John Frame rightly calls the Problem of Evil (POE) “probably the most difficult problem in theology.” Although I believe epistemology to hold that singular honor, Frame’s point is well taken; this is a really hard topic. But not so hard that we should give up. Rather, we look to Scripture for the answer. Frame has done just this and has done it quite excellently in his recent “Systematic Theology” Chapter 14: The Problem of Evil.
Frame puts the POE formally as:
1) If God is omnipotent, he is able to prevent evil.
2) If God is good, he wants to prevent evil.
3) But evil exists,
4) Conclusion: either God is not omnipotent, or he is not good.
But the Christian holds that God is simultaneously good, omnipotent, and (of course) existing. Thus, the claim is made that THIS God cannot exist.
There are a number of excellent points Frame make in this chapter.
1) We must realize a distinction between moral evil and natural evil.
A) Whereas moral evil is the sin of rational creatures (angels and men), natural evil is anything that brings suffering into the lives of those creature (such as earthquakes, floods, and disease).
B) Moral evil came first. It is from Adam and Eve’s disobedience that God cursed the land bringing natural evil into being.
2) There are a number of historical common defenses to the POE.
A) Augustine and some scholastics argued that evil is a privatum (It is something negative, not positive) All being is good, so evil is a nonbeing, not a “something.”
This views suffers from the following problems:
I) It often assumes libertarian freedom which Reformed theologians reject.
II) In this view God is the efficient cause of everything good, but only the “effectually permissive cause of evil.” He “merely permits” evil, because it “has not true being at all.” But (says Frame) I confess that I don’t know the difference between effectual permission and efficient causation, and I don’t know why God should be responsible for what he cause efficiently, but not for what he permits effectually.
III) This view only shifts the POE to different level: why did God choose not to prevent the fall?
IV) This view is not taught in the Bible.
B) The Free-Will defense. In this view (common to many non-Reformed Christians) God risks the possibility of evil to allow human beings the great benefit of libertarian freedom. This view also has a number of issues.
I) Adam was created good, not morally immature with a need to develop character through suffering.
II) the idea that some human pain must be endured in any orderly universe does not take account of the biblical teachings about the prefall world and about the postconsummation heave, in which “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rev 21:4)”
III) This presupposes that the ends justify the means. (perhaps implying that this contrary to Biblical ethics)
Alternatively to these two common Christian defenses Frame supports a variety of the “Greater-good defense” while rejecting free-will (which is another type of the greater-good defense)
1) God certainly does will evil for a good purpose.
2) However, God is not to be blamed for evil. He can be said to will, ordain, or even “author” evil, so long as “author” is understood as not putting blame on him but only realize his place as the ultimate (or original cause) and not the proximate (or final) cause.
3) We are unable to justify God’s action in each particular instance and it’s calling for too much when we are so asked.
4) Although we may reverently ask God why he brings suffering into our lives, we have no right ever to bring accusations against him.
5) Sometimes God does not respond by silencing us, but by showing us in some measure what evil contributes to his plan.