The Westminster Shorter Catechism (biblically) defines God as “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”[1] Anselm described Him much more simply: God is “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.”[2] “He is the locus and paradigm of moral value.”[3] Every person (other than God himself) and everything that exists was created by Him and is contingent upon Him for his or its very existence.[4] God is the author of time itself.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  When he had completed his creative task, he saw that all that He had made was very good and He rested.[5]

Sometime later, in 1983, country singer Anne Murray struck country gold with the song “A Little Good News” written by Charles Frank Black, Rory Michael Bourke, and Thomas Rocco.[6]  The award-winning song tells the story of waking up in the morning to television news reports of war in the Middle East and a faltering economy with the expectation that forthcoming evening news reports will be just as bleak. In the song, the singer laments:

There’s a local paper rolled up in a rubber band.
One more sad story’s one more than I can stand
Just once I’d like to see the headline say
“Not much to print today, can’t find nothin’ bad to say,” because
Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD’ed, nobody burned a single buildin’ down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today

As is the case with other country hits, the song was popular (shooting to number one on the billboard country music chart) because it was relatable.  The passage of time has turned anachronistic the outlets of news mentioned in the song, yet its popularity endures because its theme is timeless[7].   Mankind seems ever-beleaguered by bad news; as portrayed in Murray’s song, people wake up and go to bed experiencing it.

This is the case with the protagonist an even more enduring work of the pen: the divinely inspired book of Job, a major theme of which is coping with and understanding tragic events. In that book, Job the Uzzite suffers the loss of vast amounts of wealth, the loss of his health, and the death of all his children.[8]  As is the case with Murray’s aging song, there are obsolete points of culture in the book of Job. For example, modern readers no longer lament in sackcloth and Ashes.  Yet, like Job, modern readers often awaken to bad news with which they struggle to come to terms and explain.  Interestingly, although the story recounted in the book of Job is not the oldest story portrayed in the Bible, the book Job is argued[9] to be the oldest of the divinely inspired canonical texts[10].  In other words, God may have felt that people needed to know how to cope with bad news more immediately than they needed to know the details of the world’s creation.

The types of calamities bemoaned in the song “A Little Good News” and the book of Job often raise vexing concerns in the minds of men.  “Experiences like those of Job raise a classical philosophical quandary: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent.  Is he able, but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing?  Whence then is evil?”[11]  Enlightenment Philosopher, David Hume, credits the phrasing of this question to the ancient philosopher Epicurus.[12] This question, as formulated by Epicurus[13], is one of the oldest recorded statements about evil as it relates to God in Western thought. A more modern Western statement on this classical philosophical quandary, which has become formally known as “The Problem from Evil,” was formulated by the philosopher of religion J.L. Mackie.  According to Mackie, the problem from Evil[14] in its simplest form is this: “God is omnipotent, God is wholly good; and yet evil exists.”[15] This is a sobering statement; one that shakes the faith of many.  The Problem from Evil makes it seem as if theistic belief (in a wholly good, omnipotent God) contradicts itself.

The Problem from Evil can serve as the intellectual foundation of one’s atheism or act as the ground by which one doubts the character or attributes of God.  Formulations of the Problem from Evil are often more complex than Mackie’s simple statement; there are numerous and varied philosophical arguments from evil.  However, none of these arguments are insuperable. In other words, The Problem from Evil doesn’t hold philosophical or theological water, especially not from a biblical worldview.  Various theodicies have shown arguments from Evil to be entirely dubitable. J.L. Mackie, himself an atheist, admitted that the Problem from Evil does not demonstrate that theism is contradictory by stating “we can concede that the problem (from) evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”[16]  Yet, Mackie died an atheist having never changed his beliefs[17].  His case is not unique; despite the refutations of arguments from evil, the Problem from Evil remains one of the most prevalent barriers to faith.[18] Apologetically speaking, this is the Problem of the Problem from Evil.

Not everyone who bases his rejection of theism or the biblical concept of God on the problem from evil does so on because of the perceived soundness of philosophical arguments from evil.  Some do so out of emotion and personal pain. It often takes more than philosophical analysis to overcome the effects of such emotion and pain.  For example, telling a young man who has been sexually abused by a priest or a young woman whose father died in a horrible accident that “You can’t definitively know that God didn’t have a good reason for allowing molestation to happen” or that “Tragic events such as losing a loved one builds your soul” would provide little theistic assurance to them if these traumatic events were foundational to personal claims of atheistic belief or the rejection of Christianity.  Such answers refute philosophical arguments from evil but do little to assuage anger, bitterness, resentment, and despair.  John Stott observed, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. Its distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair. Sensitive spirits ask if it can possibly be reconciled with God’s justice and love.”[19] No matter what the philosophical defeaters to the Problem from Evil, the bad news remains.[20]  As such, the Problem of the Problem from Evil must be overcome, not only by sound philosophical argument, but by good news.  Fortunately, there is such good news to be reported: the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Arguments from evil are legion and, like the Gerasene Demoniac, they are ultimately demonically inspired. The very problem from evil itself is a deception of the devil designed to put God on trial and in need of a defense, though He be innocent of any wrongdoing.  Neither the devil nor anyone else has standing to question or denigrate the nature and character of God.  Yet, that does not stop some from so doing.  This is seen in the earliest of Biblical stories.  In the book of Genesis, the devil deceives Eve by calling into doubt the character of God.[21]  In the book of Job, the devil questions the virtue of a righteous man identified by God (thereby questioning God’s judgment).[22]  It’s clear from scripture that, from the beginning, arguments from evil are machinations of the devil.[23]  Where these arguments are philosophical in nature, they can be refuted philosophically (using general revelation) as well as biblically (using special revelation).  Three arguments from evil that the Christian apologist should understand and be prepared to refute are[24]: (1) The Logical Argument from Evil, (2) The Probabilistic Argument from Evil, (3) and the Argument from Gratuitous Evil.  Before engaging these arguments from evil, the apologist must also be acquainted with two understandings (or categories) of evil: (1) natural evil and (2) moral evil.

Natural Evil and Moral Evil

“Evil comes in a plethora of types and instances, but the field divides into two categories: natural evil and human evil.  Natural evil is the natural world turned savage: tornadoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, floods. Diseases and deformity fill out this category, since they are not usually instigated by humans…Then there is evil from human hands (moral evil). It comes from the gun, the knife, the bomb, the pen and the tongue.”[25] Arguments from evil and the theodicies by which they are refuted interact with one or both of these categories of evil.  For example, in the minds of some, a soul-building theodicy may be a more plausible defense against an argument from natural evil than a free will theodicy. Thus, being able to identify the categories of evil to which various arguments from evil refer is very important to understanding them.  Unless, that is, one denies the existence of evil altogether. The idea that evil does not exist was popularized by Augustine. According to Augustine, evil is the result of the improper function of God’s creations, the result of the improper use of the free will which God has granted to his created beings.  These created beings all have their place in God’s ordered creation and sometimes evil is caused by their actions, whether it be natural evil (like a lion eating a baby) or moral evil (Satan rebelling against God).  In that sense, evil does not truly exist but is merely a privation of good.  For those who insist that evil does exist, it is generally understood in the two categories mentioned above.

The Logical Argument from Evil, Free Will, and Soul-Building

The logical argument from Evil seeks to contradict the conception of an omnipotent, wholly good God.  If God is wholly good and created everything, how could evil exist?  It seems illogical that a good God would have (or even could have) created a world in which evil exists.  For one to propose that an all-powerful, all-knowing, entirely good God to exist, it must be illogical for that same person to propose that evil exists.  Since evil clearly exists, according to the logical argument from evil, there cannot be such a God as proposed.  There are several different flavors of the logical argument from evil which deny the theistic position.  Mackie’s previously mentioned simple statement is the most straightforward:

(1)   An omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good God exists

(2)   Evil exists

Theists don’t necessarily see these positions as contradictory. Therefore, it us up to the atheistic critic to point out that they are.  No matter how well an atheist may argue, he is not able to do this.  Theists agree, of course, that it is illogical for one to hold contradictory beliefs[26], but they do not agree that the logical argument from evil presents contrary positions.  Theists believe that one can believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God and believe that He created a world in which there is evil.  This belief is supported by the free will defense, which proposes that God created a world in which beings have the capacity to choose to perform morally good actions or morally evil actions.  If God did not create such a world, there would be no moral value.  In other words, there cannot be a capacity for good unless there is a capacity for evil.  Beings have the free will to either be good are evil.  Any other state of affairs would render the world valueless.  Mackie, as already noted, has acknowledged that the free will defense is an adequate rebuttal to the logical argument from evil.

Yet, it is not the only defense available. The soul-building theodicy of John Hick also counters the logical argument from evil.  Hick’s soul-building argument posits that God has a plan and purpose for the world; God’s plan involves a growth and development for humans in which they should overcome evil.  Hick argued that the evil in the world that causes it to appear that God does not exist imparts value on the faith of those who believe He does.  The evil in the world helps those who overcome it build their souls. God’s purpose in allowing evil is soul-building; evil is the fire through which the metal of the soul is heated so that it may be hammered into its proper form.

The Probabilistic Argument from Evil and Subjectivity

Whereas the logical argument from evil operates by logically inferring something like, “One cannot say that there is no fire while he yet says there is smoke,” the probabilistic argument from evil infers something like, “One can say that since there is smoke, there is probably fire.”  The probabilistic argument from evil posits that the existence of evil in the world may not disprove God’s existence but it certainly makes it less probable.  Like the logical argument from evil, the probabilistic argument from evil exists in several different varieties.  These different versions are based upon the following premises:

(1)   If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and wholly good, He could have created any possible world.

(2)   Therefore, if God is as such, He would have created the best of all possible worlds.

(3)   Because evil exists, it’s unlikely that the actual world is the best world that could have been created.

(4)   Therefore, it’s not likely that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and wholly good God exists.

The theistic counter-argument to this argument from evil notes that the data set from which to probabilistically deny God is incomplete or unidentifiable.  What exactly is the “best” of all possible worlds and who is qualified to make that assessment? A theist could just as easily make an argument that God probably does exist if he picked his own prejudiced data set.  Different people have different opinions on what the best of all worlds is, would, or could be.  Furthermore, different people have different opinions on what evil even is.  It turns out that, because of the nature of subjectivity, the probabilistic argument from evil is its own defeater.

Without God, in Whom humanity can ground objective moral values duties, all judgments as to what evil is are purely subjective. “If atheism is true, it becomes impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, or love as good. It doesn’t matter what you do—for there is no right and wrong; all things are permitted.”[27]  “Whence then is evil?” becomes a vexing question for the atheist; for it is he who engages in affirming a contradiction.

The Gratuitous Argument from Evil and Constraints

The gratuitous argument from evil is based, not upon probabilities regarding the existence of evil, but upon the heinous nature of evil itself.  It states that some evil is so intense that its gratuitous nature casts the shadow of doubt upon God’s existence.  Philosopher William Rowe presented the argument from gratuitous evil as follows:

(1)   There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.  (In short, this kind of suffering as is gratuitous evil)

(2)   An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good god or permitting some evil equally bad or worse

(3)   There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

To demonstrate premise 1, Rowe imagines a fawn perishing alone in a horrendous forest fire.  Rowe can’t imagine that      some greater good could come out of en event such as that, it is an instance of gratuitous evil.[28] Theists seek to invalidate Rowe’s entire argument by countering this first proposition.  They ask, “How can it be known that gratuitous evil exists?”  Maybe there is not such suffering which could have been prevented without allowing some equally heinous evil or preventing some equally effable good?   Maybe it just appears that way.  Here, the theist could fall back on the soul-building theodicy of John Hick.  However, “the most potent atheistic rebuttals to theistic specifications of greater goods revolve around the claim that at least some evils…do not seem necessary to any greater good.”[29] Thus, a soul-building theodicy may be unconvincing.

A rebuttal that avoids claims to “greater goods” is the best possible world theodicy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  This argument concludes that God is simply not blame for the existence of evil in the world.  Leibniz made the case that this world is the best possible world that could have been created because God in his omnipotence and omniscience just wouldn’t have created a sub-par world.  Therefore, the evil that exists in world exists in the appropriate amounts and kinds; thus, it cannot be gratuitous. Like the baby’s bear’s porridge to Goldilocks, the evil in the world is “just right.”  This theodicy, however, is open to the retort that a good God just wouldn’t have created the actual world.  “If this is what ‘just right’ looks like, there is no God,” the atheist might argue.

To solve this, Alvin Plantinga tweaked Leibniz’s argument to consider, not what God wouldn’t have done, but what God couldn’t have done.  Plantinga argues, in a type of free will defense, for a concept he calls “transworld depravity.”[30]  In doing so According to this concept, possible worlds in which all free creatures always freely choose not to do evil are not a feasible creation even for omnipotent being.  This situation does not impinge upon God’s omnipotence because it is logically impossible to create any world in which free creatures exist and evil does not.  Creating such a world would equate to creating a square circle or married bachelor.

The atheist who makes the argument from gratuitous evil fails to recognize the existence of constraints and tradeoffs: his own and God’s.  To conclude that one knows all possible reasons for which a “gratuitous” evil could be allowed is to presume something on the level of omniscience. Only God is omniscient. “As finite persons, we are limited in time, space, intelligence, and insight. But the transcendent and sovereign God sees the end from the beginning and providentially orders history so that His purposes are ultimately achieved through human free decisions. In order to achieve His ends, God may have to put up with certain evils along the way. Evils which appear pointless to us within our limited framework may be seen to have been justly permitted within God’s wider framework.”[31] Furthermore, the atheist who makes the argument from gratuitous evil (really any argument from evil) fails to recognize the existence of the contradiction of a world with evil and without God.  In effect, he wants to have his cake and eat it, too.  He denies the existence of God but affirms the existence of evil, which cannot objectively exist if God does not.

Whatever reason one concludes that evil is “gratuitous,” is ultimately subjective.  This subjectivity of opinion is best illustrated by what economist Thomas Sowell calls a conflict of visions. “Visions are foundations on which theories are built.  The final structure depends not only on the foundation, but also on how carefully and consistently the framework of theory is constructed and how well buttressed it is with hard facts.  Visions are clearly subjective, but well constructed theories have clear implications, and facts can test and measure their objective validity.”[32]  Sowell identifies two visions: the unconstrained vision and the constrained vision. Those who hold to the constrained vision see the world as a place that is full of tradeoffs, constraints, and unknownables. Those who hold to the unconstrained vision see the world as a place in which the best possible state of affairs can be identified and actualized by those with the intelligence and intellectual capacity to do so.   It is such people (to whom Sowell refers at the intelligentsia) who can definitively determine what the best possible world would be and what any justifications for evil would be.  One must adhere to the unconstrained vision to stake his atheism in the foundation of gratuitous evil because in doing so believes that he, a finite man, can understand every exhaustive possibility. An atheist who wishes to rely on the probabilistic argument must set his own, arbitrary definition of what the best possible world or gratuitous evil would look like and hold his definition of above that of anyone else who disagrees with him despite the condition that there is no objective test by which to prove his view.


Scripture provides many counter-arguments to the Problem from Evil.  While philosophical counter-arguments are insightful, they do not carry the weight of divine inspiration. Ultimately, God’s inspired word is the best tool for refuting mischaracterizations of God’s character and denials of His existence.  However, from a practical standpoint, atheists and nonbelievers may be more receptive, at least initially, to listening to counter-arguments from outside of scripture.  Thus, the Christian apologist does well to draw parallels between philosophical arguments (general revelation) and scripture.  Once the apologist establishes a theodicy using general revelation, he can demonstrate to unbelievers the parallel insight from God’s word.

The Freewill Defense: An Apologetic from Scripture

Evil exists because God allows people freedom of choice; if people did not have the ability to choose to do right or wrong, life would essentially be meaningless.  Evil exists because God allows people the choice to be evil or do evil.  Thus, evil doesn’t come from a wholly good God but from humanity, whom God endowed with free will.  This is an adequate explanation for the existence of “moral” evil (i.e., murder, theft, rape) levied by humans against other humans; however, it does not provide an adequate explanation for the existence of “natural” evil (i.e. earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes) levied by nature.  Humans can’t cause earthquakes and storms[33]; natural evils are not seemingly caused by free decisions.  However, the existence of natural evil in a world created by a wholly good God can still be justified.  One such justification is that that natural evils are indeed caused by free choice; not the free choice of humans but the free choice of lower supernatural beings (i.e. the devil and demons).  Another justification is that potential for natural evil is the result of original sin which was brought about by the free will of Adam.  There are biblical passages to support these justifications.

In the book of Job, God allows Satan to test the faithfulness of the righteous Job by giving Satan permission to take away everything the wealthy Job has but his life.  Satan takes away Job’s wealth by various methods, which include natural evil.  While Job is being informed by the third of three messengers that all his livestock has been lost in a series of raids by hostile tribes, a fourth messenger arrives to inform him that his children have been killed: “While he was still speaking, another also came and said, ‘Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you’”[34]  Job’s children are slain by a natural evil, a “mighty wind.”  The destructive wind was not caused by random weather patterns; it was intentionally caused by Satan for the sole purpose of heaping misfortune about Job.  Satan can cause natural evil.  The book of Job doesn’t go as far to report that Satan causes every single instance of natural evil, but it does show that he does have the power to cause such evil.  This in itself grants validity to the free will defense that natural evil is perhaps caused by the choice of supernatural beings other than God, such as Satan or demons. [35]

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul provides a foundation for the doctrine of original sin and its role in the existence of death.  Paul states, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”[36]  According to Paul, death came to everyone because of Adam’s original sin.  Because of original sin, mankind can die.  Being so cursed, man is subject to the calamities of natural evil.  Obviously, all natural evils do not cause death.  Every tornado or hurricane doesn’t kill a human, it may just destroy property.  However, just because a natural evil doesn’t cause immediate death does not mean that its occurrence is not a repercussion of original sin.  The curse upon man caused by original sin facilitates more than death alone.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam came by his sustenance in a leisurely manner.  Because of the curse, mankind is relegated to eking out a living by “the sweat of his brow.”[37]   In the Garden of Evil, Adam didn’t need a sustainable shelter and farm.  Because of the curse, such things are needed by man.  Thus, natural evils can destroy property without creating incongruence between God’s goodness and his omnipotence.

The Soul Building Theodicy: An Apologetic from Scripture

Evil in whatever form it exists is a necessary evil.  In simpler words, if everything was all sunshine and rainbows, no one would appreciate sunshine and rainbows.  In effect, a world replete with evil serves as a crucible in which the human soul can spiritually mature. The following biblical passages support the notion that the endurance of evil gives value to the Christian life:  Romans 5:1-5 and 1 Peter 4:12-19.

According to Paul, Christians rejoice in their sufferings because suffering (which is surely considered “an evil”) indirectly produces hope.  Paul states, “…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation bring about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”[38]  Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were indeed suffering.  They were being persecuted by Romans of both Gentile and Jewish heritage for their dedication to Christ.  In any age and under any circumstance (no matter how dire); the Christian who perseveres builds spiritual character.  Through this character he can understand that his ultimate hope is deliverance through the Holy Spirit.  This deliverance does not necessarily have to manifest itself in the present age, but is more accurately considered to be a hope for deliverance in the age to come.  The sufferings of the world and its evils pale in comparison to the sufferings of the eternal damnation of hell.  The evil in the world helps Christians come to this understanding by indirectly building their character.  Without the presence of that evil, Christians would not truly understand the great gift they have received in the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s associate, Peter, echoes his sentiments in 1 Peter.  Peter specifically orders his Christian audience not to be perplexed by the evil that surrounds them.  He tells them “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you”[39]  This statement endorses a viewpoint that starkly contrasts that of one who subscribes to a Problem from Evil atheistic philosophy.  This kind of atheist doubts the existence of God based upon his perception of evil in the world.  Peter, on the other hand, sees the suffering of evil as by-product of a dedication to God.  Christ suffered and Christians are to rejoice in their opportunity to share in that suffering.  Peter sees suffering as a badge of honor to be pinned upon one’s chest by God himself.  Peter states, “…those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”[40]

Both Paul and Peter observe that suffering is a part of the Christian life.  Suffering, of course, is not limited to Christians alone.  The unrighteous suffer as well, but to a different end and in a different way.  Peter delineates how the Christian should endure suffering, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”[41] This is the same type of character-building suffering, to which Paul refers.  It is the kind of suffering that builds hope.  The atheist has no hope in his heart.  When he suffers or sees suffering, he can only endure it the ways of the unrighteous.  The unrighteous will be judged by God just as the righteous will, be the outcome of the judgment will be very different.  The suffering Christian can hold out hope for eternal salvation, suffering to the conclusion that he is an heir to the Kingdom of God. The suffering atheist, who will not recognize God’s existence, endures suffering to the false conclusion that there is no God.  The Christian’s soul is “built” through suffering; the atheist cannot relate to this.

Constraints: An Apologetic from Scripture

The arguments that God does not exist because this world is probably not the best possible world and that God does not exist because of the existence of gratuitous evil fall flat.  It is demonstrated from scripture that God did create the best (logically) possible world; however, it has been marred by human sin.  Scripture also makes it clear that we have no place, in our limited human capacity, to judge God’s reasons for allowing evil.

God created the world perfectly and will one day restore it to perfection. The current world has been constrained by the fall. After God created the Earth and everything in it, he deemed it “very good.”[42]  God placed Adam and his wife Eve in the Garden of Eden; they had everything they needed.  Still, Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus causing the fall.  Because of Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God, they and their descendents were assured death[43].  Even the very ground of the earth itself was cursed because of their misdeed[44].  In assessing the fall, theologian Millard Erickson perhaps says it best, “We live in a world that God created, but it is not quite as it was when God finished it; it is now a fallen and broken world.”[45]  Man traverses a world that is literally cursed, whereas before the fall man abided in a state of peaceful existence.

As illustrated by the book of Job, whatever God’s reasons for allowing evil are, man is completely inept at identifying them.  Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all offer Job theories as to why calamity has befallen him; each theory is incorrect.  God himself chides the men for arriving at the conclusions that they reached.  In Chapters 38 through 42, God exposes the depth of the ignorance of man, asking “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”[46] God presents and exhaustive series of questions that Job’s friends cannot possibly answer.  Man’s knowledge is limited.  Furthermore, his very ability to comprehend pales in comparison to that of God, who declares through the prophet Isaiah: “…My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”[47]


It seems as if every time an argument from evil rears its ugly head, insights from general or special revelation lop it clean off.  However, like the Hydra of Greek mythology, two more heads seem to grow back in place of the old.  So goes the problem of the Problem of the Problem from Evil. The task of the Christian apologist is to singe the neck of the Hydra so that its head does not grow back, at the level of the individual person.  This is a careful task, one that cannot be accomplished with dry intellectualism alone.  “Apologetics is not about trying to win people for Christ through arguments. A clever argument can’t make somebody a Christian — only God’s Spirit can ultimately do that work in somebody’s heart. But what an argument, a reason, a conversation can do is clear away the debris that prevents somebody from seeing Christ clearly.”[48] This debris is the rationalizations, negative experiences, and presuppositions by which individual lost people deny God (His existence or His character).

The Economics of Atheism

It is prudent for the Christian to enter the apologetic fray with the understanding that refuting atheism is the least of his task. Atheists compose 2.01% of the world’s population.[49]   Protestant Christians compose 6.15%.[50]  The great majority of the world believes that God exists.  The lion’s share of apologetic work to be done, then, is enlightening the 93.85% of the world that misunderstands God’s character, nature, or plan of salvation. This done mainly through faithfully and accurately presenting God’s inspired word.  To be an effective apologist, one must be a good theologian and student of scripture.[51]  Misunderstandings of scripture are many; it takes sound theology as well as sound hermeneutics to correct them. Where nonbelievers do not ground their atheism or rejections of God’s character in the arguments of trained philosophers such as J.L. Mackie, but in the sophomoric polemics of best-selling “new atheist” authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens[52], the apologist must be prepared to face hostility and incoherent disputation.  Although it is intellectually unrewarding to wade in mire of the new atheism, the Christian apologist must understand popular-level, unsophisticated objections to God’s existence and nature, becoming, as it were, all things to all men so that some might be saved.[53]

The Fraud Triangle

Insight into why God’s existence or character is denied on the basis of the existence of evil in spite of the evidence against the Problem from Evil can be gleaned from the intellectual thought of the accounting profession as it relates to fraud.  Accountants have identified three categories of factors that are usually extant in the mind of fraud perpetrators: “Pressures and Incentives, Opportunities, and Attitudes and Rationalizations. These three categories are referred to…as the “Fraud Triangle.”[54]  In accounting parlance, a fraud is defined as an intentional, material[55] misstatement that is relied upon and causes damage.[56]  Taken theologically, fraud could be understood in the same way.  Denying God’s existence must be done intentionally[57], it is a material misrepresentation of fact, and it causes eternal damage[58].  In order to prevent or rectify the fraud of denying God, the apologist must seek to eliminate one of the elements of the fraud triangle in the mind of the nonbeliever.  However, only one such element can be eliminated.  In a fallen world, the incentive of temptation and sin will always be constant.  So too, given human free will, will the opportunity to sin.  Therefore, rationalization is the element that the Christian apologist must target.

By using arguments from evil, nonbelievers can deny God and, therefore, avoid facing their sin.  As has been shown above, broad, general arguments about evil in the world can be refuted using intellectual methods.  However, the trauma of personal experiences with evil can cause arguments of evil to become more than just an intellectual challenge.  Consider the case of C.S. Lewis, whose faith was shaken at 8 years of age by the death of his mother.  The young Lewis prayed that God would bring his dead mother back to life.  God did not.  This incident caused Lewis to slowly abandon his faith in God[59]; Whom Lewis thought was very unjust. (The sensualities of his teenage years may also have played a part in his denying of God)  It was not until middle age that Lewis came to understand that, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”[60]  Lewis’ rationalization eventually imploded in on itself.

Part of the reason that it did was because his friends and colleagues patiently tried to show him the truth of Christianity.  This took time and forbearance.  One should imagine, forthrightly, telling an 8-year-old boy in Lewis’ position or a grown man still suffering from such a past trauma, “How Silly for you to think that God doesn’t exist just because your mother died.  You didn’t have such doubts when other people’s mothers died.  You’re not being rational!”  Surely such a statement, though logically sensible, would not go over well.  “Intellectual arguments are not well received when the other person is involved in an emotional argument.”[61] Patience, prayer, fellowship, and sensitivity are more likely to win the day and win the soul.  The Apologist should seek to be the one the nonbeliever calls on upon experiencing traumas such as death, divorce, illness, and separation because “observation reveals that there are times when people are more receptive to the gospel than others…in America people are more receptive during times of intense stress or change.”[62]  By being emotionally supportive instead of intellectual combative, the apologist can help the nonbeliever overcome emotional rationalizations about evil and the nature of God. In doing so the nonbeliever is faced with the truth of evil and how it relates to himself. Only by facing the gravity of one’s own sin, after the debris of rationalization is cleared from the mind, can one being to see that God is the solution to the Problem from Evil, not the cause of it.

Where emotional hang-ups on the Problem from Evil are very strong, the apologist can run an end-around evil altogether but addressing cosmological and teleological arguments with the nonbeliever. The temporal beginning of the universe, the logical impossibility of an actual infinite, and the fine-tuning of the universe are hardly touchy subjects[63]. People will deny that God exists because evil exists but almost no one will deny his own or the universe’s existence.  Without addressing evil at all, these arguments point towards a creator and cause “God’s not there so my sin is okay” type rationalizations to eventually crumble.

The Constrained and Unconstrained Visions

The apologist should seek to understand the presuppositions that nonbelievers have about God and evil as related to worldview and politics. These presuppositions may best be illustrated through the visions, constrained or unconstrained, by which nonbelievers perceive the world and understand ideological struggles.  The Christian vision is of “an unconstrained God and a highly constrained man.”[64]  This can be a starting point with which to address the orientation of the unbeliever.

The story of the fall should resonate with the unbeliever who holds to the constrained vision.  The very reason that evil exists in the world is because of the tradeoff that exists between creaturely free will and the potential for evil.  Sin is prevalent and its noetic effects prevent the utopian society to which those with the unconstrained vision aspire.  The idea of a utopian society where there is no sin and where all mysteries are fully known[65] should be attractive to those nonbelievers who hold to the unconstrained vision.  This society will be actualized in the New Jerusalem.  The hope of the New Jerusalem can give “objective validity” to the hope of those who hold to the unconstrained vision.

Insuperable Good News

The ultimate solution to the Problem from Evil is a gospel answer.  Whatever evil has befallen someone, it is no worse than what has befallen Jesus Christ[66].  Whatever moral evil has tempted someone, it is not worse than what has tempted Jesus Christ.[67]

Death, whether it befalls fawns or family members, seems to be the gratuitous evil that keeps people from submitting to the Lordship of Christ.  Yet, Jesus has defeated death as well and, through Him, so can everyone else who places his faith in the Lordship and resurrection of Christ.[68]  There is forgiveness for sin available to those who ask for it.[69]  There is a Holy city coming, not built with human hands, where there will be no “shots fired in anger” and where not “a single building” will be burned down.  In that city there will be no more suffering, sorrow, and death.[70]  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”[71]  This is the insuperable good news that overcomes the Problem of the Problem from Evil.


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Bannister, Andy. To Everyone an Answer”: Eight Tips for Sharing Your Faith. May 13, 2013. (accessed May 8, 2104).

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Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998.

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[1] The Presbyterian Church in America. “The Shorter Catechism.”

[2] Rosen, Gideon. Anselm’s Ontological Argument.

[3] Craig, William Lane. Defining “God”.

[4]Col 1:17, Heb 1:3, Jn 1:3 (All Scripture quotations in this paper, unless noted otherwise are taken from the New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation, 1977.)

[5] Gen 1-2:2

[6]Flippo, Chet. Nashville Skyline: Anne Murray Was Right. January 20, 2011.

[7] Anne Murray re-released the song on an album of duets with other singers in 2008.  To reflect the passage of time, she changed the name of the morning news anchor from Bryant Gumbel to Diane Sawyer.  She also changed a reference to children playing “in the streets of Northern Ireland” to the “Streets of Gaza.”  The pathos of the song was unchanged.

[8] Job 1:13-19, 2:7-8

[9]Larrimore, Mark. The Book of Job: A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013, 11

[10] Lowth, Robert. Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Ancient Hebrews. Translated by G. Gregory. 2 vols. London: J. Johnson, 1835, 352

[11] Larrimore, Mark. The Book of Job: A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013, 78

[12] Wikiquote contributors. Epicurus. February 18 , 2014.

[13] There is some argument that the question should properly be attributed to Lactantius.

[14] Mackie’s exact quote is as follows: “In its simplest form the problem of evil is this:  God is omnipotent, God is wholly good; and yet evil exists.”  The terms “Problem of Evil” and “Problem from Evil” are often used interchangeably.  To avoid confusion and because I believe it to be a better descriptor, the term “Problem from Evil” will be used in the paper.

[15] Mackie, J. “Evil and Omnipotence.” In Philosophy of Religion: a Guide and Anthology, by B. Davies, 581.

[16] Bowman, Rob. “How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist.” Credo House Ministries. February 28, 2014.

[17] This claim is made by inference.  Mackie’s book, The Miracle of Theism, in which he advocated an atheistic position, was published soon after his death in 1981.

[18] Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. Zondervan, 2014, 19

[19] Alcorn, Randy. If God is Good. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multonomah Books, 2009, 11

[20] The gravity of suffering should not be lost when considering the views of John Stott, who came to advocate an unbiblical view of Hell as the annihilation of the soul.

[21] Gen 3:4-5

[22] Job 1:8-12

[23] Jn 8:44-45

[24] The forms of these arguments, as presented in this paper, were adapted from Michael L. Peterson’s book, God and Evil

[25] Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith . Downers Groove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011, Kindle Locations 6649-6651

[26] At least in Western thought, they do.

[27] Craig,  Willaim Lane . Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Crossway Books, 2008, 175

[28] Personally, I think that the very concept of gratuitous evil could exist because God wanted to give theology students and Christian apologists a challenging thought exercise.

[29] Peterson, Michael L. God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998, 104

[30] Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978, 48

[31] Craig, William Lane. “The Problem of Evil.” Reasonable Fath. (accessed March 8, 2014).

[32] Sowell, Thomas. A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles. Basic Books, 2007, 4

[33] Here we ignore such activities as cloud-seeding.

[34] Job 1:18-19

[35] This also raises the question, “Is natural evil always really evil?”  The flood of Noah’s day may have seemed like natural evil to those it killed.  However, it was a righteous act directly brought about by God.

[36] Romans 5:12-14

[37] Gen. 3:19

[38] Romans 5:3-5

[39] 1 Pet. 4:12

[40] 1 Pet. 4:19

[41] 1 Pet. 4:15-16

[42] Gen. 1:31

[43] Gen. 2:17

[44] Gen. 3:17

[45] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998, 452

[46] Job 1:38

[47] Isa. 55:8-9

[48] Bannister, Andy. To Everyone an Answer”: Eight Tips for Sharing Your Faith. May 13, 2013.

[49] The Central Intelligence Agency. “”

[50] Ibid

[51] I attribute this idea to Robert Stewart of the New Orleans Theological Seminary

[52] I have read both Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Hitchens’ God is not Great. I will not quote them here but mention that I have read  to show that I am speaking from experience and not hearsay about these men and their books.

[53] 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

[54] Turner, Jerry L., Theodore J. Mock, and Rajendra P. Srivastava. “An Analysis of the Fraud Triangle.” January 2003.

[55] A misstatement is “material” if it concerns a fact which, if known by a reasonable person would change his action.  For example, if the value of a $1,000,000 million dollar asset were misstated by $10, the misstatement would not be considered material to a reasonable person who was considering purchasing it.  If the value of the same asset was misstated by $500,000, the misstatement would certainly be material.  To understand this concept in terms of theology, one can consider the outcomes of Pascal’s “wager” argument as they relate to the existence of God.  For an analysis of Pascal’s “wager” argument see Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman Jr., Faith Has It’s Reasons (NavPress, 2001), 369

[56] Lalchandani, Meena, and Varun Khurana. “Material Mistatements.” Khurana Khurana & Associates, Chartered Accountants.

[57] Rom. 1:18-22, Ps. 14:1

[58] Rev. 20:11-15

[59] Evangelistic and Apologetic Tips from C.S. Lewis. Youtube Video. Produced by NOBTS Apologetics. Performed by Robert Stewart. 2014, 27:24-28:01

[60] Ibid, 31:46-33:41

[61] McRaney Jr., Willaim. The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture. B&H Academic, 2003, 208

[62] Ibid, 37

[63] At least not to most scientific and philosophical laypeople, they aren’t.

[64] Sowell, Thomas. A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles. Basic Books, 2007, 49

[65] 1 Cor. 13:12

[66] Isa. 53:5.

[67] Heb. 4:15

[68] 1 Cor. 15:50-58, Rom. 10:9

[69] Jn. 1:12, 1 Jn 1:9

[70] Rev. 21:4

[71] John 3:16

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