Problem solved? Not really. If we want an omni-benevolent God, we must somehow find a way to exonerate Him from His own creation.
Having a few thousand years to ponder this problem, mankind has come up with a few explanations, the most popular one being that “Evil is necessary for free will.” Here are a few reasons why I think this explanation sucks:
1) Why create something that will result in evil?
First and foremost, why would a benevolent God want to tarnish His reputation by creating anything evil? If there was a time when evil did not exist, an all-good God should pass on any plans that would require the creation of evil and suffering.
Why would God create us if he knew the majority of us would end up in hell (Matthew 7:13)? As David Bazan poetically put it in his song When We Fell, “When you set the table and when you chose the scale, did you write a riddle that you know they would fail? … If you knew what would happen and made us just the same, then you, my lord, can take the blame.”
If evil is the only way to have free will, how did Satan (and his angels) choose to become evil while in heaven? Either there was evil in heaven, or evil is not a prerequisite to free will.
3) Wait… do we even have free will?
The free will explanation presupposes free will exists. But how can we have the free will to love God while He threatens us with hell? It’s as if God is holding a knife to our throat, saying “I love you soooo much, and you don’t have to love me back, but if you don’t you will suffer!” How is this free will? Free will should be as non-threatening as “Vanilla or chocolate?” not “Your money or your life!” This seems more like coercion than free will.
And there are several other philosophical objections to free will (e.g. determinism):
How can God be truly all-powerful if He doesn’t have power over our actions?
Are we free agents, or is our every decision merely the cumulative result of causes, experiences and cultural influences?
How can God create the game, the rules, the players, and even the religion we’re born into, and then claim He had nothing to do with the end result?
I suppose the ultimate in free will would be if God granted us the power to destroy Him, and we freely choose not to. Instead, He chose to create us well beneath Him, and asks us to plead for forgiveness and mercy.
4) Then why gratuitous evil?
Wouldn’t a good God use only the minimum amount of evil necessary? Why design things like viruses, or the food chain, or pain? Why cause innocent children to suffer and die? Isn’t this unnecessary cruelty?
“We can’t know the reason, but maybe evil is for some greater good.” If the majority of people will be tossed into hell anyway, what greater good could there possibly be?
“An eternity in Heaven will make up for it!” This is like arguing that if a man rapes a woman, He is no longer guilty if he gives her enough money. What he did was still wrong, regardless of how he tries to compensate for it after the fact.
What would we expect to see if evil were necessary and God were good?
In other words, the world free from all natural evils such as viruses, harmful bacteria, natural disasters, cancer, famine, genetic defects, aches and pains, disease and even aging (beyond adulthood). There would also be no animal suffering or food chain.
All evil would be purely man-made: war, fighting, rape, murder, theft, slavery, racism, terrorism, pollution, and TV shows like Jersey Shore. This kind of environment would support the conclusion that God cares for us, and that we only suffer as a result of our own evil desires. Whenever and wherever people begin to obey God’s commandments, we would find these areas returning to a peaceful Eden-like paradise. The world might even still be considered “fallen,” because evil can still exist if we choose to cause it, but it always stems from us, not God.
We still might question why a good God would create men who do evil, or why He would create a world where such evil was possible, but this kind of creation would testify to a good God, even if He never made Himself visible to us. So perhaps the question we should be asking is, why don’t we observe a world like this?
So why does God allow evil? Well, that’s a pretty loaded question, it assumes that God exists and He doesn’t desire evil. But if that were true, we might expect a very different world.
When I look around and observe all the evil that exists in the world, it testifies to me that God is either nonexistent or not benevolent. Romans 1:20 tells us that we can clearly see God’s nature in His creation, but what I see is a creation that isn’t anywhere as near as good as a loving God could’ve created it to be. So if it turns out God is good, then His creation has bore false witness against Him, and as a result, it has led me to draw incorrect conclusions about Him.
But if it turns out God doesn’t exist, then He isn’t to blame for the world’s evils and there is no logical absurdity to be reconciled. The world is just the way it is because of natural forces, and what we label “evil” is just our way of saying “That’s something that didn’t need to happen,” or “I hope that never happens to me.”
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?