Christian Apologetics - Lesson 7

Divine Omnipotence

Discussion about how the existence of evil is consistent with God's character.

Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Lesson 7
Watching Now
Divine Omnipotence

The Problem of Evil

Part 2

IV.  Divine Omnipotence

A.  God does not violate the law of non-contradiction.

B.  Are there evils that cannot be eliminated without bringing about a greater evil or lesser good?


V.  The Christian's Basic Assumption about Evil

A.  God created a world that now contains evil and has a good reason for doing so.

B.  Two Questions

1.  Suppose we do not know what God's reason is?

2.  Why does the basic assumption stress the word "now"?

C.  How did evil enter the world?

1.  Augustine's Theory

2.  Degrees of Goodness

3.  Evil occurs when a lower good is elevated above a higher good.

4.  Satan elevated himself.

5.  Where did the impulse in Satan come from?


VI.  God permits evil to prevent a greater evil or lesser good.

A.  What are the alternatives?

B.  Reasons why evil exists


VII.  Final Considerations

A.  Who has the burden of proof?

B.  Does the naturalist cheat?

C.  Are there worse things than dying?

D.  Two Scriptures

1.  Romans 8:28

2.  Romans 8:18

E.  Marilyn McCord Adams, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God

  • Introduction to Apologetics.

  • Apologetics involves finding evidence and presenting arguments to defend the Christian faith.

  • Two prominent worldviews are Christian theism and naturalism.

  • The law of non-contradiction states that A cannot be B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.

  • Explanations and responses to different worldviews.

  • If God is good and all powerful, then why does evil exist?

  • Discussion about how the existence of evil is consistent with God's character.

  • Your noetic structure, presuppositions and view of epistemology are important elements in the formation of your worldview.

  • Discussion of deductive presuppositionalism vs. inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Objections to inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Arguments for and against evidentialism.

  • Arguments for and against foundationalism.

  • Discussion of natural theology.

  • There are valid, sound and cogent arguments for the existence of God, but no coercive proofs.

  • Discussion of different arguments for God's existence.

  • One version of the cosmological argument for God's existence emphasizes God as first in time, another emphasizes God as first in importance.

  • A possible world is a way the real world could have been. Modal logic, propositions, state of affairs and eternal entities are some of the considerations when discussing a possible world.

  • Something is logically possible if its description does not include a logical contradiction. The existence of the laws of knowledge refute the system of naturalism.

  • Middle knowledge is a form of knowledge attributed to God by Molina.

  • Miracles are a dividing line and central to Christianity.

  • David Hume's rational arguments against miracles and responses to those arguments.

  • Two miracles central to Christianity are the incarnation and resurrection.

  • The question of whether or not Jesus is the only savior touches on pluralism, inclusivism and exclusivism.

  • Pluralism is the view that all religions have salvific value.

  • Inclusivism is the view that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for a person to be saved.

  • Salvation is totally the work of God and all children who die in infancy are elect of God.

  • Discussion from a biblical perspective of God's character and attributes.

  • Open theists believe that God does not have a perfect knowledge of the future.

  • Divine omnipotence and divine omniscience are two attributes of God.

  • When contemplating life after death, remember, Jesus has been there and come back. Will you commit your life to him or reject him?

These lectures were given at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida during the fall of 2001.


Dr. Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Divine Omnipotence
Lesson Transcript


Now, the last point I want to make here is this. A lot of confusion about the problem. Evil. Evil exists because people don't understand divine omnipotence. They just say, well, God ought to be able to do anything he wants. But we need to understand that even the Bible makes it plain that there are some things that God cannot do. Now, hang on to your chair there. My name is not Clark Pinnock. My name is not John Sanders. Those guys are out in left field, they're out to lunch. And I'm saying that for the purposes of the tape. Okay. So that the tribulation Saints who incidentally will experience their own evil, will remember that there were guys in our generation who really were doing great disservice to the Christian faith. But well, let's put this on the screen. Does Divine Omnipotence mean that God can do absolutely everything? Well, let me offer some biblical considerations here to plug into this. First of all, the Bible makes it plain that there are some things that God can't do. And you're saying this on the tape? Yeah, I guess I am. I think I quoted these verses earlier in the semester. God cannot lie. Hebrews Chapter six. God cannot swear by a being greater than Himself. Now, in both of those cases, the message is God cannot do anything that violates the law of non contradiction. And that is no limitation on divine omnipotence. God cannot do anything that violates the law of non contradiction. The reason he can't swear by any being greater than himself is because that would involve a logical contradiction. But there are other things too. Once an event has occurred. Now you would disagree with me if you want, and we'll start a little discussion of this. Once an event has happened. God cannot bring it about. As though it didn't happen. Okay. Now, I know some of you're going to raise the case of Hezekiah. Or Joshua praying that the sun stands still before we start a deliberation on those issues. You take this next week and look up that stuff in a good commentary. Okay. And then and only then, if you don't find a good commentary, then maybe I'll offer you my own consideration. But look, suppose you make a choice of breakfast cereal, bowls. You go into your pantry, you pull out a box of Cheerios, you poured in your bowl, and you pour the milk on. You eat the Cheerios. All right. Can God bring it about that you didn't eat that bowl at cereals. Well, I don't think so. Right now, the horrible events in New York City have happened. Can God bring about that? Those events did not happen. That those people who are now dead did not die. No. Here's another example. Here's a question on the screen. Here's what it says. Are there evils that cannot be eliminated without bringing about? Are there evils that cannot be eliminated without bringing about a greater evil or a lesser good? Think about that. What if and may I also suggest here that none of us may ever have enough information to make a judgment either way on this. What if there is a possibility that God's prevention of some specific evil which might have been possible, nonetheless would have brought about a situation in which there were there, in which some greater good would have been eliminated or some lesser good would have been brought about. In other words, if there's a tornado, is that an evil that God could prevent? Yeah, sure. But what if and you and I aren't going to know the answer to that. What if the elimination of that evil might have brought about a greater evil or prevented or prevented a greater good from coming about? If this situation is logically possible, if this kind of situation makes sense. Then that would help us understand to some degree why some bad things happen. All right. Now what I have on the screen is what I call the Christian's basic assumption about evil. If you can find a better way to phrase this, do so right now. Okay. This is what I think is the Christian the Christian worldviews basic assumption about evil. God created a world that now contains evil and has a good reason for doing so. God created a world that now contains evil and has a good reason for doing so. Now, a couple of questions about that presupposition. Question number one, suppose I or you do not know what God's reason is. That's a pretty safe position to take. At the memorial service at the National Cathedral, Billy Graham admitted that he didn't know what God's reason was. Okay, suppose I don't know what God's reason is. Does anything of significance follow? Are. But you know what? Many people you know how many people respond here? I've had students who say, well, my goodness, if Ron Nash does not know God's reason for some particular evil, then there can't be a reason. And are you looking at my hips moved here. If Ramesh doesn't know, then nobody can know. Well, thank you for your confidence, but you're a fool. All right. What follows from the fact that I or you or Billy Graham or somebody else doesn't know God's reason for this particular evil. The only thing that follows is that you and I are not omniscient. That's the only thing that follows. Why should anybody be surprised that we don't know God's reason? Now, there are some horrible things coming down the road. That the Bible warns us about and God gives us his reason. There are some horrible things that happened in the past. The invasion of Israel. The caring away of the children of Israel to other lands. The prophets knew what God's reason were, what God's reasons were. God was punishing Israel for its iniquity, for its idolatry. God was punishing him. But that's a part of revelation. Here's question number two What does the basic why does the pace of consumption stress the word now? Well, simple reason. When God created the world, there was no evil. It was good. But then something happened and the world went astray. The human race went astray. And so a world at once contained no evil. Now does. Let's let's take a big parenthesis here and just deal with that. Okay? And that means we're going to shut off the screen and we're going to shut off the overhead. I wrote an article about that for a magazine called Facts for Faith, and I raised that very question. We believe that God's creation was originally good. How then did evil ever enter the world? Obviously, it entered the world before God created Adam and Eve. Evil already existed in the form of Satan. Now there is some very interesting and provocative speculation about this by my good friend Saint Augustine, who wished to whom we say a lot about in the history of philosophy course. Augustine raised this question because during his non-Christian years. And that would be from about the age of 17 to about the age of 30. He was a devotee of a strange religious cult called Manichean ism and Manichean ism taught the existence of two gods a good God and an evil God. And if anything good happened, it was a result of activity on the part of the good God who was figured after light. And if anything bad happened, it was the fault of the evil God darkness. So Augustine said, How do we how do we Christians explain the presence, the entrance of evil, into a totally good universe? Here was this theory. When God created the good universe, he nonetheless created things that have degrees of goodness, degrees of goodness. And that shouldn't be too hard to grasp. Because if everything in the universe were equally good, then everything in the universe would be as good as God. All right. So you have God at the top. And then what would be examples of degrees of goodness? Well, a stone that God creates would be good. But there are things that are better than stones because they're alive. They have life. So that would mean a plant has a higher degree of goodness than a stone. And an animal possesses a higher degree of goodness than than a plant. And a human being possesses a higher degree of goodness than an animal because there are complexities of life, complexities of goodness. So everything God created was good, but there were degrees of goodness and the entrance of evil into the universe occurred because. Something or some one. Chose to elevate a lower good above or higher good. Someone or something chose to elevate a lower good above a higher good. Right now, those of you who know your Bible, you know who that lower good was. Name is Lucifer. Today we know him as Satan. What was this lower good that elevated itself above a higher Good answer. Satan. Lucifer. And what was the lower good that he avail elevated above the higher good? He elevated himself. He said, I will ascend into the most high. I will be like, God. So there was no preexisting evil. You simply have a created being Lucifer, who elevates himself above God. And incidentally, every human being who has ever existed emulates Satan every time we sin. When Adam sinned, what he did was he said, I don't care what God says, I'm going to do whatever I want to do. God says, Don't eat the fruit of the tree, of the knowledge of good and evil. I'm going to do it because he isn't going to rule over me. And every time you sin, that's exactly what you do. You're putting yourself in the place of God. And every time I see him, we're following Satan. And is it any wonder, then, that what we really deserve, what sinners really deserve, is what Satan got? Now, there is one thing that Augustine doesn't answer with his question or with his position. Who can tell me what it is? Where did that impulse and Satan come from? Now I'm going to give you Augustine's answer, and then you can decide how satisfactory it is. Okay? Augustine says that is what we call the mystery of iniquity. Is that an answer? No. But you know what it does point out, it points out that sooner or later, as we wrestle with all of these issues, we're going to bump up against something that we can't understand. And in that case, we don't know what led. A morally good creature. To calm. To that inequity and then to tempt our ancient ancestor to commit that same act and that. But, you know, don't blame Adam, because you and I emulate Adam 233 times a day. That's me. All right. I don't know. Maybe for you, it's more. Maybe it's less. It's for me. It's 233 times a day. How many times an hour is that? Okay, Now, next, overhead. God permits evil. Then either to bring about a greater good or prevent a greater evil that is. I think that's where our worldview leads us. Whenever you get troubled by the problem of evil, whether it be the theoretical problem or the personal problem of evil. Ask yourself if your lack of faith is consistent with what you know ought to be your worldview and ask yourself. If you give up your world view. What world view will you accept in its place? Think about that. If you give up the biblical worldview and it's. Only answer to the problem of evil. What worldview are you going to use to replace it? Are you going to go to naturalism? Where's your brain? You become a naturalist. You follow the example of a Carl Sagan or a Bertrand Russell, my friend. And you Not only. Well, you're going to make two mistakes. Number one, you're going to you're going to jump from and this is an original thing with me. You're going to jump from the frying pan into the fire. And the fire will be a literal fire. All right. Hell, fire, maybe. You're going to go to Hinduism. You're going to go to Islam. Good grief. What worldview? Some time in life we're going to bump up against questions for which we do not at that moment have an answer while surprise. But when you view your inability to answer these questions, do it in the context of a broader worldview. And where are you going to go? Now I give you some examples of specific reasons for evil. There's the free will defense. There's the natural law defense. There's a soul making defense. There are other reasons why evil exist. Sometimes evil exists because based on the old on the scriptures, God punishes wicked people. But these people in New York City weren't nearly as wicked as the men who killed them. Yes. I don't know. I'm just offering that as I have no idea what God's reason was. All right, Now I want to move towards a conclusion. And what I have now on the over on the on the screen is an overhead that asks that that is that has this title Final Considerations for Today. First point, who has the burden of proof? This is crucial. I argued the first day we met. That when the Christian does negative apologetics, the burden of proof is upon the a theologian, the anti-Christian. Please get this point. This is the anti I Christians strongest argument. Therefore, all we have to do is play defense. If any of you are foolish enough to allow some enemy of the Christian faith to put you on the defensive, to convince you that you have the burden of proof, you're a bad apologist and you're going to be doing a lot of harm to the Christian church. Technically, theoretically, all the Christian has to do in the case of the problem of evil is show that the worst examples of evil in the universe do not constitute a sufficient reason to abandon belief in the personal God of the old and the New Testaments. And surely that should be obvious to you. As planning a demonstrates in his in his demolition of the deductive problem of evil. Once the Christian can show and this is not difficult. Once the Christian can show that there are possible worlds, that it is logically possible for the God of the old in the New Testament to have all kinds of reasons to justify specific instances of evil in the universe. We have blunted the atheists attack. Yes, this is a problem, but does it does it prove the nonexistence of God? No, it doesn't, does it? Does it disprove the omnipotence of God? No, it doesn't. Does this lead us to a stalemate then? Well, suppose it does. Suppose the problem of evil is a tough one. And, you know, maybe nobody in this case can make a knockout move. Who loses? Well, the theologian loses because he's got the burden of proof. Now, I must confess that in chapter 15, I got a little brave, maybe foolishly brave, and I tried to pull the curtain back a little bit too far. And I tried to go beyond the stalemate. And I'll leave it for you to decide whether my effort to move beyond stalemate or not was effective. I think there is still some merit in those last pages of Chapter 15, but the next point. Does the naturalist cheat? I think he does. I don't I don't put this in the faith and reason book. I do add this to my chapter on evil in my book. WorldViews and Conflict. You might want to look at that. I really think. The naturalist cheats because his argument against the existence of God these are the evil presupposes a kind of objective, moral goodness in the universe that doesn't exist in a naturalistic worldview. The only reason the naturalist can get to first base or second base is because he and his audience are assuming that there really is objective goodness or objective evil in the universe. But that's a Christian assumption, and the naturalist has no right to make that. And then finally, for this overhead, I want to leave you with this question. Are there worse things than dying? This question came to me and in a strange kind of setting, it came to me in Western Ukraine when I was speaking about evil to a group of people who had who had experienced more than than their share of evil over the over the decade. They'd been invaded by the Nazis. Then the Russians had come back and killed more people. And then the Chernobyl thing. So one day and this was in a in a city called Riva, I looked at my audience of about 800 people and I said, This question just occurs to me and I want to ask each of you and I want your response. And here's my question. Are there worse things in life than dying? Are there worse things that can happen to a person than dying? And I had no idea what response I'd get. And all over the audience, I could see these dear people whose families, whose parents and grandparents and their children had suffered so much. And to a person they were nodding yes, there are worse things than dying. And I said, What would be worse than dying? And from over here in the audience, somebody said. Dying without honor. Well, they had experience that they'd seen quislings and traitors betrayed people dying without honor. And then somebody else said. In an audience that was still largely non-Christian, a voice said, dying. Without Jesus. Is worse than die. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I thought, Well, maybe this mission to Ukraine is worthwhile. Worthwhile. Now I want to leave you with three more things. First of all, I want to leave you with two verses of Scripture. First verse of scriptures. Romans 828. This is not in the book. This came to me on a later occasion. You all memorized Romans 828. Let me quote it for you. We know that all things work together for good. Period. Did I do that right? You Presbyterian. Do you know your Bible? Of course. Any student of Scripture knows that. That verse says, We know that all things work together for good. To those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. In other words. People who go around and say, well, all things work together for good. They might just as well be quoting Aesop's Fables. All right. Because that's not what the Bible says. There is no there is no teaching anywhere in Scripture that says all things work together for good for everybody. It holds this promise only for believers. That means that people who are not children of God have no right to claim that promise. All things work. Now, I want to ask a question about Romans 828. Does Romans 828 say that all things work together for good for believers in this life or. In eternity. It says neither. Okay, So God expects us to use our reason, our minds here. So. I'm going to make a suggestion here that Romans 828 does not promise that all things work together for good for believers in this life. That's not what Romans 828 means. Do you, as a Christian, have a right to believe? But by the time your life is over. And you can look back at everything that has happened to you and your family that you'll be able to see at the end of your life. 2 minutes before you die. Yes. All things have worked together for good. I don't think that's true. If it's true for you, then then bless you. But I think a lot of people who are genuine Christians. Approach death with some. Disappointment. Suffering. Grief. I mean, if there's even one person that you love that you're uncertain about their salvation, how at the moment before your death can you be, you know. I have no I had no idea whether my father, when he died 12 years ago. He'd made a profession of faith. Never saw much in his later life that suggested that anything spiritually significant had really happened to him. We just don't know. Take the take the the death of my wife's sister and her the two little girls who almost died in that head on collision survived. They're now close to 30 years old. They're both married. Still a lot of pain and suffering. For those. For those girls. They missed the parents. Okay, they do. But as I look at just that one event, I cannot honestly say that. I see. In our lifetimes. Any good that compensates for that horrible event as as as trivial as that event was compared to what happened a week ago. But as you know, I am not dogmatic. I am I am the most tolerant, open minded guy you will ever see in your life. So I will leave it up to you, but are gone. I'm going to tell you where I stand. I think Romans 828 is telling us that all things work together for good from the perspective of eternity. And if you find the 2 minutes before your life is over, that everything has worked out. How would you know? Even if even if everything is hunky dory, how would you know that? It's as good as it could have been. But from the standpoint of eternity, it will be. That's the meaning of Romans 828. Now, let's go up. Let's go further back and Romans. Let's go to Romans 818. Paul says in Romans 818. The following for the sufferings of this present time. Okay. Sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us. You know what that says? It says, My interpretation of Romans 828 is right. It does. The day is coming when we, from the perspective of eternity, will look back. We'll look at that accident. Or there will be people who will look back on last week's tragedy. Not everybody. Only believers. But they will look back at these tragedies and they will say, you know, that really hurt. That was tough. We cry, people die. But all of a sudden, it's all right. We now understand why these things happened. And the separation is over. The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us. Now, is that a philosophical argument, which I hope it's not. But it sure is the basis of the Christian's hope, and it is the basis of the Christians. The Odyssey. Now, one final thing. I came across a reference to a book written by a lady named Marilyn McCord Adams. She and her husband are professors of philosophy at Yale University. She's a highly respected Christian philosopher, even though sometimes I think she's a little more liberal than I would like. But I found that she had published a book with this title, Horrendous Evil, and I wanted to read that book. One of the reasons I wanted to read that book was to see if she had anything more to say about gratuitous evil. Horrendous evil. Now, do you want some examples of horrendous evil? September 11th, 2001. That's horrendous. Evil. People in such a situation that the only thing they want to do is jump. 100 stories to their death. That's horrendous. Evil. Or to know that you're in a you're a prisoner in an airplane that soon is going to crash into a building and that will kill not only everybody in the airplane, which will kill hundreds of other people. That's horrendous, evil. So I wanted to see whether this very good philosopher at Yale University would have anything to add to what I've already told you, because I'm always looking for something better to say, okay, this is a sentence not from her book, but from a journal article that she included in her book. Let's read. This is the conclusion of her position, the good of beatific, face to face intimacy with God. Now, let's stop right there. Marilyn McCord. Adams is Episcopalian. She's probably high Church, Episcopalian, and both Episcopalians and Roman Catholics love the term beatific vision. Okay. I think Presbyterians and Baptists ought to add that term to their vocabulary. What is the beatific vision? That's the vision that you and I will finally have when as redeemed children of God, we stand in front of our Savior, the beatific vision. The good of beatific face to face intimacy with God is simply incommensurate with any merely non transcendent goods or evils a person might experience. Let me now explain what a non transcendent good is. An example of a non transcendent good. Which on occasion I have fancied might lift me up to the seventh heaven would be the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series. Okay. Now, I know that most of you don't care about the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series. To which I can only say, shame on you. All right. What would be another non transcendent good. For the sake of the tape, we have a homeless person in the back of the room who said the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series no taste at all. Think of the greatest honor and joy that could come to your life right now. All right. The greatest. Might be a new grandchild, Right? For those of us who are old enough. Or. The birth of a new child. Or in the case of the city of Apopka, Florida, those that Little League team winning the U.S. championship. That was great. But it's a non transcendent good. What does that mean? It means there's something better in life than that. What's a non transcendent evil? I got up in the middle of the night. My air conditioning was off. I was trying to open the door to the patio and I. I just banged my leg into a great pain. I said to myself, That's a non transcendent evil. Okay. Being in an automobile accident. Non transcendent evil. Losing. All of your earthly possessions. Being diagnosed with terminal cancer. That's a non transcendent evil. Or. As terrible as it was. Dying. In the World Trade Center a week ago today. But those were horrible deaths. Hawke Yes, but they were non transcendent evils. Why? Because there's something more evil than that. What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? You talk about a transcendent evil. So the good of beatific face to face intimacy with God is simply incommensurate with any merely non transcendent, good or ill any person might experience. Take the worst that the world or the devil throws at you and it's still a non transcendent evil. Thus, Marilyn McCord, Adams says, bless her heart. The good of beatific face to face intimacy with God would engulf even the horrendous evils human experience in this life here below and overcome any prima facie reasons, the individual had to doubt whether his or her life would or could be worth living. To which I now ask this question Do you believe every sentence on that screen? Reread it. Do you believe every sentence on that screen? And I'm here to tell you, if you don't believe every sentence on that screen. You're a candidate for additional problems in your life right now. Does that mean that I'm in a position in my life where I where I believe this every moment? No, because I'm a I'm a I'm a I'm a very weak person. But this is what we better believe. This is what our world view tells us. And what Marilyn McCord Adams has given us is really all we're going to get in this life with respect to the problem of evil. And if we understand it, it ought to be all we need. It ought to be all we need. The problem is we just have to remember it and we have to live it. Okay.