Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Newsboys and the Problem of Evil

I’ve been a big fan of the Newsboys since I discovered them back in the late nineties. I believe I have John Nawrot, my now-brother-in-law, to thank for sharing some of his music with me. I’ve enjoyed listening to the Newsboys since then and have gotten quite a few of their CDs (though now I’m going digital).

This morning I saw that the Newsboys just released the music video for their new song, “God’s Not Dead.” The song is good, and their music video certainly reflects the challenge we face today as Christians in Western society.

At one point the video shows a news reporter on a tablet computer with the large headline “How Can A Good God Allow Evil?” on display beside her.

The band member swipes his hand to show a second page with the headline “God Gave Us Freedom To Choose: Man Chose To Do Evil.”

This question is not only posed by secularists. Many Christians today struggle with how God can allow evil. It only takes one accident, one illness, one death for us to struggle with this question. Christians in the past have wrestled with this question, including Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and others. It even has its own special title in the study of theology: The Problem of Evil.

I’ve known many people who attempt to answer this question just like the Newsboys in their music video. The free choice of man is their answer. They attempt to take the focus and blame off of God and place it squarely on the shoulders of humanity. God’s love for us is so great that He chose to give us our own volition independent of Him and His will. Some assert that God knew what would happen, but others believe only an ignorant God is exempt from blame in a world full of evil.

I disagree with the headline in the music video and similar attempts to get God off the hook. The question, How can a good God allow evil? is not merely an exercise of logic. It is always personal. If I had never experienced evil in my life, I might be able to wrestle with the question only in the realm of logic, but we’ve all experienced it. There’s no escape. Rather than try to deny that we have some stake in this question, we should fully accept that we are going to be somewhat biased here.

The answer that God gave us freedom and we chose evil is not satisfactory because God still allowed it (and allows it) to happen. It doesn’t answer the question. Just because we chose to do something of our own free will doesn’t mean that God is now powerless to change or correct it. Virtually every story in the Bible chronicles God working in this world over and against the choices man has made or intends to make. If God granting human beings freedom is the highest good (that is, it is better to have free will with evil than a lack of free will with a lack of evil), then why does God work to counteract any of man’s choices, since man’s will would not be truly free?

The freedom of man’s will cannot be viewed as the highest good because God regularly acts to oppose and diminish it—most visibly in the cross. If free will is not the highest good, then we are still left with the question of how God can allow evil in the world.

I believe the answer is in the Bible. As interesting as philosophy can be, a man-made philosophy built on human logic apart from the Bible isn’t going to give us the Biblical answer to this question. Starting with human freedom as the supreme good fails to account for God’s breaching of this freedom throughout the Bible. We must start with the Bible, not with a neat little slogan that fits on a bumper sticker (or faux headline).

The answer that “God gave us freedom, we chose to do evil” makes God a distant, uninvolved deity when it comes to evil and the bad things that happen in the world. It fails to account for verses like these:

Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? (Lam. 3:37-38)

I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isa. 45:7)

Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? (Amos 3:6)

Click here for an article in which I discuss items relating to the question, How can a good God allow evil?

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