Essentials of Apologetics - Lesson 17

If God, Why Evil? (Part 2)

In this lesson, you will learn of the philosophical challenge posed by the logical problem of evil. The text navigates through the premises that question God's existence based on the coexistence of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and the existence of evil. It explores the limitations of God's power, emphasizing logical impossibilities. The lesson addresses the compatibility of God's power and the existence of free will, highlighting the purpose of allowing moral evil. It also draws on the examples from C.S. Lewis and Spider-Man to bring understanding of the goodness of God amid suffering. The unique Christian perspective is emphasized, focusing on the incarnation and the redemptive aspect of the cross, providing a comprehensive understanding of the theological response to the problem of evil.

Sean McDowell
Essentials of Apologetics
Lesson 17
Watching Now
If God, Why Evil? (Part 2)

I. Introduction

A. Definition of Evil

B. Philosophical vs. Emotional Challenge

II. The Logical Problem of Evil

A. Sam Harris' Perspective

B. Premise Formulation

C. Eastern Religions' Response

III. God's Omnipotence and the Challenge of Evil

A. Definition of God's All-Powerfulness

B. Theological Perspective on God's Power

C. Limitations on God's Abilities

IV. God's Goodness and the Challenge of Evil

A. God's Perspective on Goodness

B. C.S. Lewis' View on Pain and Suffering

C. Purpose and Value of Pain

V. Responses to the Logical Problem of Evil

A. Adam Flanagan's Free Will Defense

B. God's Plan for Holding Accountable

VI. Significance of the Cross in Christianity

A. Father Damien's Sacrifice

B. The Cross as a Symbol

C. Unique Christian Response to Suffering

VII. The Resurrection and Triumph Over Evil

A. Defeating Death through Resurrection

B. Paul's Confidence in the Face of Death

VIII. Conclusion and Faith

A. Trusting God's Sovereignty

B. Addressing Difficult Questions on Evil

C. Theological Perspective on Children and Evil

  • Gain a comprehensive understanding of apologetics, the theological discipline of defending the Christian faith, through a personal mall encounter that highlights the importance of being prepared to provide reasoned defenses, with a focus on biblical foundations, addressing objections, and fulfilling a ministry to those with questions.
  • This second lesson on apologetics, highlights the importance of understanding worldviews, using practical exercises and examples to illustrate how our minds shape beliefs, categorizing worldviews based on their answers to fundamental questions, and exploring Christianity's unique perspective on creation, the world's problem, and the solution through Jesus.
  • This lesson explores Antony Flew's shift from atheism to recognizing Christianity's uniqueness. Dr. McDowell provides four reasons why a spiritual quest ought to begin with Christianity: testability in history, free salvation, a livable worldview, and Jesus' central role beyond religious boundaries. The lesson includes a Q&A time reviewing Islam's view on Jesus and Darwin's evolution.
  • Debunking the myth of blind faith, Sean counters with a scriptural foundation, using personal encounters and anecdotes. Examining biblical narratives, especially in Exodus and the New Testament, reveals a pattern: God provides evidence, imparts knowledge, and calls for faith and action. The story of doubting Thomas underscores that belief aligns with evidence, not against it. The lesson closes by emphasizing faith's dynamic nature, which can be fortified through evidence-based study.
  • In this session, you'll delve into the speaker's exploration of truth, gaining insights into its multifaceted importance in various life aspects. The session highlights three key reasons for the significance of truth, introduces the correspondence theory, and underlines the implicit connection between Christianity and truth, offering a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
  • You gain a deep understanding of the distinction between subjective and objective claims in this lesson, illustrated through relatable examples like ice cream preferences. Sean communicates that subjective claims rely on personal beliefs, while objective claims are based on the external world. Overall, you will develop a nuanced perspective on truth, specifically in differentiating between subjective and objective claims, with a focus on moral values.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the moral argument for the existence of God. Sean draws from a personal debate experience, emphasizing that God provides a solid foundation for moral values. Three key points are highlighted: the need for a transcendent standard for right and wrong, the role of free will in moral accountability, and the requirement for divine grounding of human value. The lesson challenges naturalistic worldviews, asserting that they fail to offer a satisfactory explanation for objective morality, ultimately suggesting that living in accordance with God's design leads to true freedom and fulfillment.
  • Explore the Christian view on the soul, diving into its significance through moral law and beauty. Analyze arguments supporting its existence, like its role in free will, using analogies. Address contemporary debates on gender and transgender issues, suggesting a dual human nature. Incorporate biblical references, evaluating flawed arguments and introducing stronger ones. Discuss practical implications for personal well-being. This lesson explores the soul's concept from a Christian standpoint.
  • Gain insights into the intricate relationship between science and faith, exploring arguments for God's existence, the concept of fine-tuning in cosmology and biology, and the conclusion that the fine-tuning of the universe and DNA's information complexity point towards a fine tuner and an author of life, offering compelling evidence for the existence of God.
  • In this exploration of miracles, the lesson shifts from discussing God's existence to questioning divine revelation, challenging skeptics to reconsider their worldview and illustrating the philosophical underpinnings of miracles, ultimately emphasizing an open-minded investigation and hinting at a compelling case for theism and Christianity with overwhelming evidence for miracles.
  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of near-death experiences (NDEs) and their potential as a compelling apologetic tool, exploring evidentiary aspects, transformative impacts, objections, and the significance of information unattainable by natural means in supporting the case for an afterlife and the soul.
  • Dr. McDowell reviews the overwhelming evidence of the resurrection and the significance of the resurrection.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the historical evidence supporting the resurrection of Jesus, including the crucifixion, discovery of the empty tomb by women, early and multiple accounts of Jesus's appearances, and the transformative impact on the disciples, ultimately challenging alternative explanations and asserting the resurrection as the most reasonable conclusion based on historical facts.
  • Exploring the Bible's trustworthiness through the character and copy tests, this lesson establishes the reliability of the New Testament by highlighting the writers' honesty, the disciples' willingness to endure hardships, and the exceptional proximity and quantity of early manuscripts.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a thorough understanding of the New Testament's reliability through an exploration of its extensive manuscript evidence, addressing skeptics' concerns about variations, and highlighting corroboration from external sources such as historical records and archaeology.
  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the problem of evil and suffering, exploring its intellectual and emotional dimensions, drawing on personal experiences, historical perspectives, and a philosophical approach, and laying the groundwork for a more in-depth exploration in the next session.
  • In this lesson, you will learn of the logical problem of evil, exploring the philosophical challenge to God's existence posed by the coexistence of omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and evil, while examining the limitations of God's power, the compatibility of free will, and the unique Christian perspective emphasizing the redemptive nature of the incarnation and the cross in addressing the problem of evil.
  • Gain insights into responding to objections in apologetics, including addressing conflicts between a loving God and hell, defending the Bible against contradictions, clarifying misconceptions about God's stance on homosexuality, explaining the concept of the Trinity, and attributing natural evil to the brokenness of the world due to sin.
  • Gain insights into a personal and relational approach to apologetics by understanding that everyone is an apologist and theologian, as the lesson, through anecdotes, underscores the importance of discerning underlying questions, emphasizing active listening and probing inquiries to address the genuine needs and heartaches beneath surface-level queries.
  • Gain insights into effective spiritual conversations by asking four key questions: understanding beliefs, exploring reasons behind them, finding common ground, and navigating areas of disagreement, with an emphasis on listening and fostering genuine understanding.

In this day and age, it is critical that followers of Jesus know how to think clearly and biblically about their faith and how it intersects with and often contrasts with how the world thinks. These areas include one's worldview, the fact that faith is not blind, why the truth matters, why seeing design in creation points to a designer, and evidence for the soul, resurrection, and the Bible. How can God allow evil, and how do we talk with skeptics? Dr. McDowell discusses these topics and others in this easy-to-understand course on apologetics.

IF God, Why Evil? (Part 2)

Sean McDowell
Lesson 17
Essentials of Apologetics

In our first session on the problem of evil we are careful to define what we mean by evil, and differentiate the philosophical challenge from the emotional challenge. Let's dive in and specifically look at the philosophical challenge, in particular, what's called the logical problem of evil. An atheist by the name of Sam Harris states it pretty well. He said, "If God exists, either he can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities or he does not care to. God therefore is either impotent or evil."

There's another possibility, of course, and it's both the most reasonable and least odious. The biblical God is a fiction, like Zeus and the thousands of other dead gods who most sane beings now ignore. This is classically what's called the problem of evil. Now, if you were to put it in premise form it might look something like this. If God is all powerful, he can stop evil. If God is all good, he would want to stop evil, and yet evil exists, so therefore God does not exist. Now, one way out of this is to deny premise number three, and say the evil things don't really happen. This is actually what certain Eastern religions do. It's an illusion, but I think it's pretty obvious when we look out at certain events in the world today that if your worldview says there's no such thing as evil, you need to get a new worldview.

So let's take these one by one and say, if God is all-powerful, he can stop evil. Now, by a show of hands, how many of you say God is all-powerful? Sure. How many say God can do anything? Let me show hands. Now, some of you paused on that one. What does it mean when we say God is all-powerful? Does it mean God can do anything? Can God make a burrito so big he can't eat it? Which is what Bart Simpson once said. Can God make a stone so big that he can't move it? Now, the idea is if he can't do such a thing, he's limited, but if he can, he's limited because the thing carries an inherent limitation. Either way, God can't do it. The question is how we make sense of this.

Now, one thing I'll often do when I'm working with high school students to make a point, I'll say, "All right, I've got a paperclip up here. If any of you can come up and bend this into a square circle, I'll give you a full scholarship to Biola." I'll have a student run up, try to do it, and of course they can't. And I'll say, "Okay, I need the strongest person in the room, football player, need a wrestler, weightlifter." They'll come up. Now, does adding more power make it more possible to bend this into a square circle? The answer is no. Could Samson bend this into a square circle? No, he's no more likely than you or me. Why? Because bending this into the square circle isn't a question of power. It's logically impossible.

There cannot be a square circle. If something has more or less than four points, it's not a square. If something has no points, it's a circle, but certainly not a square. Even God can't make a square circle. Now before you cry out heresy, this is not a limitation upon God. This is a limitation upon the existence of a square circle in principle. And since it violates the laws of logic which arguably are rooted in God's very own character, a square circle can't exist. There's actually quite a few things that God can't do. Bible says that God can't lie. God can't be tempted by sin. [inaudible 00:04:08] say, "Wait a minute, I can be tempted by sin, God can't. I'm more powerful than God."

And I said, "I think you've got it backwards." The fact that God is perfectly holy and cannot be tempted by sin is a perfection, not a weakness. So when we ask can God do something or not do something else, we have to define what we mean by God being all powerful. And theologians have thought about this for a long time, and the answer's not that God can do anything. The answer roughly speaking is God can do anything logically possible consistent with his perfect moral character. So it raises an interesting question. Can God make human beings and give them free will, and then determine that they only do that which is right? That's a really interesting question, isn't it? Well, that's related to the question, if God is all powerful, he can stop evil. By the way, will God stop evil someday? Yes, all of us will give an account before God for the evil that we have done and contributed to, and the evil that is in our hearts.

And we quickly say, "God, stop evil." Sometimes we don't realize what that would mean for our own lives and our own selves. But Adam Flanagan, who's famously written what's called the free will defense, has said this, one of the greatest philosophers probably the past half century. He said, "World containing creatures who are significantly free is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all." Now, God can create free creatures, but he can't cause or determine them to only do what is right. For if he does so then they aren't significantly free after all. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he must create creatures capable of moral evil. And he can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. I think he's right. Yes, God can prevent evil and he will, but if God is going to make free being to have the capacity to do evil, then by definition he has to allow them to do evil if they're going to remain free.

Logically, the first premise can be challenged. The second one is, if God is all good, he would want to stop evil. Now you and I look out if we see evil, we sense that we should stop it. In fact, we sometimes think if you have the power to stop evil and you don't, you might be morally culpable for not doing so. But what about God who reigns over the entire universe, who sees evil happening consistently and doesn't stop it? Does this apply to God? Well, C.S Lewis, interestingly enough, has written two books on the problem of evil. One originally called The Problem of Pain, and they wrote another book after the death of his wife in which he grieved before God. It's more like a book of lament, which is very different, but he wrote this in Problem of Pain.

He said, "God whispers in our pleasure, but shouts in our pain. Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world. What is his point? His point is saying, we typically go along through life without thinking about eternal things, because we get distracted. Maybe because God loves us, he allows us to go through pain and suffering with the desire that we focus on eternal things. Now, if you embrace a prosperity gospel that says God exists to make my life prosperous, and happy, and pain-free, then when you go through pain, you're going to chuck your faith. But if we shift and have an eternal perspective that maybe God cares more about the state of our soul, maybe God cares more about our eternal destinies, then we can begin to understand maybe it's because of God's goodness that he allows there to be some pain.

He allows there to be suffering, and then promises to be with us, and redeem it through that pain and through that suffering. You actually go to the story that I really enjoy, which is Spider-Man. You go to the story of Peter Parker. And Peter Parker, interestingly enough, has a little bit of a Christian ethic behind it. In other words, with power comes great responsibility. The responsibility of power is to care for people who don't have it, and Spider-Man, of course, is a superhero who fights for those with less power. But where did his motivation come from? When Ben Parker, his uncle who was dying, spoke the last words to him, with great power comes great responsibility. Now, what does that do? That embeds within him, through this suffering of his uncle, the need and desire to care for those without power and to fight against evil. Now, of course, this is a fictional story, but it kind of makes the point that we intuitively understand.

Sometimes it's through suffering, sometimes it's through evil that greater good comes out of it. When we look at these two premises, we actually see that, yeah, God has all power, but if God's going to make a world with genuinely free beings, these God will allow us to make choices. And second, it's maybe because God is good and he truly understands what is good for us in our character and for eternity, that he allows there to be pain and he allows there to be evil. The vast majority of scholars would concede that the so-called logical problem of evil has been responded to. Now so far we've kind of played defense, haven't we? People say evil discounts the goodness or existence of God, and we can play some defense and say logically it doesn't. But what is the Christian worldview uniquely have to offer to pain, and suffering, and evil?

There's a story of a priest by the name of Father Damien who in 1873 went to be a priest in Malachi to a leper colony. He couldn't imagine that some people were dying alone without people to counsel them, pray for him, care for him. And so, with full awareness of what it could potentially cost him, he went to the island and he became a priest for this colony of lepers. He did this for 12 years, and then one day he stood up in front of him, and said two words that changed everything. 12 years into ministering for them, he stood in front of him, opened up his robe and showed the first sign of leprosy, and said, "We lepers." He had become one of them. Now, this raises some really interesting questions, doesn't it? Did they know that he loved and cared for them before he got leprosy?

Yeah, he was willing to give it all up, but on that day something changed. He wasn't understanding from the outside, he was understanding from the inside. It did cost him everything. He ended up dying from effects of leprosy. Here's another question to think about. Is Jesus more like Father Damien before he got leprosy or after he got leprosy? After. The unique Christian response is that God didn't just send a prophet. He didn't just send a book, didn't just send an angel. Doesn't just promise us redemption in the afterlife as much as he does, and that's important and powerful, but that the God of the universe has stepped into our pain, and intimately understands it, because he became human like one of us. If you find the story of Father Damien because of the sacrifice moving, that's a hint of the unique Christian story found in the incarnation alone.

So when you look at different symbols for different religions, you've got the Buddha, the crescent and star for Islam, the Star of David and the Shinto Gate. What's the unique symbol for the Christian faith? It's the cross. That's right, it's the cross. Now, we wear crosses as jewelry and sometimes miss that they were essentially a humiliation and a torture instrument. That's what a cross was. The defining symbol for Christians is a torture instrument that the creator of the universe willingly took on. I mean, just let that sink in. That's the heart of our faith, that God became one of us and entered into our suffering. We talked about, again, how important it is to be happy, those who are happy to weep with those who weep. The cross tells us that we have a God who actually understands. God has entered into our suffering, not simply observed it from afar, and that's what we see in books like Hebrews that talk about God being a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses. Sympathizes.

So you can't look at God in a sense or in particular look at the person of Jesus, and say, "You don't understand, my family betrays me. You don't understand, I'm in such physical pain."

And Jesus is like, "Yeah, my family betrayed me and I was crucified. Check. Got it."

Some people say, "Where is God when I suffer?" In a sense, God is right there through His Holy Spirit suffering with us. That's unique to the Christian response, is that we worship a God who empathizes and a God who understands. You might say God who gets his hands dirty and is stepped into the world, but this is not the end of the story.

We don't just stop and say, "Hey, God understands, he gets it. That's awesome." We also want a God who is sovereign. We also want a God who's conquered evil, and that's exactly what happened in the cross, followed by the resurrection.

I don't think we can make sense of evil apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, because you think about when he was arrested, what does the apostles think? We thought he was the one, we're confused. We thought he spoke for God. We thought he was the Messiah. They thought all had been lost and God had let go of the steering wheel, but ironically, it was at that moment that God was doing his greatest act of justice, and God had never let go of the steering wheel. That's the faith and promise we can have, and we see this hinted at even in the Old Testament, don't we? Or in the story of say, Joseph, sold into slavery, who was a type of Christ. Wasn't he sold into slavery, kind of a redeemer of his people, et cetera? Well, when his brothers find out what happened in his power, they kind of want to soften him up and hope that he won't avenge himself against them.

What does Joseph say? He says, "You meant evil against me."

But God meant it for good. God's in control. He's working things in ways we don't understand and can't understand, but at some point we will look back and say, "Ah, I get it. Now it makes sense." And that's where faith comes in, doesn't it? That's where we have to trust. It's not a blind trust. In fact, then it's intelligent trust because that's exactly what Jesus does through the scriptures, and that's exactly what he does in the resurrection, the first fruits of what is yet to come. That's why Paul, the apostle of suffering, you just read two Corinthians, chapter 11, starved, beaten, shipwrecked, whipped, on and on, betrayed, hunger, thirst.

What does Paul say in a great chapter on the resurrection? It's as if he taunts death. He says, "Oh, death. Where's your victory? Oh, death. Where's your sting?" What gives him that confidence? Because you know what? I'm convinced the greatest fear human beings have is the fear of death. It's unknown. It's mysterious. You do it alone, can't control it, but that's where Christianity uniquely gives us confidence and hope, amidst the deepest fears that we have, that the greatest enemy death has been defeated and we can place our intelligent faith in God who not only understands and experience death.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible essentially is when Jesus is before Pilate, and Pilate thinks that he controls the fate of Jesus. How ironic is that? And Jesus says, "You have no power over me." Friends, if Christianity is true, anybody in this world has no power over us. We've already won. The question is, are we going to embrace that and trust God through the storms that we experienced in the present? Amen. This raises a ton of questions. I mean, we could talk about the problem of evil and suffering for days, but questions, thoughts? Something maybe I didn't cover that would help you to wrestle with this question? Yes?

So, God allows evil because of the sin that we've done. Is it because of the sin that we've done for his glory?

That why God allows evil?


Well, ultimately God allows evil because he's made us as beings that have choice. He's made us as beings to be in relationship with him and to be in relationship with others. What's the greatest commandment? Love God and love others. If we're going to have meaningful love of relationships, you got to choose to do so or be able to choose not to do so. Now, God gets glory out of all of creation ultimately when it's all said and done, but the existence of evil is the reality of the kind of beings that God has made us to be in love of relationship with him and with others. Good question. Yeah.

What do you find is the most difficult thing to answer about the problem?

I think hands down the problem of evil is the most difficult question. Why? Well, for a couple of reasons. One is it's personal. It's not like a challenge to the Bible, that is something we believe, and we fall, and we love, but we have seen evil. We don't understand why God doesn't stop it. It's natural to think, "Well, if I was God, I would stop that, doesn't look that hard. Maybe there is no God. Maybe God doesn't know what he's doing." So I think it's the personal nature of evil and suffering we've entered into and we've seen that makes it hard to just answer. I mean, evil is something we experience emotionally. We experienced it relationally. We experienced it psychologically. We've experienced it historically, spiritually. It involves all of us, and so that's why it's hard to answer. That's a good question. Yeah.

I don't know if you want to answer this after class, but I guess I'd get really perplexed about what they ask me, God, why does he allow sex trafficking children? How would you go about dealing with that?

Well, if somebody's going to ask, so the hardest component of evil and suffering is what happens to kids. I think there's no question about that. Now, if somebody asks me that, I somewhat hesitate in like 30 seconds or 60 seconds to say, "Oh, here's exactly why." It can almost feel just callous. Three things I would say is, I'd say number one, we have to look at this in light of the larger Christian worldview. Does God love children? He does. They're made in his image. We see it in the Old Testament. We see Jesus's treatment of children.

So I don't know that you're going to get a higher value of a worldview for kids and children than you will find within the Christian worldview. I'll start there. I would say, and then when you start to move logically, you got to ask questions. Is it possible for God to make a world in which everybody suffers except for children? What would that look like? How would that work? And you just start to flesh it out and it's not possible. You can't grow up, and mature, and learn if your choices and others don't have consequences. This is a great article on this that I'd invite you to look into some more depth by Clay Jones, and it's on the problem of evil and children. He's written a book called If God, Why Evil, and he goes into some depth and really plays this out, how exactly could God make a world and then just protect everybody until they're 12?

Actually, today you're a child until you're like 30. So we'd have to adjust that as we move on. And you start to think it through at least to certain absurdities that just doesn't logically work. You can add in pieces like is there an age of accountability where God in the afterlife, and I think a case could be made for that. Those are a few of the pieces that I'll start to raise on such a sensitive issue like that. But if the person's an atheist, how can your God allow sex trafficking? I say, it sounds like you think there's an objective moral code, and it sounds like you think human beings, in particular children, have intrinsic value. I'm happy to try to answer why God might allow this to happen after you can give me an account of objective right and wrong without God, and you can tell me why kids even in principle, have intrinsic value without there being a God, and you're not going to ever get there in my book.