In light of the problem of evil, how do we know God is good?

I have been married to my wife for 7 years. If ever I looked at a person and saw someone who loved Jesus, it would be my wife. Her words, actions, behavior, and heart reflect the grace of God in so many ways.

Lately, however, her faith in God has been deeply shaken and she is on the verge of denouncing her allegiance to Jesus. Her struggles somewhat revolve around the problem of evil, but really go much deeper than God just wanting to create beings with free will.

The question is, how do we know with certainty that the God which exists is morally perfect and trustworthy given the problem of evil? How do we know God’s purposes are good and trustworthy?

Sure, scripture tells us he is. And perhaps it’s even true that the authors in scripture were convinced of God’s goodness. But it doesn’t follow that he actually is good or trustworthy – and scripture is by and large where we conclude God’s goodness.

It doesn’t seem necessary that the existence of a creator deity also be morally perfect and trustworthy. And to create a world where the problem of evil exists so profoundly seems to put God in a box – as if creating a world where humans are “robots,” forced to be a certain way -or- a world where humans have free will but the vast majority of people will die and be separated from God for eternity were his only two options.

If God is as Anselm defines him, being maximally great, all powerful, all knowing, and morally perfect, then it seems arrogant to assume he was limited in options when he created us? Surely, there were other options.

I am of the belief that the only logical conclusion is that’s the way it *had* to be for God to achieve his morally perfect and holy objective. But again, that assumes God is morally perfect and trustworthy.

Thank you in advance for your wisdom and insight.

Oftentimes the best first step in approaching the problem of evil is to point out that Christianity offers what no other worldview can possibly offer, a personal answer to the problem of evil.  Islam portrays a God who stands beyond all pain and suffering, Hinduism portrays an ultimate reality that is impersonal and indifferent to our pain, and atheism portrays a world in which our pain and suffering are meaningless.  Christianity is the only worldview that offers a personal answer: that God himself has joined us in our suffering in the person of Jesus Christ.  Whatever God’s reasons are for permitting suffering in our world, he has not exempted himself from it.  In Jesus, God has joined us in our suffering and he himself suffers with us.  I think that’s marvelous.  There is also a caution here as well.  If we reject God on the basis of our pain or our suffering, we are not left with an answer to that pain but rather we are left without any possibility of an answer.

There were also a few statements you made that may be points of disagreement and which may hold intellectual answers to your question.

“scripture is by and large where we conclude God’s goodness”

It is certainly true that scripture depicts God as morally good, but this is not the only way we can know that God is good.  Consider the Moral Argument for God’s Existence.  This argument shows that God is, himself, the very standard for moral goodness.  God is not just morally perfect in the sense that he is without flaw, he is himself the very standard of perfection.  Things are good or evil based on whether they conform to or conflict with God’s moral character.  Thus if you believe that there really is a problem of evil there must be an objective standard for goodness by which something may be judged as “evil”.  God is this objective standard.  If one denies God, then they deny that there is such a standard, and thus there is no evil.  If your wife really believes that there is a problem of evil in the world, then that belief entails the existence of a morally perfect God.  Thus the right answer when confronted with evil is not to reject God, but to be assured of God’s existence and perhaps even to place our hope in him.

“It doesn’t seem necessary that the existence of a creator deity also be morally perfect and trustworthy”

Consider the question, “Could it ever be morally good to torture a child for fun?”  Such a question is unthinkable because we recognize that there is no possible way in which our world could be that such an act would be morally good.  This thought experiment shows us that moral truths are necessary truths.  That is to say that what is morally good must be good and what is morally evil must be evil.  If what is morally good must be good, then what is the standard for goodness must be the standard for goodness.  Thus God must be morally perfect and good, and thus it is necessarily true that God is worthy of our trust.

“If God is as Anselm defines him, being maximally great, all powerful, all knowing, and morally perfect, then it seems arrogant to assume he was limited in options when he created us?”

Consider what you have suggested here.  You have suggested that God may do logically contradictory things.  If that is the case, then the problem you have presented evaporates.  If your claim is that God cannot exist in a world where evil exists, but that God can do the logically contradictory, then God can bring it about both that God and evil coexist despite it being impossible that they coexist.  Surely such a state of affairs would be irrational, but if your claim is that God can bring about the irrational then it doesn’t seem that there is a problem here.

Theologians do not consider irrationality to be a moral perfection, and thus a maximally great being will not be an irrational being.  We should expect, therefore, that God will be rational.  In fact there is an argument from logic similar to the moral argument mentioned above in which logic itself is grounded in the very mind of God.  How can there be a world in which God thinks in a way contradictory to the way God thinks?  If logic really is the way that God thinks, then logic will apply to all possible worlds since God exists in all possible worlds.

Additionally we need to understand the problem of “referent” when it comes to logically impossible acts.  When I say, “The sun is in the sky,” my statement refers to the “sun”, the “sky”, and their relationship to one another.  The statement has a referent and thus is a meaningful statement.  When we refer to logically contradictory acts, however, the act does not and cannot ever occur.  There is literally no referent.  So if we ask the question, “Can God make someone freely choose to believe in him?” the question is nonsensical.  There is no such action as forcing a free choice and thus the question has no referent.  It can neither be true nor false since there is no reality to which it confirms or fails to confirm.  The question itself is nonsense, not even rising to the level of being “true” or “false”.

“how do we know with certainty”

Is your wife married to you?  I’m sure she would say that she is.  How can she know this with certainty?  Isn’t it possible that she has been in some sort of accident many years ago and has been in a dream state within a coma ever since?  However improbable that is, if it is possible then it is not certain that it is false.  If your wife cannot even know with certainty the question, “Who is my husband?” then how can she expect certainty in any of her beliefs?  Virtually all of the things that we know and believe are known and believed without certainty.  We should not, therefore, be surprised that things we know and believe about God are known and believed without certainty.

Matt Bilyeu
Chapter Director, Reasonable Faith
Master of Arts in Apologetics, Luther Rice University and Seminary


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