Overview of Solutions to the Problem of Evil

The existence of evil in the world blights the lives of all human beings. Humans face many evils during their lives. There are moral evils, such as pride, lying, stealing, cheating, cursing, adultery, malicious talk, etc. There are physical evils too, such as poverty, illness, pains, tornados, earthquakes, famines, floods, and death. In addition, the existence of evil is an acute intellectual problem for Christians who claim that God is the Creator who is all-loving and all-powerful. The resolutions to the intellectual problems of evil have varied widely. It is helpful to have an outline of the various solutions that have been proffered to explain evil’s existence

1. Evil is just a fact of the universe.

This is generally the response of atheism to the problem of evil. Atheists face evil squarely and see it for all its tragedy and find its existence repulsive. They believe that reality is limited to the physical universe and that evil is just a fact of our earthly existence. For atheism, evil’s existence is incompatible with the Christian view of a deity. It is entirely the responsibility of human beings to alleviate as much evil as possible.  There is no deity to save humans from the suffering and evils of this life.

2. Evil is a manifestation of the struggle between two or more deities.

Manichæns believed there were two Principles in eternal conflict.1 The King of Light battles with the King of Darkness, and this conflict explains the presence of evil. Polytheism believes there are a multitude of gods who don’t act in concert, so there is disharmony or evil in the universe. By contrast, peaceful harmony would be expected, if one God were all-powerful and all-good and who is the creator and sole ruler of the universe.  For a polytheists, the existence of evil argues against monotheism.

3. Evil shows that God is not all-powerful.

Since the universe is finite, it is possible that a finite God created this universe.  A finite God may desire to eliminate evil, but he is not capable of controlling everything in the universe. Hence, evil exists in spite of his wishes.  God is not able to eliminate evil, simply because he is not all-powerful (omnipotent).

4. Evil shows that God is not all-good.

In stead being limited in divine power, God is finite with respect to his goodness. God is omnipotent but not omnibenevolent. Since God is not all loving, God allows the existence of evil because he has no desire to extinguish it. Since he is all-powerful, he could prevent all evil. However, since God is not all-good, he allows evil to exist.

5. Evil is a mystery.

The presence of evil in the world cannot be understood by finite human reasoning. Its existence is a divine mystery, and human reason should not attempt to fathom its divine obscurity. God commands us to believe and not to probe what is unintelligible to the human mind.

6. Evil is necessary for our testing.

Life has to be filled with trials and temptations, because our future reward depends upon our perseverance in trials and overcoming the temptations to do evil. Evil is an unfortunate necessity to provide for humanity’s trials and temptations. 

7. Evil is necessary to make us enjoy heaven more.

Suffering life’s evils will make heaven seem all the more glorious. The blessed would not appreciate the felicity of glory unless they had suffered from life’s trials and temptations. Evil serves a vital purpose for humanity to make the beatific vision more glorious. The purpose of evil is centered in the good it does for the blessed. 

8. Evil is necessary to glorify and magnify God.

Evil is a necessary element in creation to provide a backdrop to glorify and magnify God. Because, if there were no evil, then God’s mercy, grace, justice, forbearance, and compassion would never be known. Hence, it was necessary for God cause evil to provide the greatest and fullest display of His attributes. In stead of evil serving a purpose for the blessed, evil is in the service of God to manifest his glory, majesty, and divine sovereignty. This view is discussed further here. Click

9. Evil is an illusion.

Evil is not a reality in the universe. It is an illusion, and humanity blindly accepts its existence due to their ignorance of the good nature of all things. The Christian Science religion hold this view. In addition, pantheism believes that everything flows out of god (ex deo) and is a manifestation of god. Since all is god, evil is impossible. Due to ignorance, humans subjectively feel there is evil in the universe. Through the teachings of pantheism, a person can overcome the illusion of evil’s existence.

10. Evil in this life is the result of a prior existence.

An important concept of reincarnation is that events in this life have their causation in a prior life. In other words, what we reap in terms of good and evil in this life is what was sown in a prior life. Clearly, people are not blessed equally, and they do not suffer equally. The source for this disparity resides in their prior life. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Janism teach different varieties of Karma.

11. Evil is necessary to attain the best possible world.

God always does the best possible, simply because he is God. Hence, this world is the best possible world that God could create. In some way, evil was necessary to achieve this best of all possible worlds. Just as a painter needs to use some black coloring to add clarity and depth to his painting, so God had to use some evil to create the best world. Up close a black stroke might look dark and foreboding, but it adds to the over-all beauty of the painting from the perspective of the painter. Likewise, if a person’s stands right next to a snare drummer, the person may get a headache. Yet, if the person were to listen to the musical score from where the audience listens, it would be enjoyable and inspiring music. This view is defended in G.W. Leibniz’s book, Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God and the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil.2

12. Evil is caused by choices of free-willed of creatures.

This view holds that God is not the efficient cause of evil. Rather, God’s role is limited to permitting the possibility of evil without causing it. Evil exists through the free choice of rational creatures, such as humans and angels. Saint Augustine developed this viewpoint in his book, De libero arbitrio voluntatis (On the Free Choice of the Will).3 He felt that this view was compatible with Christian theism in that it maintained the infinite goodness as well as the infinite power of God. He taught that God created human beings with rational minds that could make rational choices. It was good that God created humans with rational thought, because they could then love and intelligently serve God. However, it entailed the possibility of evil, but the evil would be the responsibility of human beings because they were the ones who choose to do evil. For example, parents allow their teenagers to go skiing on the slopes of mountains, so they can enjoy the excitement of skiing, the beauty of the snow, and the splendor of the mountains. Yet, skiing allows the possibility of broken bones. It is not the purpose of the parents to have one of their teenager’s break a bone. The teenager is responsible to ski carefully so as to avoid injury. So, God created humans with the wonder of rational thought and choice, so that they could freely fellowship, commune, worship and love their Creator. Yet, this entailed the possibility that humans would sin and bring evil into God’s good creation.

Conclusion

No doubt, there are other attempts to offer a solution to the problem of evil in the world. Those mentioned above give a sense of the wide variety of answers as a rationale for the existence of evil in the world.


1 From Catholic Encyclopedia: Manichæism.  For further information on the topic of Manichæism, see the on-line article on Manichæism in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

2 Liebniz, G.W.,  Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God and the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil, Open Court, La Salle, IL, 1985, pp. 448.  For a one paragraph explanation of this view, see Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1974, reprinted 1991, p. 33.

3 Saint Augustine, On the Free Choice of the Will, Open Court, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, NY, 1964, pp. 162.