Problem of evil

The problem of evil, sometimes described with the term theodicy, is an aspect of theology concerned with how to reconcile the existence of a good God with the existence of evil in the world. In general, theodicy addresses the "problem of evil" and an attempted theory of reconciliation is sometimes called theodicy. Several such theories include the unknown purpose defense, which suggests that suffering exists for a reason that is beyond our comprehension; the free will defense, which suggests that God allows evil to preserve human free will; and the soul-making theodicy, which suggests that God uses evil to build character.


Origin of the term

The term theodicy comes from the Greek (theós, "god") and ( dík?, "justice"), and has to do with justifying the goodness of God and understanding his sovereignty with the existence of evil in the world. The term was coined in 1710 by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) in a work entitled Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil. The purpose of the essays was to show that the evil in the world does not conflict with the goodness of God, and that, notwithstanding its many evils, this world is the best of all possible worlds.

Sovereignty and goodness

The issue for many is expressed by the question, "How can God be truly good, sovereignly in control of all that happens, and yet allow the evil so evident in the world?" Often, the answer is forced by an either-or approach as seen by Harold Kushner in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1983, ISBN 0380603926). In the presence of the evil we see around us, Kushner contends that either God is sovereign and therefore not truly good, or he is truly good and not sovereign with regard to mankind and its circumstances. His conclusion (as might be expected) is that God is indeed good, and therefore cannot really be in control of this world or what happens in people's lives.

Suggested solutions

Charles Hodge

According to Hodge, the best method of dealing with this question is:

"to rest satisfied with the simple statements of the Bible. The Scriptures teach, (1) That the glory of God is the end to which the promotion of holiness, and the production of happiness, and all other ends are subordinate. (2) That, therefore, the self-manifestation of God, the revelation of his infinite perfection, being the highest conceivable, or possible good, is the ultimate end of all his works in creation, providence, and redemption. (3) As sentient creatures are necessary for the manifestation of God's benevolence, so there could be no manifestation of his mercy without misery, or of his grace and justice, if there were no sin.

"As the heavens declare the glory of God, so He has devised the plan of redemption, " To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God," (Eph. 3:10). The knowledge of God is eternal life. It is for creatures the highest good. And the promotion of that knowledge, the manifestation of the manifold perfections of the infinite God, is the highest end of all his works. This is declared by the Apostle to be the end contemplated, both in the punishment of sinners and in the salvation of believers. It is an end to which, he says, no man can rationally object.

"What if God, willing to shew his wrath (or justice), and to make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory," (Rom. 9:22, 23). Sin, therefore, according the Scriptures, is permitted, that the justice of God may be known in its punishment, and his grace in its forgiveness. And the universe, without the knowledge of these attributes, would be like the earth without the light of the sun." [1]


At one point Augustine "believed that evil [was] a kind of material substance" (Confessions, 5:10); however, he came to believe that evil was not real: "[it] has no existence except as a privation of good" (ibid, 3:7). Furthermore, "whatever things exist are good, and the evil into whose origins I was inquiring is not a substance, for if it were a substance, it would be good... evil does not exist at all" (ibid., 7:7-8). As a "privation" of good, evil is that which is the absence of good.

Augustine consequently attributed the problem of evil in the world to the Fall of humanity after the disobedience in the Garden of Eden and thus the depravity of man. Accordingly, this not only absolves God of creating evil but also allows Him to show the world His love by bringing Christ into the world. (Cf. Confessions, 4:24, 5:20, 7:4)

Gordon Clark

In his God and Evil: The Problem Solved (see below), Gordon Clark shows us that standing on the rock foundation of the Word of God (Matthew 7:24,25), we have an answer to the theodicy issue. It is all a matter of one’s epistemic base. With the Bible as the axiomatic starting point, the existence of evil is really not the problem it is made out to be. God, who is altogether holy and who can do no wrong, sovereignly decrees evil things to occur for his own good purposes (Isaiah 45:7). And just because he decreed it, it is right. See excerpts Here.

The Atheistic conclusion

British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, "No one can believe in a good God if they've sat at the bedside of a dying child". [2] Hence, in this view, evil is evidence that there is no God, unless one would postulate a God that is not good.

The unfortunate reality is that the atheist can take no comfort in such a heart-wrenching situation, for in a godless existence suffering is ultimately meaningless. In Russell's own words, "Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure dooms falls pitiless and dark" (Philosophical Essays, 1910).


  • Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross: An Analytical Look at the Problem of Pain (Kregel, 1994)
  • John Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil (Crossway, 2004)
  • Gordon H. Clark, God and Evil: The Problem Solved (The Trinity Foundation, 1996).
  • Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation (The Trinity Foundation, 1986 [1961]).

See also