The Most Common Explanations Given for Evil and Suffering

So far in this series of posts on the problem of evil (defined below), I’ve been considering the Bible’s answer to the problem (summarized below). However not everybody accepts its answer, and this week I’ll consider some other explanations that have been given. I’ll also argue for the Biblical explanation.

The Problem of Evil and the Bible’s Answer to It

In my July 26 post, “How Evil and Suffering Are Related,” I defined the problem of evil thus: “We claim that God is both omnipotent and good. But if God is omnipotent, He should be able to prevent evil; and if God is good, He should want to prevent evil. Thus, if our assertion that God is both omnipotent and good is true, evil should not exist. However, as nearly everyone admits, evil does exist. Why?”

In my August 2 post, “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?”, I summarized the Bible’s answer to the problem of evil thus: “Next Alcorn summarizes the story that God tells in the Bible of His creating Adam and Eve and letting them be tempted by Satan; of their rebelling against Him and evil’s entering the world; of His promising a Redeemer and His people’s looking forward to the Redeemer to come, overthrow their enemies, and set up his kingdom; of Jesus’ being born, being put to death, and rising from the dead; and of Jesus’ promising to return someday, to make things all right, and to live with His people forever.”

The Alcorn whom I referred to is Randy Alcorn, and I was summarizing material from the booklet by him that the Life group that my wife and I are part of will be using this fall to study the problem of evil, If God Is Good: Why Does It Hurt? (Multnomah Books, 2010). This post is also based on that booklet, which presents and comments briefly on five common alternate explanations given for evil and suffering and argues for the Biblical explanation in a section called “What Common Explanations Are Given for Evil and Suffering?” (pages 25-31). Here I’ll list the alternate explanations and summarize the booklet’s argument for the Biblical explanation.

Five Common Alternate Explanations Given for Evil and Suffering

1. There is no evil and suffering.

2. There is no God.

3. God is limited in goodness.

4. God is limited in power.

5. God is limited in knowledge.

In our Life group meeting devoted to this topic, not only will we read and discuss what the booklet says about the explanations (on pages 25-27), but also I will read parts of what Alcorn says about them in Chapter 4, “What Are Some Responses to the Problem of Evil and Suffering?”, of his book that he drew the booklet from, If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Multnomah Books, 2009).

The Biblical Explanation

After presenting and commenting on the above explanations, the booklet summarizes and argues for the Biblical explanation. In its summary it observes that the Bible affirms that both God and evil exist; that God is not limited in goodness, power, or knowledge; and that God hates evil and will eventually remove it and suffering. (page 27)

In arguing for the Biblical explanation, the booklet observes that people’s sense of right and wrong indicates that there is a standard of goodness such as the Biblical explanation proposes. It also observes that although the world has much evil it also has much good and claims that if the evil can be used to argue against God’s existence then the good is evidence that God exists. (pages 28-31)

In our Life group meeting devoted to this topic, we’ll read and discuss what the booklet says about the Biblical explanation.

Life Group Questions

Since our Life group won’t consider this section of the booklet until at least a few weeks from now, the following presentation of questions is tentative. In composing it I was helped by Alcorn’s If God Is Good Study Guide (Multnomah Books, 2010).

I’m still thinking of a question to ask before we look at the explanations for evil and suffering given in the booklet.

After we read and discuss the common explanations, other than the Biblical explanation, for evil and suffering given in the booklet, I plan to ask which of them seems the most credible.

I’m still thinking of a question to ask after we read and discuss the summary and argument for the Biblical explanation given in the booklet.

I would appreciate suggestions of questions for the Life group from readers of this post.

Because it is uncertain when the Life group that my wife and I attend will resume holding meetings, I’m going to discontinue making posts here related to the group’s study of the problem of evil until it resumes holding meetings. However tomorrow I will begin a series of daily posts here based on the study of systematic theology that my family will begin today in our family Bible reading time.

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