What is theodicy?
The term "theodicy" refers to vindicating the divine attributes of God, particularly holiness and justice, while acknowledging the true existence of physical and moral evil.
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Skeptical philosopher J. S. Mill framed the following argument in an attempt to show that, because evil exists, the God of the Bible could not exist:
• If God were all powerful, He could destroy evil
• If God were all good, He would want to destroy evil
• But evil is not destroyed
• Therefore, an all-powerful and all-good God does not exist
If the premises of Mill's argument are true, the conclusion naturally follows. But the question is, are Mill's points valid?
Theologians and philosophers have debated this issue perhaps more than any other where God is concerned. The answer is not a simple one that fits into sound-bite pieces, but it can be broken down into the following points.
First, it must be acknowledged that evil exists. Unlike some faiths such as Hinduism and Christian Science that deny the actual reality of evil, Christianity never does. Christianity confirms the existence of evil, and classifies it into (1) natural evil such as disease and physical catastrophes; (2) moral evil, which can be summed up as "man's inhumanity to man"; (3) supernatural evil, such as Satan and demons.
Christianity and the Bible are not shy in stating that all three forms of evil are real and directly affect humankind.
Next, the Bible asserts that an all-powerful and all-good God exists. Just a few Scriptures that confirm this claim are the following:
"Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases" (Psalm 115:3).
"Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you" (Jeremiah 32:17).
"… but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26b).
"… the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice" (Daniel 9:14b).
"… No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:18b).
"… God is love" (1 John 4:8b).
If the Bible declares that evil and an all-powerful and all-good God exists, there is only one inescapable conclusion: God has ordained that evil exists.
The only ways to escape the conclusion that God ordains evil's existence are to reinvent God so that He is either not all-powerful or not all-good, ascribe to process theology / open theism that says God didn't know evil would ever come about, or focus far too much on human free will by arguing that God allowed human beings to overrule His will (that no evil should ever exist) by exercising their free will to choose evil over good. (Free will does provide some insight into the problem of evil. While God wills that no evil should ever exist, He also wills that humans should exist. He has designed humans to exercise free will in order that relationship with Him would be authentic. This means allowing humans an option between His good and a lack thereof (or evil)).
This declaration – that God ordains evil to exist – causes gasps from many Christians who claim that such a thing means either God created evil or that He is somehow personally responsible for it. Neither is true.
Instead, the answer lies in understanding that God has ordained that evil exists for a purpose. The Westminster Confession, articles III and V, state this truth in the following manner:
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain 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. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.
In other words, God is not the author of sin in that He did not actualize it – His creatures did on their own accord. However, He did ordain that evil exists so that it would bring Him glory. God redeems what is meant for evil and uses it for His good purposes (see Genesis 50:20 for example).
Scripture confirms this when it says, "But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say?." (Romans 3:5, emphasis added). Paul, writing in Romans, says there is a clear contrast between evil and God that is shown via humanity's unrighteous or evil acts. Evil actually brings God glory by showing His righteous character. There is no other way such a thing could be understood.
Sin and evil also showcase God's love, which Paul describes in the fifth chapter of Romans: "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). God's love is on display in all its beauty because of sin and Christ's act of mercy for sinners. Again, without evil/sin, such a thing could not be clearly manifested.
Paul says the same basic thing in chapter 9 of Romans: "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory" (Romans 9:22-23). Here, both God's wrath and love are on display and both bring Him glory.
God receives glory from His wrath against sin just as much as He does through showing love and mercy. A quick illustration of this point is found earlier in Romans when Paul says, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth'" (Romans 9:17).
The purpose of Pharaoh's ruthless personality and evil acts over the Israelites for hundreds of years was to make known the power of God and bring Him glory. The writer of Proverbs simply puts it like this: "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble" (Proverbs 16:4).
So evil serves a purpose in God's plan, but He will one day fully destroy evil after using it for His purpose. The writer of Revelation says one day God will "wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4).
This is how J. S. Mill's argument is defeated. God is all-powerful so He can destroy evil, and He is also all good so He wants to destroy evil. But evil is not destroyed – yet. But, one day it will be. Therefore, all will eventually know that an all-powerful and all-good God exists.
Why does God allow evil?
Why does God let innocent people suffer?
Why does God allow natural disasters?
What does holy, holy, holy mean in reference to God?
Is God fair?
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