The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is Evil What We Would Expect From a Perfect God?

Although I am as confounded by evil in all of its forms as the next guy, I do think, from a purely intellectual viewpoint, that a case can be made that it is exactly what we would expect from a perfect creator. The way I see it, God had two choices:

  1. Make man perfect from the start
  2. Make him imperfect

Number one, it seems to me, is extremely improbable. It would not allow for development or discovery or virtue, all of which require a backdrop of evil. And if God made the Universe to maximally display His glory, as the traditional church insists, than these three things would have been missing if He made us perfect from the start; hence His glory would not have been demonstrated as fully as it might have been.

This leaves us with number two. It is likely that a perfect God, wishing to maximally display His glory, would have made man imperfect, and thus set the necessary backdrop for a fuller display of His glory. The question then becomes: But why so much evil? And why the kind of evil we see in the world?

I think even these questions have answers. Imagine if God carefully portioned out evil in a precise, orderly fashion, always making sure no-one ever suffered more than they deserved, never allowing people to die in ways that seemed random or capricious. In other words, everyone on the planet lived a reasonably happy life, survived into old age, and then died in bed surrounded by loved ones of a disease that was not excessively painful. Would this really allow for the attributes of Christ to flourish to His glory? Could we have compassion for one who is suffering precisely as much as everyone else? What about forgiveness? If everyone got their just desserts in a quick and obvious way, then there really wouldn’t be much need for forgiveness, would there? And what about patience and courage? Could they be developed without a backdrop of evil? I’m not sure how.

In closing, it seems to me that the fact that evil exists, and the fact that is distributed in a way that appears random and capricious is exactly what we might expect from a perfect Creator who wanted to maximally display His glory. I don’t pretend for one second that this answer is emotionally satisfying, or that it can–or even should–comfort a mother who loses her child in a car wreck. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m only saying I think from an intellectual standpoint, a case could be made that evil must exist in a world where God wishes to maximally display His glory by perfecting creatures into His own image.

That’s not what I’m saying. I’m only saying I think from an intellectual standpoint, a case could be made that evil must exist in a world where God wishes to maximally display His glory by perfecting creatures into His own image.

I agree with many of your points although i’m not quite sure it’s about God maximizing his glory. I think it’s more about , how do we know evil is evil? Simply because we can contrast it with good. How do we know good is good? Same thing, we contrast it with evil. That’s how we know about love and hate, mercy vs indifference or retribution.
Contrast is how we learn most things so unfortunately evil is a necessary thing to learn, as God knew from the beginning.

I agree that it’s not so much about God maximizing His glory. The reason I emphasized that aspect is simply because it’s a tenet of traditional Christian teaching that God acts primarily to demonstrate His glory.

I’ve always found it an interesting teaching of the Calvinists that God somehow maximizes his glory more by eternally damning some than saving all.

Hey Steve! Welcome to the forum. Figured I’d dive right in and offer my thoughts here.

I think, if we assume God wants to create people with free wills (I’m not sure if you’re a believer in it or not), then 1 is impossible. Of course, God could have created humans without the capacity to even be tempted towards evil, but that’s just another way of saying he made it impossible for them to be bad. In other words, they would “necessarily” love God and each other. I don’t think God wants such people - if indeed the word “people” here does not lose meaning entirely.

I do think 2 is a possibility, so long as we do not take “imperfect” to mean a state which is somehow corrupt or in the negative. A perfectly innocent, imperfect state is I think more consistent. Not yet perfect-ED, but not therefore imperfect in the sense of being bad. To an author a blank page is imperfect because it is not complete, not because there are typos on it.

I don’t believe evil or sin is inherent in the notion of us being finite nor that it is necessary to bring about perfect goodness. If that were so, I think God would be metaphysically dependent on evil in such a way that it would be impossible to call him “all-good” and say “in him is no darkness at all.” It seems to me such a view makes God evil himself, its author, and also one who delights in its existence.

I’ve written in detail about this recently and will reproduce my thoughts below for you if interested. Skip to number 2 for thoughts on the existence of evil in particular.

  1. About free will. To me this is an essential part of what it means to be a human and, from a Christian point of view, like God. I think without freedom people lose their humanity and personality. In a way, they lose their “selves” or their own unique causation - their own “this is me” in the world; you could even say their own “soul” if you like. Here’s a thought experiment I’ve found helpful. If you could put a computer chip in your wife’s brain that made her love you perfectly, would you do it? Or if you could put one in your kid’s and he would never make a mistake in school or never disobey you - if indeed the possibility of him doing anything that was disagreeable to you was entirely removed from them - would you do this? If you wouldn’t, why is that?

Free will is a vague term, however. Let me quickly address some points of frequent confusion.

It does not mean an uncaused cause, nor does it equate to this in the end. There is no preceding cause of a free willed act like there is in a set of dominos or in a material set of causes. It is an originating event. To try to ask “what caused the free choice” is simply to beg the question and assume that free will does not exist and that every cause is preceded by a prior cause. But that’s what’s being denied in the first place. It’s no discredit to the argument that it says that nothing prior to the free willed choice caused it. It is an assertion - a belief - just like the materialist determination view (which has damning practical consequences I believe.)

There are, of course, influences on our will. But influence - e.g. in the form of desire, grace, physical/psychological phenomenon, and various things you mentioned - may be present to the nth degree without actually determining anything. Gravity is always influencing us. Would anyone say it determines our acts though? Our freedom is present in varying degrees, depending on the force and amount of influences on us.

Another point, just because we have free will doesn’t mean we’re always exercising it or even that we’re always able to. There must be an opportunity, and that can be absent in some circumstances. It can be taken away if a man’s house catches on fire. There is precious little freedom in his decision to jump out the window. It can also be removed from the alcoholic in the middle of his 9th drink. I don’t believe at that point the man has control of his addiction. I think rather it’s the other way around. But what is of significance here is that our free choices are what oftentimes remove freedom from us. The junkie can’t put down the pipe after he’s been smoking for a half hour. But the next morning when he sobers up, can’t he throw the thing away or check himself into a facility?

I think there is a certain “room” at which God must be from us to allow us to exercise the sort of freedom he finds valuable. I don’t think this freedom is to last forever, though. I think it’s meant to serve as a means by which we become like God - more specifically like Jesus - by “becoming” his sons and daughters. In other words, I think there is a time in which we are fully “built” and freedom gives way to perfection. But I do not think God could have made us like that because in the very idea of perfection there is the notion that it is an “I” or a “person” who has become like Jesus.

This brings me to my second point.

  1. The cause of evil. If God plans all evil and determines it, then it seems to me he is committing evil. Now I know the rebuttal is that he does this for a greater good (I used to hold this), which is the “contrast” it brings about. But we’re forgetting that the Christian God is supposed to be omnipotent. Why does he need evil in his creation to bring more good? Why is it part of his value system - why must it be there? If I told you I had to have one rotten egg in my carton, wouldn’t you look at me like I was nuts? Or put it like this. Imagine God painting a picture and saying to himself, this picture would look much better if there was a horrible spot here and there.

The heart of the matter really goes to question of God’s nature. Is he split down the middle regarding what is evil and what is not? If certain things really ARE evil, then he cannot approve of them. And yet if he created them on purpose, then he is creating what he doesn’t approve of. But if he created them and approved of them in the first place then they’re really good. If God is infinitely perfect and simple and doesn’t have some sort of schizophrenic complex, and if he determined absolutely everything, wouldn’t that mean that nothing that happened was outside or contrary to his will? But then that would mean there is no such thing as evil!

But some say God’s hand is forced to do certain evil things in order to bring about greater goods - he wishes it was otherwise but not even HE can make it such. But just what is this higher value system that God is here appealing to and where does it come from? Doesn’t saying that sort of create another God? So again, I think in the end this amounts to either saying there is no such thing as evil or that God is its author.

  1. I don’t believe God can foreknow contingent acts - e.g. free willed acts - absolutely. I don’t think this detracts from his knowledge because there is nothing to know (except their possibility, which God knows perfectly), nor from his omnipotence because I don’t think God can do the self contradictory (determine a free act or know a thing causally before it happens).

I do, however, believe that God can predict prophecies based on already made free decisions of men and angels. I also think God has determined some things absolutely and others he has left open. (He determined to perfect the universe before he created it, for instance.) I think Jesus was able to predict Peter would deny him because he knew Peter’s heart at the time, and since it is God that must act to bring light to a man’s conscience (or regenerate him, as you say), God had determined not to do so until Peter did deny him. This was not a decision made in a vacuum without regarding Peter’s free choices nor was it made at the time of God’s “decrees”. It was based, I believe, on the fact that Peter already had poorly exercised his freedom (as I believe all hardening is) and as such was used to remediate Peter through guilt and shame, not to determine him to evil.

There are innumerable ways in which man’s freedom affects his own psyche and God’s relation to himself. Sometimes I do think God causes an influx of overwhelming grace where he, as Talbott says, shatters our illusions, or as the Calvinists would say, where he regenerates us and pricks our hearts irresistibly. But I think these moves on God’s part are only small means to a larger end. CS Lewis says somewhere in Screwtape that all Christians start off with the sweet smell of the Gospel. But that scent fades quickly. The scent itself was not the end. It was only there so that when the hard work came there was something to go on.

  1. I don’t see how mercy, forgiveness, or justice can have any meaning in a world that God has totally determined. It would be like me holding my child’s hand and making him color outside the lines. When I let go and he held the picture up to me and I punished him, would I be just? Ah, but I punished him so that he could see the contrast in what it means to be saved from my wrath. I was unjust with him before, and I saved him from my own unjust self. But I’m the same person doing all this to him. Wouldn’t he rather me just not do any of it? Could he even trust or love me? Who’s to say I won’t turn around and smite him later? Further, does it even make sense to say I forgave my son for an act that I caused myself?

Thanks Chrisguy 90 for your comments. I think you hit on a very interesting point. You said that to ask “What causes free will” just presupposes that it doesn’t exist. But let me ask you something, Chris. Why presuppose that it does? Does anything happen without a reason?

I don’t think anything happens without a reason - least of all a free choice. But since choices themselves are initiating events, there are no “prior causes” that logically precede them. That’s like asking “what caused God’s choice of creating the universe?” There is no other cause. That does not mean there is not a reason for the choice’s existence however.

Interesting discussion.
There are no prior causes IFF your definition of free will states that it is ‘uncaused’; and that is not a matter of logic, but of definition, or more accurately, presupposition.

We are getting back to the ‘influence’ or ‘cause’ part of the debate. FWIW, I will stick with my ‘free will enough’ defense. Noone really argues for infinite free will, we all pretty much agree that our FW is finite and therefore limited to some degree. “Free will enough” just says that we ARE free enough to make decisions that are meaningful, and entail responsibility.
Is there anything more than that? We don’t have to go around and around (unless we choose to! :wink:) talking about brain states and identity theories and all manner of scholastic angels-on-a-pinhead sophistry. Not that that isn’t fun sometimes.

The other alternative is materialism/strict determinism - which CS Lewis once called a philosophy for boys. (He said it - don’t shoot the messenger!) :smiley:

What do you mean by “perfect”? Do you mean “flawless” or do you mean “complete”? Or something else?

I suggest that God created man immature, that he had a lot of growing to do. And in order to do it, he was created “in the image of God”, particularly in the aspect of possessing free will (which must also be defined).

My definition of “free will” is as follows:

A person has free will if, having made a choice C at time T, he COULD HAVE chosen “not C” at time T.

I don’t think asking whether “free will” has a cause, is the correct question. Of course, free will has a cause. God caused it when He created man with free will. The question is, “Does every event have a cause?” Again, I would answer in the affirmative. But no event has an infinite chain of causes into the past. God is “the first cause”. But since the advent of free will agents, a free will agent is the first link in a chain of causes. Indeed, every free will agent is precisely that.

Thanks Chris. You ask “What caused God’s creating of the universe?” and suggest it didn’t have a cause other than God’s choice to create. But I don’t agree with that. I’m sure He had a reason to create.

Paidon, I agree. I don’t think God made man perfect. I think He made him weak because “his strength is perfected in weakness”

I think “sin” is TOO readily read into “evil” instead of understanding evil in its most basic form i.e., “calamity”. Thus God’s injunction was simply… “Do as I direct lest a more likely calamitous outcome befall you.” – and all too often it did.

You’re right, Davo. Sin means to miss the mark; evil, however, does not mean that. God does create evil, but He is working it toward a greater good; hence He is not missing the mark–or sinning.

Actually this current, rather ubiquitous concept tends to minimize sin.

There are actually 8 different Greek words for sin in the New Testament. One of these ἁμαρτια, did originally mean “missing the mark”, but it came to mean any kind of wrong doing. When we are shooting at a target and miss the mark, our missing is accidental, but the Greek word ἁμαρτια, is used with reference to deliberate, intentional sinning also. For example, the following passage makes reference to deliberate sin, and yet the word for “sin” in this passage is none other than ἁμαρτια:

… for if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26,27 RSV

Hey, Steve C :slight_smile:

Just wanted you to know I’m enjoying your topic. I haven’t posted because I think so far I don’t have anything to add, but it’s a great topic and I think you and the others are doing an excellent job bringing out many things people have (and have had) questions about. Thanks!

Blessings, Cindy

Thanks, Cindy. May I ask you a question that has nothing to do with the thread? I’m having a hard time responding directly to a person’s replies. I hit the quote button, their quote pops up, but then there’s nothing on that page that allows me to respond. There is a Post a Reply tab on the page, but nothing happens when I click it. What am I doing wrong? Thanks.

Thanks, Paidon. I’m not trying to minimize sin, but I do think it plays a role in God’s plan, and that He created us liable to sin and knowing that we would sin. My only point was that when God “creates evil” He is not sinning; I’m not suggesting that when man does evil HE’S not sinning.

Hi, Steve

I don’t usually quote people by that method, so I tried it out and it worked for me. Push the “quote” button. Type your reply above or below the quote. Hit “submit” at the bottom of the window (or if you prefer, “preview” first). This method quotes the other person’s entire post. There may or may not be a way to quote an excerpt this way. The way I quote excerpts is to copy what I want, then open a reply window, click on the “quote” button above the window, and past my excerpt between the tags (where the cursor has already conveniently been placed for me). If I want multiple excerpts, I just copy the whole thing and put the quote tags around my various quotes as I need them. Anything I don’t want, I delete.

I’ve found sometimes, rarely, the forum does kind of lock up, and then I have to copy/paste my post, back out, and try again.

Or, sometimes someone else will have responded while you were writing, and then you may (or may not) get their responses popping up above your reply window, and a notification that they have said something (in case you’d like to modify your own message). Then you just have to hit “submit” a second time and it should go through.

I hope this helps :slight_smile:

Thanks; I think I’ve got it.

Not quite . . . :wink: I edited your post. If you look at it, I think you’ll see what I did to fix it. Whatever text YOU want to add needs to be OUTSIDE the quote tags. Otherwise it’ll appear as part of the text you’re quoting and people will be confused as to who’s saying what.