Christianity and The ‘Problem of Evil’

Have you ever wondered ‘why me’ when something terrible happens? Or watched an earthquake on the news and thought ‘why’? in Christianity, this is what they call the ‘problem of evil’. 

Basics of Christianity:

  • Christians believe in God, who sent his son Jesus down to earth to save the world. 
  • Follow the teachings in the Holy Bible (idk who wrote it maybe Moses) 
  • Jesus was born of the virgin Mary (….biology? ok…) in a town called Bethlehem, now modern day Palestine. The conception was said to be supernatural, as God impregnated Mary using the holy spirit. His earthly father was Joseph.
  • Jesus travelled around performing miracles like walking on water with his 12 disciples 
  • Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. Mainly for calling himself ‘the King of the Jews’. 
  • He was laid to rest in a tomb, but 3 days later he rose from the dead. 
  • The cross is the symbol for Christianity as a recognition that Jesus died for our sins.

The Problem

God is said to have many attributes, but remember these: 

  • Omnipotence (all powerful)
  • Omnibenevolence (all loving)
  • Omniscience (all knowing) 
  • Omnipresence (everywhere) 
The Inconsistent Triad:
If God is all loving and has the power to control everything, why does evil exist? Surely it wouldn’t exist or he would eradicate it? This is the problem. A good way to envisage the issue is with the inconsistent triad. You can only have 2 out of the 3 corners, you cannot have all 3.

Eg. God cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent if evil exists, as he would have the power and the love to do something about it. 

If evil exists (this fact is up to you) then God is either:

  • Omnipotent but not omnibenevolent = has the power but doesn’t love humanity enough to change it
  • Omnibenevolent but not omnipotent = loves us but doesn’t hold the power to eradicate evil.

It’s named the inconsistent triad due to the three pillars. The trio cannot co-exist together, thus it stands as an arguments against the Judeo-Christian God. If evil does exist then the traditional image of God has some issues. The idea of God and evil coexisting is held as contradictory. Evil in this sense is the traditional concept of the absence of good. Of course, what evil actually IS will have an impact on whether you see it as a threat to religion or humanity.

Evil can be divided; moral evil is connected with the acts of humans, natural evil is interlinked with the workings of the physical world. I think natural evil is a sign that we aren’t perhaps treating the world as we should (climate change). Yet moral evil is a different ball game: the acts and intensions of humans can be justified in alternative ways, making it all more difficult to find a moral criteria.

If this benevolent deity created all beings, and evil exists, must have he created evil too? Christians have faith in this loving creator, and prompted to seek explanations and justifications for evil and suffering. Christians came up with some answers for evil, keeping the holy image of God alive.

These are just a few…

  1. Evil is a test of faith, God has a plan for everyone. 
  2. Suffering highlights what is good in the world / gives you a chance to be good. 
  3. It is the issue of human free will.
  4. It is the devil’s work/ Satan/ Lucifer – the Archangel who was thrown out of heaven. 
  5. ‘The fall’ / original sin – The disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. 
  6. Evil doesn’t exist, there is just a hierarchy of goods (Some real optimistic vibes).

An argument for the defence of God: Irenaean and Augustinian theodicy

The Irenaean theodicy defends the idea of an omnibenevolent (all loving) and omnipotent (all powerful) God, in a world of evil and suffering. The theodicy is named after Irenaeus, a Greek bishop, known for his role is Christian communities. He stated that God is not guilty for creating evil, but he is responsible. The world is the best of all possible worlds, allowing humans to fully flourish. Humans are not yet fully developed, and the process of suffering and free will allows humans to develop. Creation has two stages, the image of God and the likeness of God.

We are created in a state of ‘imperfection’ as the second stage of creation is not complete. We have been born in the image of God, yet to reach the likeness of God, we must refine ourselves and develop through suffering. This proposes that evil and suffering exists as the best way for humans to develop and learn.

This differs from the Augustinian theodicy. Saint Augustine of Hippo attempts to clear God of any responsibility, supporting the notion of the ‘original sin’. As I mentioned earlier, the original sin means humans have inherited a tainted nature. God created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing) but isn’t responsible, the fall of man is. In Genesis, Adam and Eve were created innocent, but became corrupt and disobeyed God’s orders using their own free will. This misuse of free will is the reason for moral evil ; moral evil comes from those of evil will. Thus the fault is all ours.

Irenaeus: God created evil to allow humans to fully develop through suffering and evil.

Augustine: God did not create evil, evil is the result of the original sin and the misuse of free will.

Of course, there are many Christian theodicies for the defence of the holy deity, so it’s up to you what you fundamentally believe. For me, the problem lies in moral evil and the actions of humans. The debate of ethics and morality is complicated but nonetheless essential to topics such as this…Stay tuned!

Published by Harriet Leslie

Hi! I'm Harriet, and i'm currently a postgraduate student at Kings College London and a freelance medical writer. I hold a first-class degree in philosophy at undergraduate level, and my MA is in medical ethics and law. I hope you enjoy my mini introductions to all things philosophy and ethics.

2 thoughts on “Christianity and The ‘Problem of Evil’

  1. Here are 4 questions from one of your sentences. I realize text carries no emotion of its own and therefore is often supplied by the reader. With that in mind, please let me assure you that I intend these remarks as a friendly challenge to your ideas in this post.

    1. You said, “God cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent if evil exists.” My first question is, how can you know that is true? Assuming you answer the first, my second question is: What is the standard by which you measure truth claims?

    2. Furthermore, you said, “God cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent if evil exists, as he would have the power and the love to do something about it.” My third question is, did you know that the work of redemption accomplished by Christ was a manifestation of God’s power and power to do something about it? Again, I assume you also knew that, and therefore, my fourth question is, why would you intentionally or unintentionally strawman the position you are critiquing?

    While I strongly disagree with your conclusions, I do agree that theodicy is a significant topic. I also thought your presentation was well done. Thank you for your time. I enjoyed reading this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi! Thank you for your reply. I did just reply but it seems to have disappeared so forgive me if i’m replying twice. The views I wrote this on were mostly learnt, so I couldn’t personally answer why I think God cannot be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent whilst evil exists. The claims in my blog are more theories rather than truth, as I question these myself. However this question poses an issue for me because if God really did love humanity and had the power to do anything, why is suffering still occurring? (this is where i brought in some theodicies that I knew the basics of). I do agree that mans ignorance and free will is the cause for a lot of pain in the world, but I find the idea of being complete humans and likeness of God a bit of a scapegoat. If one is to believe God to be purely metaphysical, perhaps the problem of evil becomes irrelevant?

    Your idea of God might be different to mine, but this is the argument I got my conclusion from:

    P1. If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
    P2. If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
    P3. If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
    P4. If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
    P5. Evil exists. (this is up for debate)
    C1. If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.
    This is where i drew my conclusion but you can go further –
    C2. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

    The so called ‘proof’ for this can be read here:
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/index.html
    but I’m not sure if this can be seen as proof to you, do let me know!

    Of course, you can claim God created evil, God is not responsible or God has already shown his power. I’d love to know if you do have ideas on this, if so please email me at aristoclesmedia@gmail.com.

    Thank you for reading this and posing your questions so politely.
    Harriet 🙂

    Like

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