Christopher Lawson's Reviews > The Problem of Evil: A Biblical Perspective

The Problem of Evil by Doug Erlandson
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it was amazing

√ Looking for a Human Explanation

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL is a serious, well researched book, covering perhaps the most profound issue in all of Christianity. The author points out that the issues here are very similar to those raised in the question of election. Dr. Erlandson begins by framing the question, and giving an overview of the main explanations Christians usually offer. The main responses to the problem of evil are called "theodicies," (Greek, God + Justice.) A theodicy is an "attempt to show that God is indeed a righteous God despite the existence of evil in the world."

Early in his career, the author discovered a major flaw in all the "greater-good" theodicies. Dr. Erlandson calls his objection the "eschatological objection." It goes like this: If evil is necessary for the manifestation of some greater good, then that same evil should be present in the future life. Yet, the Bible clear states that the future world will not have any evil. So, if God can make a world without evil, "Why didn't He do so in the first place?"

Some tactics are clever, but don't really answer the question. For example, it is futile to show that the questioner has a "problem of good" on their hands. That is, one can deftly point out that the questioner can't even define "good," so who are they to ask questions about good and evil? Well, that may be true, the author concedes, but that doesn't do anything to solve the problem of evil we Christians have on OUR hands. (I admit, however, that I find this "turn the tables" tactic cute, and I like to use it.)

The author does not try to minimize the true magnitude of this issue. If we suppose that evil is somehow necessary for some divine reason, couldn't God have allowed fewer people to be tortured or killed? Did His purposes really required that ALL 6 million Jews be killed in World War II? Couldn't even one fewer have died? Or, if we adopt the "free will" response, and suppose that God doesn't want us to be "puppets," wouldn't it have been better to just allow us to be puppets, rather than allow millions of atrocities?

Common attempts to explain the problem of evil rarely quote scripture. For example, the common "free-will" explanation suggests that God doesn't really know about the evil that man will do. So, God isn't really all-knowing. The author points out that this explanation is "a matter of human speculation rather than divine revelation." Other explanations are similarly not found in the Bible, but "represent what the human mind, apart from anything the Word of God says, has invented in trying to solve this thorny problem. This is not a promising approach..."

The entire book of Job is filled with questions about the problem of evil. Near the end of Job, we finally get an explanation--but not what we would like or expect: "At no time does God give an explanation for why He has brought this evil upon Job, how this evil is leading to some greater good, or how this evil is somehow an inherent part of the created order. Yet in the end God has convinced Job of His righteousness and His right to do with the creation as He pleases." The bible is full of accounts of great evil. Never does the writer say, "Let me explain it to you in a way you'll naturally understand." Instead, the answer is always "I'm God, I'm the eternal, omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the entire space-time universe...You're a finite creature with limited understanding ..."

"What--that answer is unacceptable," we shout. Nevertheless, the key point is that the answer given--the answer ALWAYS given, is the RIGHT answer--it's the answer the Bible gives--it's not a "dodge." The "right answer" to this difficult problem is thus not a matter of finding which answer is most intellectually satisfying. Rather, it's changing our perspective, it's grasping who the creator is, and who the creatures are. If you don't like that answer (which most won't), it means that you're on a quest for a non-Biblical, man-centered answer. Of course, the explanation that "I am God" will be totally unsatisfactory to those holding to a man-centered view of creation. If you don't BEGIN your quest with belief, there is 0% chance you will find this answer acceptable.

Dr. Erlandson eventually realized his error; it was his starting point: "What if I make the assumption that God has created a world that best suits His purposes rather than a world designed to bring about what we assume would be the best state for humanity? ... What if God's ultimate objective in creating the space-time universe is to manifest His glory rather than to maximize the comfort of human beings?"

The author recounts a wonderful story of a professor who was searching for an intellectually satisfying answer to the problem of evil, and likewise, to the seemingly unfair doctrine of election. These two issues are very closely related. Visiting with a graduate student, the professor of philosophy came face to face with the above, correct answer to the problem of evil. In an instant--in a mysterious, yet marvelous way, that professor's life was completely changed. Doug Erlandson finally saw the answer, and he was transformed--he was not the same man from that point forward. He changed direction in a profound way. Now, many years later, he writes this book about his journey, and his discoveries.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL is a profound book with serious consequences. In some ways, the "answer" given in this book leads us to another difficult quest--the question of how we humans know things. Does our faith precede our knowledge? Is Anselm right, when he said, "I believe that I may understand?"

So, THE PROBLEM OF EVIL is not an easy read, and the theme is not a trivial one to grasp. I think that's why we humans want a anthropocentric (man-centered) answer. We want an answer on OUR terms, and if it's not in the Scriptures, well, that's okay too. This book is jammed with some of the most profound doctrines in the history of Christianity, and I don't find these ideas easy to grasp at all. I learned a lot from this book, and am still thinking about many of the points discussed here.

For a related book by this author see, The Theory of Knowledge: A Jargon-Free Guide to Epistemology . Also, for some reason, this author reminds me of the writings of Greg Bahnsen, particularly, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith . Maybe it's because they are both such clear thinkers and excellent writers.
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