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Ric Machuga


No Thing Is Evil

Suffering, evil, and God.

I'm a philosopher. This means I get paid to think about the "problem of evil." I'm also a Christian. This means I take the Bible seriously. Finally, I'm getting older. This means I observe grief at firsthand more frequently than before. In a pastoral setting I've always said, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed by the name of the Lord." But can't we say more in a philosophical setting? Must we end with God's rhetorical response to Job? Shouldn't we seek a theodicy "justifying the ways of God to man"? Perhaps the book of Job should have the first word, but must it have the last word?

I used to give the last word to the "Free Will Defense." A universe with genuinely free people capable of both good and evil is better, I argued, than a universe populated with mere puppets incapable of freely responding to God's love. But doubts began to arise. If an unrigged coin is flipped, then it is "free" to land either heads or tails. And if it is "free" to land heads once, then it is "free" to land heads two times or two thousand times. Of course, the probabilities against the latter are astronomical. Yet the Creator of astronomy isn't going to stumble at the merely improbable. So why not create people who freely do good in all circumstances?

Besides, the human autonomy assumed by the free will defense was hard to reconcile with God's omnipotence. How could a mere creature act independently of the Creator? Finally, if evolution is true (as I believe), then there was a lot of pain in the animal world prior to Adam's sin and here the free will defense is as silent as Job.

Nonetheless, my search for a theodicy continued. A "soul-making" theodicy seemed untouched by such problems. Forget the libertarian freedom assumed in the free will defense; think only in terms of virtues and vices. Courage is of great value. But courage without real pain would be impossible—so also faith and hope. And if God created this world as a hedonistic paradise, then the virtues—both ...

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