notion that God created evil.  


However, “evil” is not the word used in the original Hebrew text. The word translated "evil" in Hebrew is “ra” (rah) both in Isaiah and Amos. “ra” is noun and rāʿaʿ - raw-ah' is the verb (ra-a). “ra” means, natural or moral evil, distress, misery, injury, or calamity. “raa” means to spoil by breaking to pieces. This words speaks about what we consider “bad” because they hurt us or they are inconvenient for us in some way, like calamity, disaster, misfortune or hardship. 


There is another word used in the Scripture for “evil”


Genesis 18: 23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? (KJV)


The Hebrew word used for “wicked” in this verse is “rāšāʿ” (raw-shaw' - rashaa). It means, wicked, evil in the moral sense or criminal. So it is translated without any change in NKJV also.


Genesis 18: 23 23 And Abraham came near and said, "Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? (NKJV)


Since the translation of Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6 in KJV does not align with the Biblical perspective about God and evil, modern translations have corrected the word “evil” in these verses, as “calamity”.


Thus the verses in NKJV reads:


Isaiah 45: 7  I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.'


Amos 3: 6 If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?


If God permits to happen “rah”, or “calamity,” it is always for a good and righteous purpose. He may sometimes use affliction to compel people to seek His face. God always have reasons for permitting “rah” or hardships to happen inhuman life. But He is not and cannot be the author of rasha’. Scriptures do not teach that God was the originator of evil.


Hosea 5: 15 I will return again to My place Till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." (NKJV)


This may be further explained by a correct rendering of the verse in 1 Samuel 18:10.


1 Samuel 18: 10 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul's hand. (KJV)


The verse, in KJV says that “the evil spirit from God came upon Saul”. When we read this verse, we naturally think that evil spirits can come forth from God. But the real meaning of the verse does not bear that sense.


Hebrew for “evil spirit from God” is “ra ruwach 'elohiym”. “ruwach” is spirit and “elohiym” is God. “ruwach elohiym” are words used for the Holy Spirit, not for evil spirit.


Genesis 1: 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God (ruwach 'elohiym) was hovering over the face of the waters.


The Hebrew word “ra” in Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3: 6 means simply disturbing or hurting. That means, the Holy Spirit from God came upon Saul and disturbed or hurt him. So this verse is NKJV is:


I Samuel 18:10 And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house. So David played music with his hand, as at other times; but there was a spear in Saul's hand.


Here the Hebrew word “ra” is used in the sense distressing, troubling or hurting. From God came the Holy Spirit, but it disturbed or hurt Saul, may be because of his evil intentions against David.


Let us discuss one more verse from Proverbs.


Proverbs 16:4 The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom. (NKJV)


Critics often this verse to argue that God has created some people as wicked with the sole aim for a day of evil. But the exact meaning of this verse tells a different message.


God does not create people as wicked or with the sole aim to destroy them. The word “made” in the above verse is “paw-al'” (p̄āʿal). This Hebrew word means, to do or make (systematically and habitually), commit, ordain etc. Proverbs 16: 4 does not mean that God has created some people as wicked. Because everything that was created Him was “very good” (Genesis 1: 31). God cannot be author and creator of anything evil.


So the meaning that fits to the verse is “ordain”. God has ordained everything according to His purpose. And the wicked is ordained for the day of doom. The doom is the doom of the wicked people. The meaning is clearer in some other versions of the Bible.


Proverbs 16:4 The LORD works out everything to its proper end— even the wicked for a day of disaster. (NIV)


Privation theory


Evil does not exist without something to counter it. Evil cannot exist without good. The highest standard of goodness is in God alone.


God created the angels and the universe as “very good”. One of the good things about His creation was that they had freedom to choose good. God’s intention in bestowing freedom of choice was to choose good, not to choose evil. But in order to have a real choice, God had to allow something besides good. So, God allowed the angels and humans to choose good or reject good (choose evil). And some angels and human beings choose to reject good.


Thus a bad relationship came to exist between God and some angels and humans. When a bad relationship exists between two good things we call that evil. But evil does not become a “thing” that is created by God.


Cold is the absence of heat. Darkness is the absence of light. Evil is the absence of good. Evil is the absence of God. God did not have to create evil, but rather only allow for the absence of good or His absence. This is known as the privation theory.


Evil as privation of good


To understand the privation theory, let us begin our discussion by reading Romans 3: 23 once again.


Romans 3: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (NKJV).


The verse says that sin is falling short of the glory of God. Without God there is no ultimate standard for the good. Sin is moral evil. Evil is not defined by human beings, Satan or the world. Evil is measured against God’s glorious standard. Compared to His holiness, justice, purity, and righteousness, we all fall short. Everything that is not in par with God’s goodness, holiness, justice, purity, and righteousness, is evil. That means, evil is the privation of the glorious standard of God’s goodness.


Clement of Alexandria


In the second century, Christian theologians answered the problem of evil by negating the existence of evil. Among these theologians, Clement of Alexandria offered several theodicies, of which one was called "privation theory of evil".


Clement of Alexandria (Latin name - Titus Flavius Clemens) was a Christian theologian and philosopher who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. (born, 150 AD, Athens, Greece and died between 211 and 215, Jerusalem)


According to Clement, God is completely good and hence he could not have created evil. If God did not create evil, then it cannot exist. Evil does not exist as a positive, but exists as a negative or as a "lack of good".


Clement was criticized for his theory by Gnostics and some others. If evil does not exist, how can we explain sufferings in the world? Why God did not create creatures that did not lack the good. Clement attempted to answer these questions by a theory found in the Platonic tradition of philosophy.


Plato presented two realities, one of God and Truth and another of human and perceived experience. Thus evil is only a human perceived experience, not the Truth. According to Plato, evil resulted from the human failure to pay sufficient attention to finding and doing good. Evil is an absence of good where good should be.


Saint Augustine


Saint Augustine was a 4 century theologian and philosopher, born in Berber (in North Africa, 13 November 354 - 28 August 430 AD). He was the bishop of Hippo from 396 to 430 AD (Hippo Regius, Roman North Africa, the modern city of Annaba, Algeria). He was one of the Latin Fathers of the Church and perhaps the most significant Christian thinker after St. Paul.


Saint Augustine started his religious life in Manichaeism, but later converted to Christianity. He accepted the Neo-Platonist theory to explain evil. Augustine believed in the free will of human beings. He agreed with Clement of Alexandria and Neo-platonic philosophy about evil.


Augustine posit the principle that every cause is superior to its effects. God, as the cause of everything created, is a sovereign spiritual being (not corporeal). His sovereignty is absolute. God created all material reality ex nihilo. So God is innately superior to his creation. Everything that God created is “very good”. (Genesis 1:31).


Augustinian theodicy stands in sharp contrast to the Irenaen theodicy (Irenaeus of Lyon was a 2 century theologian and church father). For Augustine, humans were created perfect but they fell to sin. Thereafter humans continue to choose badly by exercising their freewill.


In his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, Augustine maintained that evil exists as "absence of the good".  He taught that evil is simply "privation of good" (privatio boni), "non-substance" (non substantia), or "non-being" (non esse). Evil is a privation or an absence of goodness where goodness might have been. Evil has no independent being, it is not a substance that exists in its own right. Evil cannot be defined as a thing or as a substance or as some kind of being. Rather, evil is always defined as an action, an action that fails to meet a standard of goodness. The absence of good is an act of the will, a rejection of the infinite good offered by God. The act of rejection is a free choice of an individual.


Evil, as understood this way, does not contradict the goodness and omnipotence of God.


This view has been criticized citing that murder, rape, terror, pain and suffering are real life events for the victim, and cannot be labeled as a mere "lack of good". But Augustine accepted that suffering exists and was aware that the privation theory was not a solution to the problem of evil.


St. Thomas Aquinas


Saint Thomas Aquinas, was an Italian Dominican friar, an influential philosopher, theologian and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism. He was born in AD 1224/1225 at Roccasecca, Italy and died on 7 March 1274, Abbazia di Fossanova, Fossanova Abbey, Italy.


St. Thomas’s spirituality may be summed by a metaphysical axiom, “To take something away from the perfection of the creature is to abstract from the perfection of the creative power itself.”


Saint Thomas Aquinas systematized the Augustinian conception of evil and supplemented his own findings to it. According to St. Thomas, evil is a privation, or the absence of some good which belongs properly to the nature of the creature. There is no ontological source of evil, corresponding to the greater good, which is God. Evil is not real but rational - it exists not as an objective fact, but as a subjective conception. Things are evil not in themselves. They are considered to be evil in relation to other items or persons. All realities are in themselves functional; they produce bad results only incidentally. Consequently, the final cause of evil is fundamental 'goodness,' as well as the objects in which evil is found.


Luther and Calvin

Both Luther and Calvin explained evil as a consequence of the fall of man and the original sin. Calvin, however, held to the belief in God’s Sovereignty and predestination. He believed that the fall is part of God's plan.


Luther saw evil and original sin as an inheritance from Adam and Eve, passed on to all mankind. Sin has bound the will of man to serving sin. God's just nature allows evil as a consequence for their sin. Still God has a plan for the redemption of humans through Jesus Christ. Humans are not able to understand and explain the whole plan of God for redemption.


Arthur Schopenhauer (shoh·puhn·hau·uh), a 19 century German philosopher also emphasized the existence of evil and its negation of the good.



The foundation of the privation theory is that, evil is not a substantial thing like a rock, water or electricity. You cannot have a cup of evil. Evil has no existence of its own. Evil in and of itself, does not actually exist, except as the absence of goodness.


Privation is the loss or absence of a quality or attribute that should be normally present. Privation theory argues that evil is not a thing. Evil isn’t a “substance” that has a traceable “source.”


For example, holes are real but they only exist in something else. We call the absence of a concrete thing in certain area as a hole. But it cannot be separated from a substantial thing. Holes have no existence without being absent in another thing.


Evil has been defined in terms of its being either a negation (negatio) of the good, or a privation (privatio) of the good. The definition of evil depends upon a prior understanding of the good. We think of sin as something that is unrighteous, involving disobedience, immorality etc. All of these definitions depend upon the positive substance and quality of the good.


Evil is an aspect of relationship. So evil is not created. God created light, but did not create darkness. Darkness as itself does not exist. Darkness is only a term we use to refer to a relative lack of light. It’s entirely defined in terms of deprivation: the absence of something else.


The same is true of physical heat. Thermal energy (also called heat energy) is produced when a rise in temperature causes atoms and molecules to move faster and collide with each other. All forms of matter contain heat energy. When an object is cold it has less molecular movement, relatively speaking. At absolute zero all molecular movement would completely stop, theoretically. You cannot get any “colder” than that, because there is no way to add more coldness. You can only remove heat. The absence of heat is “cold”


The same basic law applies to many descriptive words. Terms such as short or thin are all references to the relative lack of something else. There is no such thing as “shortness,” and one cannot “add” shortness. A line we draw is long if a shorter one is drawn beside it. When you draw yet another shorter line than the second one, the second line becomes less short. If you wipe away the first line, the second become the long line and the third becomes the short line.


___________________________________ (1)

__________________________ (2)

___________________ (3)


A mathematical example is the number “0”. The term zero literally refers to that which does not exist. It is a reference to nothing, to the absence of something. This is why adding or subtracting “0” results in no change, multiplying “0” is still “nothing,” and dividing by “0” is a logical contradiction. Is zero real? In the sense that it’s a term we can understand and that has use, yes. But, “0” does not exist in any tangible sense. It’s literally defined as the absence of something or everything else.


The same logic may be applied to the term “evil”. The term has meaning and use, but we don’t have to assume that it is an actual, tangible, created thing. Evil is a relative term used to mean anything that lacks the moral perfection of God. Evil is the lack of goodness.


So evil is a non-being, privation of good, absence of good, or diminution of good. Evil is non-substantial. Evil is not some “thing” God created. It is not created by any other power outside God. There is no creative power other than God. So all premises that God created evil is invalid.


Why God allows evil?


Why evil exist in this world? If God is omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent, why He is allowing evil to torment humans, all living and non-living creatures? Why He is not stopping it? This is the “why” part of the problem of evil.


If evil does exist, and if a sovereign God is not stopping it, then obviously He has allowed it for His perfect plan and purpose. We may not be able to know all purposes of God for allowing evil to exist, but we can understand the mystery as much as humans can comprehend. So let us go through some of the explanations offered by Church fathers and theologians.


Irenaean theodicy

Saint Irenaeus was the disciple of Polycarp, another Church father and the disciple of Apostle John. Saint Irenaeus was a Greek bishop, born about AD 130, at Smyrna, Asia Minor, modern day Izmir, Turkey and died in 202 at Lugdunum, Gaul, modern day Lyon, France. Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna. He was born in 69 AD and died in 155 AD at Smyrna, modern day Izmir, Turkey. He was Roman in nationality.


In AD 177, Irenaeus became the bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon). He was an apologist, and leading Christian theologian of the 2nd century AD. His work Adversus haereses (Against Heresies), written about AD 180, was a refutation of Gnosticism. In the course of his writings Irenaeus advanced the development of an authoritative canon of Scripture, the creed, and the authority of the episcopal office.


The Irenaean theodicy is also known as the soul-making theodicy. His theories were accepted in Eastern Christianity. Soul-making is the theory that evil has to exist so that humans can develop their souls by living and becoming good, moral people. It gives humans a chance to learn from suffering and develop moral virtues.


According to Irenaeus evil is necessary for human moral and spiritual development and is part of God's purpose. God created humans in a morally and spiritually imperfect state. Therefore, God is partly responsible for the existence of evil. Perfection in humans would take away their freedom to live in accordance with God’s will. Because humans are imperfect, they must develop and grow through a soul-making process into the state of perfection as "children of God". Irenaeus stated that eventually good will overcome evil and suffering. This argument still continues to influence Christian thoughts and beliefs.


The key points of the soul-making theodicy are as follows:


1.     The purpose of God in creating the world was soul-making for rational moral agents.

2.     The soul-making process helps to develop moral character. It is a human choice.

3.     Human choice is based on their free will. The free exercise of free will requires that God remain hidden. God’s interference in everyday matter will compromise the free will.

4.     So God has created an epistemic (knowledge) distance. He remains hidden and is not immediately knowable. This distance is kept by the presence of evil in the world. Humans must strive to know Him and by doing so become truly good.


Punishment theodicy

The punishment theodicy argues that suffering is a result of God’s just punishment of evildoers. In punishment God displays His judgment against sin. But this theodicy cannot explain all evil.


Some Christians believe that suffering is a method of God to discipline us. Sufferings are God's ways to lead us to repentance. It is a sign, a warning or a notice that tells us that we have gone astray from His goodness.


Others believe that God uses sufferings as a test of our faith in divine providence. Suffering makes faith stronger and more constant. Another belief is that our suffering in our earthly life is only temporary and will add radiance and joy to our eternal life.


Some other Christians do not believe that evil is a part of God's divine plan and it does not serve any divine purpose. 


God’s sovereignty / greater good defense

The response focusing on God’s sovereignty and greater good is a good solution offered to the problem of evil. God has all-knowledge, He is all-good and all-powerful. So He can determine or control all evil for greater good on a personal, communal, or universal level. Therefore, humans are responsible for the origin of sin but God determines or controls evil. Evil is not an end, it is determined by God for a greater good. God cannot actualize the existence of good of greater value without also permitting evil. So God does not prevent or eliminate evil, but He controls it. God’s omni attributes are the solution to evil, they are not the problem.


Pain and suffering in the world has a role in bringing about greater good that could not be brought otherwise. Some good can’t exist apart from the evil to which they are a response. There is no courage without danger, no sympathy without suffering, no forgiveness without sin, no atonement without suffering, no compassion without need, no patience without adversity. God must often allow evil to make these good a part of his world, given how these good are defined.


Skeptical theologians also agree to this view. No one can fully understand God's ultimate plan. So no one can assume that evil actions do not have some sort of greater purpose.


The biblical accounts of Job, Joseph, and Jesus reveal the goodness of God in the midst of evil, weaving together these three themes:


1.     God aims at greater good for Himself, humans or for both.

2.     God often intends these greater good to come about by way of evil incidents and experiences.

3.     God leaves created persons in the dark about the reason and purpose of evil. Humans may not understand what evil is indeed for good.


The Case of Job

The story of Job’s suffering is narrated in the Old Testament book of Job. Job was a devout and sinless man who led a good life. Satan argued at the presence of God that the only reason for his piety was his prosperous life. Though God had another opinion about Job, He allowed Satan to test Job. Satan tested Job through many calamities in his life. Job’s sons and daughters were killed, all his wealth were destroyed and Job became seriously sick. But he defended God in all these. Finally, God appeared to Job, declared him victorious and blessed him with a double portion of what he early had.


In the case of Job, God aims at a greater good of His own vindication. God is defending His worthiness to be worshipped by humans. He is more worthy than all earthly good He supplies. So God permits a combination of moral evil and natural evil to come upon Job. God also leaves Job in the dark about what He is doing, what is His purpose and what will be the outcome. Job had no knowledge about the incidents happened in Heaven, between God and Satan. And when God speaks to him “out of the whirlwind” he never reveals to Job why he suffered. Instead, Job’s ignorance of the whole spectrum of created reality is exposed and Job confesses his ignorance of both creation and providence.


The book of Job expands the understanding of divine justice. The story reveals God’s sovereignty over all His creatures. It shows that the King has the right to test His subject's loyalty. God can take away all prosperity that He has given to human beings and can also reward in multiple. He is sovereign in doing so. At the end of the story, Job himself corrects the rigid and overly simplistic doctrine of retribution in attributing suffering to sin and punishment.


The Case of Joseph

In the case of Joseph, God aims saving the broader Mediterranean world from a famine and preserving Israelites during it. The preservation of Israelites was necessary to fullfil God’s plan of restoring the Kingdom of God. A redeemer will be send to the world through Israelites according to the Abrahamic Covenant. But Joseph had to suffer for the greater good. Even Jacob had to go through many mental suffering for the fulfilment of God’s greater plan. Finally Joseph understands and confesses that all evil happened to him was for a greater purpose of God.


Genesis 50: 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (NKJV)


We are not sure whether Joseph had this realization when he went through all sufferings. But for sure, all others - Joseph’s brothers, the Midianite traders, Potiphar’s wife, and the cupbearer - were in dark about God’s purpose. They had no clue that their own evil behavior would eventually bring about greater good.


The Case of Jesus

And in the case of Jesus, God aims at the redemption of His elect by the atonement of Christ. Jesus’ suffering on this earth glorified God, revealing His justice, love, grace, mercy, wisdom, and power. But Jesus had to go through the greatest suffering a human can ever. Satan’s temptations, Jew’s accusations, Judas’s betrayal, Roman injustice, Pilate’s cowardice and brutality of soldiers. He suffered the most ignoble and cruel death on the cross. But humans and demonic spirits were in dark about the ultimate victory of God’s purpose in all these evils. Satan, Jewish leaders, Judas, Pilate and the soldiers were all ignorant of the role they play in fulfilling the divinely prophesied redemptive purpose of God. They all failed at the cross and God alone triumphed there.


The case of Apostle Paul


2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV)

7    And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.

8    Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.

9    And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


Paul was suffering from some ailments, about the nature of which the scripture is silent. God knew that Paul was suffering. Paul prayed to God three times to remove it from him. But God did not remove it. Instead He gave Paul His grace. The word “grace” in verse 9 means, empowerment or enablement. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon gives the explanation for “grace” as used here as, “the favor of Christ, assisting and strengthening his followers and ministers to bear their troubles”.


Paul the Apostle served God faithfully. He succeeded in planting churches throughout the Roman Empire, he wrote a good portion of the New Testament. Yet through suffering, God always reminded him about His Grace that empowered him to do all these. Paul wrote about this realization in verse 10


2 Corinthians 12: 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NKJV)


So Paul said in Romans 5: 3 and 4:


Romans 5:3, 4 (NKJV)

3    And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;

4    and perseverance, character; and character, hope.


Apostle James encouraged his fellow believers to rejoice in trials. Trials, James says, are testing our your faith.


James 1:2-4 (NKJV)

2    My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,

3    knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

4    But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.


Cognitive limitation


We can never know enough about a person’s situation, or about God’s purposes. So we cannot propose a specific rule in theodicy as God’s reason for permitting evil in a particular case. Though we have studied, discussed and framed theories about the origin and existence of evil, scripture does not promise to reveal all about evil.


We cannot understand and explain the cause and purpose of all evil incidents. At the same time, we cannot argue that there is no reason that would justify God in permitting suffering. That means, we have cognitive limitations about God’s reasons and purposes.


For example, we give vaccines at regular intervals to a new born baby. The baby does feel the pain and suffers some mild effects, but he does not know why he is going through all these sufferings. He does not know whether it is for good or bad. But his ignorance is not a reason to argue that the pain of vaccine has no good purpose. His parents and doctors who execute the vaccine has greater good intentions.  


God is omniscient, which means He not only knows everything that we are likely to guess at, but also every truth in detail about whatever He knows. God knows the truth that we cannot even fathom. So God’s divine plan does involve His knowledge of good and evil, and the intrinsic relation between them. Our inability to grasp the understanding of God is not a reason to think that God is not concerned about evil. Our inability to understand certain incidents is not an evidence that those incidents are wrong. It means we have incomplete understanding.


God is not silent

Evil exist in this world is not a proof that God is silent or inactive. God does intervene in human history, from time to time, to halt and eliminate evil. Examples are the great flood during the time of Noah and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s action was a response to the malevolence of the people. He drowned the whole world with flood wiping away all living creations and re-forming the non-living things. He burned down the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah along with its wicked citizens. It was His divine justice and means of preventing more evil. God has done the same thing against the Amalekites and Jericho. These are God’s ways to neutralize and counter evil. God is the sole creator of the universe. So He has the full authority to decide what should exist here and whatever must be annihilated. He wants everything “very good” and He destroys everything else. He is progressing in His plan to restore the perfect Kingdom of God.


Scripture shows that God did not create evil and does not promote it. Scripture describes God’s actions in combatting it. God limits the impact of evil and warns us of the dangers of evil, gives us an escape from evil. God has given us spiritual power to combat and defeat the devil. God intervenes in this world to stop the spread of evil. And, from the very beginning of creation, God has set in motion a plan to make all wrongs right and end all evil and suffering. And He will eventually defeat evil forever.


According to the Bible, we are created not for a mortal life alone. This physical world is not all there. The afterlife is an intrinsic part of Christian theology. Christians believe that, someday, all wrongs will be reckoned with. They believe that God is acting to restrain evil now, just as He has done in the past. The struggles we experience now are not the purpose for which we exist, nor do they define our value. There is a divine plan to the suffering that will make all wrongs right. Though we experience physical struggles in this world, we have a great hope for a permanent state of being, where there is no mourning, curse, suffering and death.


Free will defense


The greater good defense is a response to the evidential version of the problem of evil. The free will defense is often discussed in the context of the logical version.


The problem of evil is also explained as a consequence of human free will. Free will defense attempts to defend God's omnipotence and goodness, placing the possibility of evil only in human free will.


Free will is God given freedom of humans to choose either good or evil. Humans may with free will take their own decisions. Thus the whole responsibility of choice is placed on humans. God has the authority and power to interfere in human life, but He never violates the volition of humans. In other words, logically, God cannot prevent evil by coercion (compulsion) on humans, because that will be violation of human free will. If God interferes, humans will no longer remain free. Without free will we will be like robotic, choice-less creations that simply do what He wanted them to do because of a prior “programming”.


God did not create evil, but He does allow evil. If God had not allowed for the possibility of evil, both mankind and angels would be serving God out of obligation, not by choice. God allowed for the possibility of evil so that we could genuinely have a free will and choose whether or not we wanted to serve Him.


A world of creatures with free will is innately more valuable than one with creatures without free will. All good virtues and values such as trust, love, charity etc. cannot exist and experienced without the freedom to choose them or not to choose them. Free will is meaningless without emotions. The same free will has the potential for good and evil. Without that potential no love or other good things can actually occur. So evil has to be possible so that we have a meaningful free will.


God desires an authentic relationship with humanity over a world without evil. Free will is necessary to initiate and cultivate authentic relationships. Thus, God chose to create a world where the highest good of real love is possible through humanity’s free will, despite the risk of freedom resulting in evil. He cannot eliminate evil without dismissing the possibility of real relationships anchored in genuine love.


Authentic love is a choice. There are more than one word in Greek language to denote different kinds of love. The word agape is used in the Bible to denote God’s love towards us and our love towards God. Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross.


Ephesians 2: 4, 5 (NKJV)

4    But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love (agape) with which He loved us,

5    even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),


We did not deserve a sacrifice by Jesus for the atonement of our sins. But God chose to demonstrate his love for us through the sacrifice. Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Romans 5: 8 But God demonstrates His own love (agape) toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NKJV)


God’s agape is demonstrated towards an unmerited person. Agape is a choice. We can choose to show agape or choose not to demonstrate it towards a person. He may not deserve it or we may not be obliged to show love towards him. Still, if when we choose to love a person, it is agape. Agape is love that is demonstrated by choice.


God wants us to show agape towards him, by preferring it. Our love towards God is a conscious choice. It is a result of the exercise of our free will. That is what God values.


God is always consistent in his decisions, proclamations and actions. God is consistent in His moral behaviors. God is consistent about human free will. God is consistent in the natural function of His creation. God’s consistency exists in contrast to human preferences. We would like a God who bend or break His values to suit our own preferences. But He cannot. He is an unchanging God.


Free will includes the freedom to reject God’s will and spurn His commands. The exercise of free will to rejecting His commands has its consequences. Often we are aware of these consequences but willingly ignore it. And when bad things happen in our life, we blame God for it. The consequences of the choice of disobedience of other people may also fall on us. Thus we may suffer from the bad choices of our family members, friends and religious and political leaders.


Saint Augustine proffered the theodicy of free will in the fourth century. He proposed that, since God endowed people with free will, we are able to freely choose to do evil as well as good. That simply means that, there is evil in the world because humans choose to do evil things. "Free" will is not free if we can only choose the good, so God does not prevent us from choosing evil. Suffering is the price we pay for this freedom to choose.


Westminster Confession of faith was produced by the Westminster Assembly, which was called together by the Long Parliament in 1643. The assembly was made up of 30 laymen (20 from the House of Commons and 10 from the House of Lords), 121 English clergymen, and a delegation of Scottish Presbyterians. They met regularly in Westminster Abbey until 1649 and occasionally until 1652. The confession was completed in 1646 and presented to Parliament, which approved it after some revisions in June 1648. 


According to The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Lord “freely and unchangeably ordain[s] whatsoever comes to pass: yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (Chapter III, section 1).


Alvin Plantinga

A contemporary version of free will defense is proposed by Alvin Plantinga. He is an American Christian philosopher. (born - November 15, 1932 - age 90 in 2022). In 1980 Time magazine called him "America's leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God”. Some of Plantinga's most influential works include God and Other Minds (1967), Warranted Christian Belief (2000) that was simplified in Knowledge and Christian Belief (2015).


Plantinga defends the logical possibility for the co-existence of an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent God. It is logically and philosophically premised that God possesses the attribute of Free Will. Angels also has free will imparted from God through their creation. When God created human beings in His image, according to His likeness, His attribute of free will passed on to humans (Genesis 1:26). Though God has free will, yet He is wholly good. Humans are also free moral creatures. The omnipotent God created a world with free creatures who could choose good or evil. God created a world which contains evil because moral goodness requires free moral creatures. And free will is meaningful only where there is an opportunity of choice.


The world is governed by the logical principle of cause and effect. So freedom also has its own effect or consequences. No freedom can exist without its effect. But free will is not a cause, it is not an action. So free will itself does not effect any evil. Free will is only freedom to choose good or evil. Choosing either is an action and it is a cause which allows its effect. God has given humans not only free will, but commandments and teachings to choose good. But humans often choose evil and suffers from its consequences. So free will is not the cause of all evil, but exercising it for choosing evil causes all bad effects.


And because God is love, He sent Jesus into the world to help us deal with the consequences of the evil choices we made yesterday, to help us to make better choices for ourselves today, and ultimately to work through us to create a new world tomorrow.


Natural evil


A challenge to the free will defense is natural evil which is the result of natural causes. Examples are a child suffering from a disease, mass casualties from a volcano etc. Natural evil has no apparent connection with the free will of human.


In response to this criticism, it is argued that, we cannot justifiably differentiate moral from natural evil. Because human beings and their choices are part of nature. Human’s moral evil affects the nature also, causing natural evil. So all evils are natural.


That is why God, while pronouncing the punishments for disobedience, told Adam:


Genesis 3: 17 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': "Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. (NKJV)


According to Saint Augustine, natural evils take place as a rebellion of nature against humans because humans have rebelled against God. This is the standard view in Christianity on the relationship between moral and natural evil.


Weakness of free-will defense


The weakness of the free will defense is that it places the possibility of evil only in free will. It neglects any influence of temptation from outside. The Biblical account of the temptation of Eve by the serpent to sin is an evidence of an efficient agent to choose evil. Adam and Eve fell because some strong power of temptation prevented them from exercising their God-given free will for God's purpose. They fell into sin because they did not use their free will to align with God.


But the simple presence of free will is not enough to explain the origin of evil. The question, how a good being would be inclined freely to choose evil, still remains. The inclination for the will to act in an immoral manner is already a signal of sin.


According to Saint Augustine, free will's moral choice of evil has no efficient cause whatsoever. Its cause is "deficient" in that it simply comes from the finitude of free will. He said: "Let no one, therefore, look for an efficient cause of the evil will; for it is not efficient, but deficient, as the will itself is not an effecting of something, but a defect." In other words, free will is not attached with an efficient agent to good. The absence of the efficient agent to good caused the choice of evil. 


Response to Epicurus


The Bible makes it clear that evil is something God neither intended nor created. Rather, moral evil is a necessary possibility. If we are truly free, then we are free to choose something other than God’s will. That means we are free to choose good or moral evil. Scripture points out that there are consequences for defying the will of God—personal, communal, physical, and spiritual.


God can be all-powerful and so can choose not to act according to our preferences. God need not do things in our way. That may make us uncomfortable. He is all powerful, but we are created with free will. So He may allow evil in order to obtain the greater, eternal good.


Scripture shows us that physical evils are the result of moral evil. Human beings are responsible for all moral evils, on a personal and a communal level. We suffer because of our own sins, because of the sins of others and in some situations we suffer because of the logical principle of cause-and-effect. And we sometimes suffer for a special purpose, in order to bring hope, help or even as a warning to others.


We know for sure is that evil does exist. It exists, if nowhere else, in us and in our behavior. Evil causes great pain and sufferings in this world. But God is sovereign over it. Evil always serves the ultimate best interest of God. God in His goodness and in His sovereignty who has ordained the final conquest over evil and its riddance from His universe. This glorious hope for redemption is our rest and joy.


And finally, this is our response to the premises and arguments of Epicurus. The god Epicurus criticized is not the God of the Bible. His criticism works only against the deities of Greek polytheism and in the context of a dualistic view of reality. The Christian respond to Epicurus is as follows:


Epicurus:     Is God willing to prevent evil, but unable to? Then he is not omnipotent.

Christian:     God is willing to limit evil and has acted to do prevent and limit evil. So, He is still omnipotent.

Epicurus:     Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Christian:     God is able, but not willing to eliminate evil now, because He is unwilling to abolish our free will. So, He is still omnibenevolent.

Epicurus:     Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Christian:     God has acted to defeat evil. The crucifixion of Jesus was the defeat of evil. Evil came into existence when we fell short of His will. Disunity with God caused evil to exist.

Epicurus:     Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Christian:     God is able and willing as we have said before. Our disapproval does not make Him any less God.

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