Skip to main content

The Problem of Evil

“Whoever reflects on the origin of sin cannot engage himself in a merely theoretical dispute; rather, he is engaged, intimately and personally, in what can only be called the problem of sin’s guilt” (Sin, p. 14, emphasis original).
Berkouwer has made a significant contribution to the discussion of the problem of evil. He emphasizes that the problem of evil has not been dealt with adequately when an intellectual decision has been made concerning the relative intellectual merits of theism and atheism. He insists that the problem of evil is a thoroughly existential problem, which confronts every one of us at the very centre of our being. We are sinners. This is the problem of evil. When we see the existential character of the problem of evil, we become aware that we must deal with a problem which is far more serious and and comprehensive than the problem of evil, primarily conceived as an intellectual issue involved in the theism – atheism debate. Whatever we may think about the intellectual debate between theism and atheism, each of us must face the the problem of evil as our own personal problem. It is this personal problem which calls for a confession of our sin and a prayer for God’s forgiveness – “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Berkouwer offers to us a perceptive and penetrating distinction between a “particular guilt” and an “abstract theory.” He insists that “Any ‘causal’ explanation… can only be seen, in the practice of living, as an ‘indisputable’ excuse” (Sin, p.14).
We dare not concern ourselves with the question, “Where did evil come from? ” if we refuse to take seriously the call to confess our own sin and seek God’s forgiveness. As we think about the problem of evil, we must remember “The Biblical A Priori” (Sin, Chapter Two, pp. 27-66) – God is not the Author of our sin. We must affirm the goodness of God and confess our own sinfulness. When this dual emphasis on the goodness of God and our own sinfulness is regarded  as a theodicy (John Hick speaks of “The Augustinian Type of Theodicy”, Evil and the God of Love, Part II – pp. 43-204), the word, “theodicy”, needs to be understood in a particular way. When we speak thus of theodicy, we must be careful not to make an overestimation of human reason – our own capacity to fully “justify the ways of God to men” (N. H. G. Robinson, “Theodicy”, in A Dictionary of Christian Theology, edited by A. Richardson, p. 335). Wherever reason is given a central place in our thinking, there is always the danger of seeking to justify ourselves to God (From a strict Augustinian point of view, it is arguable that this is what Hick has done in Evil and the God of Love, Part IV, “A Theodicy for Today”).  Berkouwer is cautious of bringing the idea of theodicy into his theology. He speaks of “The Problem of Theodicy” (The Providence of God,  Chapter VIII, pp. 232-275). We need to look closely at both the method of natural theology and the 'God' of natural theology.
Theodicy and the Method of Natural Theology
Emphasizing that, apart from revelation, empirical reality is confusing, Berkouwer writes, “The basic problem of theodicy is defined by the manner in which one approaches reality ... One cannot mount from deduction of human reason ... reality can only be known through … revelation. The Light that illuminates the world is found only in faith … any attempt to approach God from the basis of empirical reality … (is), in spite of its apologetic intent, worthlesss and unacceptable. Instead of preparing the way for fruitful conversation … theodicy only suggests that we try again to reach God by way of natural understanding” (The Providence of God, pp. 249-250).
Theodicy and the “God” of Natural Theology
Berkouwer points out that the problem with theodicy’s close association with the method of natural theology is increased by its close association with the “God” of natural theology – “the fact, that one in theodicy usually concludes with an empty, abstract God concept is already a judgment against this method” (The Providence of God,  p. 250. Note the word “usually”. There is here no hint of an absolute necessity.)
Berkouwer emphasizes that we do not replace a man-centred theodicy with an abstract notion of divine sovereignty (A Half Century of Theology, pp. 90-92, 177). He calls us to affirm our faith in the God of revelation, the God who has revealed His goodness in the justification of sinners. (The Providence of God,  254, 233). God’s revelation of redemption is, for the believer, the foundation of a truly Biblical “theodicy”; “it is nowhere more obvious that the notion of God as auctor et causa peccati (author and cause of sin) is an utter blasphemy than in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ” (Sin, p. 42, emphasis original, brackets mine). When we understand Christ’s statement, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, cited in The Providence of God, p. 256), we  will have no difficulty understanding that God is good. As sinners, we look away from ourselves  to Jesus Christ, our holy and loving Saviour. As we look to Him, we learn that the justification of God by man is found in the justification of man by God. The Gospel is God’s answer to the problem of evil. We come with our question: What are we to make of the problem of evil? God comes to us with His answer. It is His work of redemption. The Gospel is the Christian’s “theodicy.” The Gospel provides the proper context for affirming that God is good In His dealing with sinners.

Popular posts from this blog

Before the creation, there is the Creator .... (Genesis 1:1-12:9)

Genesis 1:1-2:3
Before the creation, there is the Creator.
* He is the chief focus of attention in the Bible’s first chapter. Wherever we look in Genesis 1, we see the word, God. This is about Him. Genesis 1 speaks about us. It tells us where we have come from. We have come from God. He is our Creator. Take away God, and our life has no meaning, no purpose, no direction.
* Move on from the Bible’s first chapter. Read the rest of Genesis, the rest of the Old Testament,the rest of the Bible. What do you find? The Bible is a Book about God. It’s not only a Book about God. It’s a Book that has been given to us by God. It’s His Word.
* What about our faith and our life? Our faith comes to us from God. Our life has been given to us by God. We are to put our faith in God. We are to live our life for God.
* “God said, Let there be light, and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). The light of God’s love and holiness. “He created us in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). Created by God - lov…

Leviticus 15 - 27

Leviticus 15:1-16:34  Each of us is unclean before God. Each of us needs Christ, who has given Himself as "a sin offering" to "make atonement" for us (Leviticus 16:16). Christ is the perfect Saviour, who "bears all our iniquities" (Leviticus 16:22). Concerning His great sacrifice for us, the Word of God says, "On this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord" (Leviticus 16:30).
Leviticus 17:1-18:30 Through the shed blood of Christ, we have peace with God and eternal life (Leviticus 17:11; Romans 5:1-2,8-10). We have received new life in Christ. Now, we are to leave the way of the behind us. We are to live e a new life as those who belong to the Christ (Leviticus 18:1-5; Romans 6:12-14; Romans 12:1-2).
Leviticus 19:1-37 Again and again, we read the words, "I am the Lord your God", or, more simply, "I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:3-4,10,12,14,16,18,25,2…

God continues to carry forward His great purpose of salvation.

Genesis 16:1-16
We move from salvation and the assurance of salvation to Satan and the activity of Satan. Sarai came with temptation - "Why don't you sleep with my slave? Maybe I can build a family through her." Abram gave in to temptation -"Abram agreed with Sarai (Genesis 16:2). The evil influence of Sarai continued: "Sarai mistreated Hagar so much that she ran away" (Genesis 16:6). When we read of Satan and his activity, we must not imagine, for a moment, that Satan wins the victory over the Lord and His purpose of salvation. This becomes clear as the story develops. The Lord's purpose will not be thwarted by the activity of Satan. The "Almighty Lord" will be victorious. This chapter ends with the birth of Ishmael. It is not a high- point in the purpose of God. It is a sign that Satan is trying to overthrow God and His gracious purpose. This leads to a 13-year gap in God's speaking to Abraham (Genesis 16:16-17:1), but that…