The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil

Hamartiology: (Theodicy)


The problem of evil is an issue that we all have faced in some way or fashion in our lives at some point.  Elwell states, “The phrase ‘the problem of evil’ is actually a label for a series of such problems involving good and evil.”[1]  We are sometimes faced with the question of why the righteous suffer or why the innocent suffer.  In search for an answer we are faced with the evil that subjects the suffering that is inflicted upon the righteous and innocent.  This evil can be best described as moral evil and natural evil. Dowling states, “Moral evil refers to the exercise of human freedom and free will to deliberately inflict pain, cause harm, and destroy wholeness; whereas, natural evil, on the other hand, refers to unpredictable phenomena beyond human control, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and all forms of “natural disasters,” that result in catastrophes of epic proportions.”[2] In other words, moral evil refers to things we do as humans like the things we create the atom bomb and use it on other humans.  Natural evil can be best explained by the natural disasters and the negative effects that they leave on us and the environment.  Why does God allow this to happen?  To explain this we use theodicy.  Dowling defines theodicy as, “the attempt to reconcile the existence of God and the reality of evil, from two Greek words meaning God (theos) and righteousness (dike).”[3]  When we look at theodicy we must understand that it must not be internally contradictory.  In order to attain this it must demonstrate six main points.  This six points are pointed out by Elwell: “one, a logical consistency of a theological position; two, relevant to the problem of evil it addresses; three, relevant to the specific theology it addresses; four, is intellectually interesting only for theologies that incorporate a notion of God’s omnipotence according to which he may do any logically consistent thing; five, most adopt a particular axiom with regard to moral agency and moral blameworthiness; six, most attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction by arguing, that God, in spite of his omnipotence, cannot remove evil.”[4]  By using these six points you can help your theodicy to remain internally consistent.  It is important to remain internally consistent because without doing so it would allow flaws.  You could not utilize a free-will defense with a 5-point Calvinist theology because theologically you would be internally inconsistent.  The third point is utilized to show you this example where your theology must be relevant to the theodicy.   When we look at the problem of evil from a philosophical point we see it as basic as some people every day in their question, “If God is all powerful and all knowing, then how can he allow such evil?”  Some people will use this point to illustrate that there is no God and that the existence of evil is proof of no God.  We live in a day in time where some of the worst natural disasters are:  “2010 Haiti earthquake (death toll:316,000); 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (death toll: 230,000); 2008 Tropical Cyclone Nargis (death toll: 146,000); 2005 Kashmir earthquake (death toll: 86,000); 2008 Sichuan earthquake (death toll: 69,197);  2010 Russian heat wave (death toll: 56,000); 2003 Iran earthquake (death toll: 43,000); 2003 European heat wave (death toll: 40,000); 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami (death toll: 18,400); 2001 Gujarat earthquake (Death toll: 19,727).”[5]  These natural evil disasters are not as well highlighted in America as some moral evil disasters as high school and college campus shootings.  In either case, we are left wondering why God?  Having been faced with trying to address this issue many times in my own faith, I have found myself leading others to where I best have gotten my own answers; in the book of Habakkuk.  Habakkuk was a prophet that cried out to the Lord for help.  He asked the Lord why and the Lord answered him.  So I encourage you to pick up your Bible and turn to Habakkuk and read about this amazing prophet and his conversation with God.


[1] Walter A. Elwell et al., ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001).
[2] Elizabeth M. Dowling and W. George Scarlett, eds., Encyclopedia of Religious and Spiritual Development (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006).
[3] Ibid.
[4] Elwell et al., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:Second Edition.
[5] Sidrah Zaheer, 10 Worst Natural Disasters of 21st Century, (accessed January, 2013).

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