Wait a minute. Before we get to Jesus, I just realized a problem with the whole idea of God Himself. You tell me that God is all-powerful and I know you believe He's good. But then, what about evil? An all-powerful and all‑good God wouldn't permit evil to exist, and even if it did exist temporarily, He would destroy it. If God existsthe God you believe in-then why is there evil?
That's a good question. Actually, Jesus has a lot to do with our answer to this problem. But for the moment, let's handle it just on the logical level.
What we Christians must show is that the proposition »God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good« is logically compatible with the proposition »There is evil in the world.« One way to do this is to show that there is some third proposition that is compatible with the first and that implies the second. In other words, we can show that A is compatible with B, no matter how incompatible they at first appear, if we can show that C is compatible with A and implies B.
What I'd like to suggest as that third statement is, »It would be morally better for God to create a world containing morally free beings than for Him to create a world without them.«
I don't see how that ties the first two together at all.
I don't blame you. It isn't immediately apparent how this works. Let's look into this proposition, »It would be morally better for God to create a world containing morally free beings than for Him to create a world without them,« and see just what is implied in it.
The key question is, 'What is a morally free being?" The answer is that a morally free being is a being that is free to do either good or evil at any given timenothing forces him to do one thing or the other. This means it is always possible for a morally free being to do evil.
So, if it is truly better for God to create a world with morally free beings, then it is better for God to create a world with the possibility of evil than a world without that possibility.
Okay, but why is it better to be morally free than not?
You tell me. You're morally free. That means people can praise you for doing good and blame you for doing evil. A hammer isn't morally free. If someone uses it to do something evil, no one condemns the hammer; if someone uses it to do something good, no one praises the hammer, either. Now, which would you prefer: to be yourself, capable of right and wrong and so susceptible to praise or blame, or to be the hammer, capable of neither right nor wrong, and so susceptible to neither praise nor blame?
Okay, Id rather be myself than a hammer. Ill grant it's better to be morally free than not.
Good. Now, if God is morally good, and if it is better to create a world with morally free beings than without them, then if God creates anything He should create a world with morally free beings. But such a world is a world in which evil is possible. That means that our first proposition (Gods exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good) is compatible with a third (It is better to create a world with morally free beings than without them) which entails at least the possibility of our second proposition (There is evil in the world). This means God's existence and the reality of evil are not logically contradictory to each other. They are compatible.
But why doesn't God destroy all evil and prevent its returning?
He could, of course, but in so doing He would be destroying morally free creatures. And God could have created a world in which evil was impossible; but then He would have to have created a world without morally free creatures. The only alternative to a morally good world that contains evil is not a morally good world that contains no evil but a morally neutral world that contains neither good nor evil. Such a world, of course, wouldn't contain us. So which do you prefer: a world that contains you, or a world that doesn't?
A world that contains me. I see your point. I guess God and evil are compatible. But just why would God have permitted evil? What purpose is there in it?
First of course it was the only way to create a morally good world. But what was His purpose for evil? Christians believe evil serves a number of purposes, all consistent with God's plan for the world and, especially, for individual people.
One purpose is to occasion certain moral goods that could never come about without evil. One can never forgive someone without someone's doing something evil, right? Forgiveness is one of the highest moral goods, but it is a moral good that could never come about without evil. One could not have mercy without someone's doing something evil that deserved punishment. One cannot have compassion for those who suffer without someone's suffering, and compassion is also a very high virtue. These and other goods all depend for their existence and expression on the existence of evil. So God permits evil in part so that greater goods can occur than could ever occur without it.
Christianity says there is one even higher good that could never have occurred without evil: God's voluntary sacrifice of Himself to bear punishment for us. Think what kind of act gets the highest praise among men. Isn't it when someone voluntarily sacrifices his life in order to save the lives of others? Such self‑sacrifice is a tremendous good. The greatest such sacrifice was when God sacrificed His life in the Person of Jesus Christ to save the lives of all who believe in Jesus.
This doesn't make sense to me. Why was such a sacrifice necessary? What do you mean by God's having saved the lives of those who believe in Jesus? What did they need to be saved from?
They needed to be saved from two kinds of evil: sin and suffering. Christianity says all men are sinners-we all do evil. The possibility of our doing evil is entailed in our being morally free. The reality of it we see in our own lives and in the lives of others.
Justice requires that evil be punished. Punishment involves suffering. But suffering is a kind of evilan evil of one kind brought on by another. So the problem for God was how to satisfy the demands of His justice and, at the same time, to deliver people from suffering His punishment upon evil. This He did by becoming man in Jesus and then suffering for our sins in our place.