Any time spent observing our world quickly reveals that much evil takes place in our world, and much of it seems pointless. The question is, why does God allow all this evil? For several hundred years, many people have relied on something called the greater good theodicy. A theodicy is an explanation of why God allows evil. The greater good theodicy states that God only allows an evil to occur if he can bring about a greater good from the evil. Under this theodicy, every act of evil serves a purpose in the sovereign plan of God. The greater good theodicy is meant to be comforting to people as they try to find the greater good for which God allowed any given evil to occur in their life or the life of someone they love. However, if God only allows an act of evil to occur to bring about a greater good, then logically the evil act itself was necessary in order to bring about the greater good. Unless God could have brought about the greater good without the evil act occurring and just doesn't, the greater good theodicy unintentionally makes God dependent upon evil in order to bring about something good. No orthodox Christian believes that God needs evil in order to bring about good. So the traditional greater good theodicy fails to account for why God would allow evil.
This is the point that Bruce Little makes in his book GOD, WHY THIS EVIL? Little explores the different formulations of the greater good theodicy throughout history and exposes the inherent weaknesses in each of them. He makes the compelling case that the greater good theodicy actually does more harm than good in explaining why God allows evil. For example, if God allows an evil act in order to bring about a greater good, then by trying to stop the evil act, are we not trying to impede a greater good that God is trying to bring about? And isn't God's command to actively fight evil a command to actually work against what God is trying to accomplish through the evil?
After exposing the weaknesses of the greater good theodicy, Little suggests a new theodicy to describe why God allows evil. Little calls this the Creation Order Theodicy. Little stands firm in the camp of libertarian freedom, to which I agree with him. Within the Creation Order Theodicy, man is free, but in his freedom he introduces evil into the world and commits evil acts. According to Little, God allows these evil acts not primarily so he can use them to bring about a greater good, but because he is honoring man's free will to choose evil acts. Of course, God does sometimes use evil to bring about something good. However, it's the attribution of it being a “greater” good that is the problem. How is that measured? If God only allows an evil act to occur that he can bring about a greater good from, what does that say about God's power and character? If the good is only greater as a result of the evil, then isn't the evil act both necessary and in some way good because it's necessary to bring about a greater good? If evil is necessary for good, then this logically makes God the author of evil. Could the all-powerful and sovereign God not bring about a “greater” good without the use of an evil act? It seems quite clear that he could. So the greater good theodicy doesn't give us a good or even biblical answer for why God allows evil.
The Creation Order Theodicy states that God created the world with certain parameters or boundaries, so that man is free to the extent that he doesn't impede what God is ultimately trying to accomplish in human history. In other words, God planned out the world in such a way that he knows exactly where he wants the story to end up, but he allows humanity to have a significant level of freedom to make genuine choices, including evil choices, and the parameters act as boundaries in which God sovereignly and infallibly protects his divine plan. So God can allow the horrible evil of Herod slaughtering the innocents of Bethlehem because that is Herod's choice, but he won't allow Jesus to be there among the innocents because Jesus must live to be the savior of the world. Obviously, this isn't much more comforting than the greater good theodicy because it means that God allows an evil, but for no purpose whatsoever other than protecting one man's freedom to choose. It should be noted that God hated the slaughter of the innocents more than us. But that causes us to ask why he didn't stop it. He obviously was active in protecting Jesus, but why not the other little boys?
The Creation Order Theodicy has its flaws, but I land squarely with Little on the negative implications of relying on the greater good theodicy. The Creation Order Theodicy, I think, is a step in the right direction, but it still leaves us with God allowing evil with no good explanation of why. Little believes that this world, from beginning to finish, is the “best possible world” because God only does his best. However, if this world with all of its history of disgusting and alarming levels of evil is the best possible world, then it means that God was compelled to make the broken world we live in. He had no choice otherwise. Little appeals to a theological concept called middle knowledge, which attributes to God a deliberation of all the actions every single potential person would take under any set of circumstances and taking this into account to select the world history he will actualize. Though there have been many compelling cases for middle knowledge, I'm not sold on the evidence that God actually possesses this. One of the assumptions Little rests on, along with middle knowledge, is that God could not create a world of genuinely free creatures that at least one person didn't choose to do evil. But I think God who is all-wise was perfectly capable of creating a world of free creatures that would not choose evil. But that's not the world God created, which leaves us with more questions. Why did God create a world where evil was possible?
People often turn to Romans 8:28 in support of the greater good theodicy, but Little rightly points out that this only accounts for the evil actions being worked out for good for Christians. It doesn't account for evil across the whole human spectrum.
I think Little does a great job of showing the inadequacy of greater good theodicies, and he makes an important contribution with his Creation Order Theodicy. When it comes to why God allows evil, I think God has structured the universe in such a way that free beings, demons and humans, make free choices that have serious negative effects in our world. God promises that someday the evil will be over. Until then, the Scriptures frequently call upon God's people to actively stand against evil.
That leaves us with just as important of a question as why God allows so much evil? Why do we allow so much evil?
GOD, WHY THIS EVIL? is an important book to explore the difficult questions surrounding the existence of evil in our world.
I received this book for free for review from Hamilton Books