Theodicy

I’m going to attempt another “Christian theology in 500-or-fewer words” post, and discuss “The Problem of Evil.” In 500 words. Well, we can cover the basics, at least.

The question is this: “If there is a God, and He is good, then why is there evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people?” Here’s the Christian response that I think is most consistent with the Bible.

First, to ask this question, we assume there is an objective standard of good and bad, otherwise on what basis would one say “bad” things happen to “good” people? If your worldview does not accept the idea of moral absolutes, then the question is moot. For you, there are no good or bad things: things just happen.

If you recall my discussion of Justification, you’ll remember I made the point that no-one is blameless before God. We are all rebels, and worthy of His punishment. So a foundational principle is the fact that God owes us nothing. In His sight, none of us are good. Indeed, in light of our guilt, it might be better to ask, “Why do good things happen to us bad people?” The answer to that lies in the grace and mercy of God.

Christians believe God didn’t just create the world and leave us to get on with things. God has a plan that He’s working out. The details of that plan are a mystery to us, but that plan involves the salvation of some, and the condemnation of others. It also involves people doing bad things, and people doing good things. God Himself doesn’t commit any sin, He merely gives  men over to doing the wicked deeds of their fallen hearts. But there is God’s good purpose behind these acts. We don’t see it from our vantage point, but God is working things out for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). A good God can never have evil intentions–He never acts maliciously. Therefore we must assume that the bad we see around us–even done to good people–has God’s good plan behind it.

This doesn’t justify the wicked acts of men. God foreordained Jesus’ crucifixion, but that doesn’t mean it was good (see Acts 4:27-28). Likewise, God’s decree was behind Joseph being sold into slavery (Genesis 50:20), the Assyrians conquering Israel, and the Babylonians sending Judah into exile. These were evil, punishable deeds, and the perpetrators needed no coercion from God to do them. But these acts were not in vain; God ordained them for a reason.

And there lies the Christian hope: we may not have all the answers, but we know that the One who orchestrates all things is good and loving, as well as just, and He does all things for the good of His people. God doesn’t owe us an answer, but He has graciously revealed to us His character, so we can trust that the One who defines goodness, is in control.

Questions? Comments?

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10 Responses to Theodicy

  1. So here is a question then. If everything is orchestrated then doe prayer serve a purpose? If things are going to happen as they are going to then humans with prayer can’t change the course of things.


    Tim Brannan
    The Other Side and The Witch
    Red Sonja: She-Devil with a Sword
    The Freedom of Nonbelief

    • Good question, Tim. The idea that God’s mind can be changed by prayer sounds nice, but I believe the theological implications of such an idea run contrary to the picture of God presented to us in the Bible. For example, if as a result of prayer, God stopped Joseph from being thrown into prison, then all that He had planned for the preservation of thousands of people from famine, as well as Israel relocating to Egypt, Moses, the Exodus, etc. wouldn’t have happened. It wouldn’t have been a matter of one little thing changing, but the whole course of history. This is why, in Genesis 50:20, Joseph confidently proclaims to his brothers that what they planned for evil, God *intended* (not just allowed) for good.

      I don’t see prayer as being that which determines the will of God, but it is one of the means God uses to involve us in His purposes. Prayer is, if you like, an instrument of God, by which He allows us to participate in, and see the fruit of, what He is doing in people’s lives. God doesn’t need our prayer, but He commands (and, btw, the fact God commands prayer should be sufficient reason for the Christian to pray, regardless) and leads us to pray for our own benefit. Through prayer, we show our devotion, commitment, and reliance upon the Lord. It helps us to gain perspective on who we are in the grand scheme of things, and to remember that nothing comes to pass unless the Lord desires it. We can certainly petition the Lord in prayer, and we are encouraged to do so (see the Lord’s Prayer)–but always with the caveat: “Thy will be done.” And through our faith expressed in prayer, God demonstrates His faithfulness to us.

      There is a natural human tendency to put ourselves in control. Even Christians fall into this trap, thinking we need to have the final say in whether we are saved, or how God responds to our prayers. But from a biblical perspective, the Christian posture should be one of humility before the Lord, recognizing that He is truly in control, and by His grace, we are a part of His plan.

      I hope that helps. :)

  2. I see. But also I see that ultimately prayer has no effect. If a thing can’t be changed due to it being preordained, then why bother? Maybe there is comfort in thinking that “I am part of the plan”, but I don’t find any comfort in that myself.

    I don’t pretend for a second that I am “in control” of my world. There are too many random variables, but I also live by the Burke quote “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I prefer to do something.

    • Few people believe they are in control, but they want to be. That’s the natural tendency of people. I think what you’re missing in your understanding of the Christian perspective is the fact that, while God has ordained all that will come to pass, we don’t know what that plan is. And part of that plan could well be our prayers. When God moves someone to pray, that prayer is not without purpose. Otherwise why would God move someone to prayer? Clearly, if He wants us to pray, He has a reason behind that. We may not know what that reason is. It may be because praying for something makes us more attentive to that thing, and we’re more likely to see how He answers that prayer. It may be to change us: I have far more compassion for people I pray for–and God may have a reason for that too. We don’t know, we just trust that God intends to use our prayers in some way.

      God wants Christians to be engaged, to act, to pray. Not because by doing this we somehow change what He has planned, but because He tells us to. Because it honors Him when we stand up for what is right, and when we fight against evil. Because we don’t know what God has planned, and so we take as much of what God has revealed about Himself and His nature, and apply it to the way we think and live. In that way we seek to please Him in the way we conduct ourselves.

      Recognizing that God is sovereign doesn’t make the Christian more passive. Quite the opposite. Having confidence that God is in control, and that all things work together for good (as God defines good) to those who are His, gives the Christian boldness to act.

      Personally, I find no comfort in the thought that the world is full of random variables. If there is no order, then there is no sense, rhyme, or reason to anything. How can there be such things as “evil” acts, and “good men” in such a world? Everything is random. There is no standard, no absolutes. How could you ever know that what you do is actually better than doing nothing?

  3. I guess I don’t need religion to know what to do. I do have a moral center, I have empathy for others. I don’t believe in forgiveness, so I make sure the things I do are meaningful here and now.

    I guess that is why I called my blog The Freedom of Nonbelief. I don’t believe and I am free from all of that baggage.

    • Of course, from your worldview, Christianity is “baggage.” And you understand, that from my worldview, my faith gives me a freedom to live with purpose. I know the basis of my moral center, and it isn’t some kind of moral relativism (on what basis do you judge your moral center to be better than Hitler’s?). I can have empathy, knowing the source of that empathy. Can you explain where your empathy comes from? It makes no sense in a world full of “randomness” to have any kind of feelings for anyone else but yourself. Survival of the fittest and empathy don’t make good bedfellows. And who judges whether your actions are meaningful? Meaningful to whom? How can any action have meaning in a random, purposeless world? I’m glad I don’t have to live with the weight of those questions. That’s a lot of baggage to carry.

  4. Who wouldn’t enjoy a blog about Christian theology in 500 words or less and whose author like Doctor Who news.

    • Awww… thanks, Elizabeth! :) I hope you’re enjoying the current season of Doctor Who. I usually post reviews of each episode after it airs, but I’ve been giving precedence to A-to-Z posts this month. I plan to catch up, though… so if you’re kind enough to check back next month, that’ll be something to watch for, and perhaps offer your thoughts! I might do some more “Christian theology in 500 words” posts too. ;)

  5. Pingback: A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2013: Reflections » Colin D Smith

  6. It’s lovely to read an eloquent argument about Christianity, and to fit it in to 500 words is a bonus! My dad pointed out to me that things aren’t divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but righteous and unrighteous. Bad people can still be righteous in the greater scheme of things.

    But anyway, great post :)

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