A common argument of Secularists which is used to oppose the existence and authority of the Lord our God is known as the Problem of Evil. The argument typically is expressed in the following fashion. 1. If God is good (or loving), then He would desire that there would be no suffering. 2. If God is all-powerful (omnipotent), then He would be able to do all that He desires, including the alleviation of suffering. 3. Suffering exists. 4. Therefore, God is either not good or not omnipotent, or He is neither. There are many popular responses to the Problem of Evil; the technical name of such responses is Theodicy, which simply means a justification of God.
One common theodicy is the “Good Known by Evil” theory; in this response, the counter to the charge levied is that suffering must exist in order for God to demonstrate His goodness and love. In the same way that heat cannot be known apart from cold, or light from dark, or rest from fatigue, so also good cannot be known apart from evil (according to this defense). On the surface, this sounds like a solid response, but when we analyze this argument from the light of Scripture, it is found wanting. Consider that, since God is eternal, all of His attributes are necessarily eternally true of Him. This means that if God is good now, He must have always been good. So, before anything else existed, He was good. Now, let our minds drift back to that time when there was nothing besides the Triune God. No angels, no animals, no people; only the Triune God existing in perfect harmony. If good cannot exist apart from evil, and if there is no evil in God, then there necessarily must have been (and must be) an evil entity which is co-eternal with God. This, of course, we know is not true from Scripture, for our God says, “There is none like me.”
Another popular theodicy is the “Necessary for Glorification” theory. This defense essentially states that evil and suffering, which are the direct results of human sinfulness (per Gen. 3), are necessary for God to be most glorified. This theory posits that in order for God to be most glorified, He must demonstrate His justice and His mercy; if these two attributes were not manifested, then God could not be glorified to the fullest extent. Again, this theory is found wanting in light of the eternality and aseity (self-sufficiency) of God. The implication is that God was not as glorious before creation-fall-redemption as He is afterwards. “Glorious” is an attribute of God in the same way that “goodness” and “justice” are; in other words, if God ever lacked glory, He would not be perfect. His glory is rooted in the absolute perfection of His being, so to say that He lacks glory would be the same as saying that He, at some point in time, was not perfect in His being. This, obviously, is untenable.
A third popular theodicy is the “Best Possible World” theory. This theory proposes that the world we now live in is the best possible world that could have been made. God, in His infinite wisdom, decided that it was necessary that sin and suffering exist in the world; in other words, given all other possible options available to God, He decided that the current state of affairs is the best. There are several issues with this theory, but most important is the issue that it is rooted in a form of teaching called Middle Knowledge. The fundamental problem with this theory is that it limits the ability of God to create a world in which evil and suffering could not exist. But our God is omnipotent, which means He is able to do all that He desires. And it is possible that a universe exists without sin: our world was created perfect. But this theory posits that God was limited in His creative ability, and had to pick from a set of available options. This is fundamentally unbiblical.
Is this challenge to the existence and authority of God insurmountable? Have the Secularists discovered the “fatal flaw” of Christianity? No, not by a long shot. The primary focus of the Christian apologist when dealing with this problem of evil is not to merely find a logically plausible answer. The priority of the Christian must be to answer the problem from the teaching of Scripture; our answer must not merely be rational, but it must be consistent with the self-revelation which the Lord God has given to us. In the second part of this article, I intend to provide my own theodicy that starts with the premise that God really is who He says He is, and that He has clearly explained the existence, nature, and purpose of suffering.