Evil and Suffering 2 – (there is overlap)



2 types of evil:    Moral                        Natural


The fact of suffering is the single biggest objection to the existence of God and the greatest obstacle to faith in believers and non-believers alike.




Because the existence of evil and suffering would seem to be against all definitions of God.


The God of classical theism has traditionally got three attributes:



So the question is how can an all-powerful, all knowing and all loving God allow evil to exist and suffering to happen?


Therefore either he does not exist or He is not a God worthy of worship because he must choose not to act.




In your own words explain how the two ideas – the existence of evil and the existence

Of God seem to mutually exclusive.

This is the classic dilemma:

  • If God created something out of nothing (in his omnipotence) then he must be responsible for it.
  • If God is all knowing (in his omniscience) he must have known it would happen and must know how to stop it…
  • If God is all good and loving (Omni benevolence) he would not wish it to continue and should wish to end it.
  • Yet it continues…what does this tell us about God?


Hume in his ‘dialogues Concerning Natural Religion’ concluded that all three attributes could not co-exist:

    Either God is not omnipotent or

    He is not Omni benevolent or

    Evil does not exist


    Evil does exist therefore God cannot be these things therefore he cannot exist!

He considered that the effects of evil were too widely attested to so it does exist and therefore God must either be impotent or malicious. Whichever, the God of classical theism must be dead if he ever existed and therefore God does not exist.


Even Aquinas agreed that the existence of God in the face of the existence of evil is logically impossible, since he believed that goodness was an essential part of God so proof against that goodness would also prove God’s non-existence.

    In fact he said: ‘there is evil in the world; therefore God does not exist…!‘ Or at least he felt that logically this is what he should believe, however, as a theist he rejected this apparent contradiction!


In fact his logical argument only works if we accept its two premises:

  1. Part of the definition of God is the concept of infinite goodness and
  2. That God’s goodness is of the same quality as human goodness.


If, therefore, we can accept that God’s goodness may be different from ours then his allowance of evil may be temporary if he has a reason for it!


Explain in your own words how this could explain how both God and evil can exist.


As a result of this line of reasoning theodicies were worked out which attempt to explain why God may allow evil and suffering to exist and what God’s reason may be.


Augustine’s Theodicy


His rests on the 2 major assumptions:

  1. evil did not come from God since God’s creation was faultless and perfect
  2. evil came from elsewhere and therefore God is justified in allowing it to stay




If God’s world was flawless and He created out of nothing where could evil have come from?

  • In creation God saw that it was good
  • Evil is not a thing – it is a lack of good
  • If God did not create it, it must have come from those beings that he created with free-will, who abused it and turned away from God
  • Therefore all suffering is a fully deserved consequence of human sin. Natural evil originated from the loss of order within nature following the first sin. This destroyed the delicate balance of the world. In this damaged environment, remote from God moral evil flourished.
  • Both types of evil are therefore a punishment.


From Augustine we get the doctrine of original sin because he believed all humans even ‘innocent’ babies deserved to suffer since we are all descended from Adam and Eve who took part in the first sin of disobedience against God.


However because God is just, everyone does not need to go to their rightful punishment – Hell; but through his saving grace and mercy and Christ’s sacrifice we can be saved and go to heaven!


What do you see as the problems with belief in original sin?




Evil cannot logically have come from nowhere out of nothing, therefore it must somehow be attributed to God. Either the world was not perfect or God enabled / allowed it to go wrong.


The free-will argument is illogical because in a perfect world there would be no knowledge of good and evil therefore no freedom to obey or disobey God. Thus the fact that God’s creatures chose to disobey suggests a knowledge of evil which could only have come from God himself!


The Scientific Problem

  • A perfect world damaged by humans contradicts evolutionary theory. Evolution is survival of the fittest and the fittest survive by selfishness.
  • Each human ‘seminally’ present in Adam – must be rejected on biological grounds therefore we are not guilty of Adam’s sin.


Moral Problem

If there is a hell then God must have created it and therefore he must have anticipated things going wrong! And if it is a place of eternal suffering how does that fit with a God who is good?!!


What can you find out about the doctrine of the existence of hell?



Irenaeus’ Theodicy

  • God’s aim was perfection but
  • Genuine human perfection cannot be created ready-made, it must be allowed to develop through free choice.
  • Therefore we have the potential to disobey
  • If there were no possibility of evil and humans were ready-perfected and God policed his world then there would be no free-will!
  • Therefore God had to have designed his world with the possibility of causing harm, humans had to be imperfect and God had to stand back.
  • Humans used their freedom to cause suffering
  • But God cannot compromise our freedom by removing suffering or evil.
  • Eventually evil and suffering will be overcome, all will become like God and live in Heaven and therefore this justifies temporary evil!


Irenaeus admits that God must be partly responsible for evil: he made us humans imperfectly based on Genesis 1:26Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.‘ He concluded that at first humans were made in God’s image and only later would develop into his likeness – on completion!


Absolute goodness could not be bestowed upon humans but had to be developed through willing cooperation which requires genuine freedom. Genuine freedom must mean having the possibility of choosing evil instead of good.


Evil is beneficial in enabling us to understand what good is: ‘How if we had no knowledge of the contrary could we have instruction in that which is good?


John Hick explained that goodness developed by free choice is infinitely better than the ready-made goodness of robots. If God wanted humans to be genuinely loving, He had to give them the opportunity to develop this quality for themselves. If we had been created to automatically love God we would be mere automatons.


[see the analogy of the police chief and the driver!]


Peter Vardy used the analogy of the king and the peasant girl (see if you can find this) to illustrate his theory that:

If human perfection had to develop – three things were needed to facilitate this:

  1. Humans had to be created imperfect
  2. Humans had to be distanced from God
  3. The world could not be perfect


Because if the world were a paradise, where no harm could happen, then whatever our actions only good would happen and we would not be free. Evil would be indistinguishable from good and no qualities like honour, courage, selflessness, loyalty would develop. The world must contain natural laws that can produce some suffering.

Explain the analogy of the king and the peasant girl.


John Hick said that our world may be, ‘rather well adapted to the quite different purpose of ‘soul making’.’


Why did Irenaeus believe that Heaven must be everyone’s goal?

  1. Suffering in life is not always purposeful – in fact if life just ended it would be pointless
  2. Only a better future in Heaven can justify the magnitude of the suffering
  3. Many ‘evil’ people are also victims, not responsible for their actions so no-one can be overlooked.




This theodicy allows room for evolution and removes the problem of evil just appearing from nowhere but:


Heaven for all? Seems unjust

makes moral behaviour pointless – no incentive


The amount of suffering is unacceptable

6 million Jews and the holocaust – rather excessive!


Suffering can never be an expression of God’s love? (can it?)

No-one who loves would allow the beloved to suffer (would they?)


The Free-will Defence

Both the theodicies argue that suffering is a consequence of free-will. (This has recently led to a theodicy in its own right.)

The world, as it is, is a logically necessary environment – it provides true freedom in the form of real choices which provide goodness or harm – only in such an environment can we be free and human.

What does free-will mean to you? How far can it go?


Richard Swinburne


With reference to the holocaust criticism he argues that God must allow even large scale horrors to allow us to be free to develop. He cannot step in even then or he compromises our freedom and removes human responsibility.


His analogy was of God who as a parent allows an older child more freedom in order to grow up.

Using death as an example Swinburne explained that death was necessary because then it limits life’s chances because it is only in a limited lifespan can we have genuine responsibility for our actions.

A situation of temptation with infinite chances is no situation of temptation at all.’


(remember the film Groundhog Day?! He kills himself knowing that when next time loops he will be back again and that no action he takes is ever permanent!)


Explain what it might mean if we were all immortal? How would our behaviour be affected?


In other words if we were immortal there would always be another chance to make amends.


Critique of the Free-will Defence


Mainly it boils down to – how can divine love be expressed through suffering?


JL Mackie felt that God could have made beings who were both free and would always choose right. Because he didn’t he cannot be both omnipotent and wholly good.


In other words His gift of free-will is not an excuse for the existence of evil – he could have made free beings who would have chosen never to sin!


John Hick’s reply is that these humans would still be no better than robots, no more satisfying to God because their actions would already have been concluded when they were made.


And what about free-will and determinism?


If God knows what we will do in advance doesn’t this suggest he has already decided that evil will exist?

If not did evil take him by surprise? If so he is not omnipotent.


Summary these arguments all serve to justify the existence of the God of classical theism in the face of evil. Against Hume they argue that God can still be omnipotent and omni benevolent and yet evil can still exist.


Process Theology

A distinctive world view developed by A N Whitehead (1861-1947) that God is intimately involved in the processes of the world and maintains an active relationship with it. God needs the world as the world needs God. Like the relationship between the person and their body.

God is subject to change too. God makes the world develop through evolution – there are failures and setbacks as well as successes. The failures are the inevitable results of the evolution of the world as it moves from its ‘alpha point to its omega point.’ (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

The aim of Process theology is to see God as not merely Nature but the driving force behind it – intimately concerned with its day to day running as well as its ultimate destiny.


The main tenets or assumptions

God is not omnipotent!


He did not create the universe


The universe is an ‘uncreated process which includes the deity’


God is part of the world and bound by natural laws


Humans have developed and exerted their influence over the world


God is no longer in total control


Humans are free to ignore God


We are not fashioned in His likeness


‘It is necessarily the case that God cannot completely control the creatures’


God suffers when evil is committed because He is part of the world and is affected by it yet is unable to control it.


God is not powerful enough to stop evil but must bear some responsibility for having started the process of evolution off knowing that He would be unable to control it.

Why did God take such a risk? Given a choice between the universe we live in and no universe at all surely the former is preferable?


How does this view alter belief in God?


Critique of the Process Theodicy


  • It does remove the problem of why if He is all-loving and all powerful He does not remove suffering – He cannot!
  • For believers God suffering may be encouraging
  • There is no guarantee that God will triumph so believers may join the fight against evil – against inertia!



  • It is not really a theodicy because it does not justify God’s existence in the face of evil.
  • Denies he is the God of classical theism because He is not omnipotent!
  • Is He worthy of worship then?
  • If the future is uncertain then it may encourage despair.
  • Evolution being justified on the grounds that good has outweighed evil may not convince those who have suffered. i.e. the ends don’t justify the means.

The problem of the existence of evil is a major argument against the existence of God.

Some responses have readjusted the nature of God, some the nature of evil and others have attempted to harmonise evil with the existence of the God of classical theism.

In the end it comes down to each person’s standpoint anyway: if they are already a non-believer it may be the final nail in the coffin, but if they are a believer they may well resort to the ‘eternal cop-out clause’ – we being human cannot understand the ways of the divine and that God must have had some (to us) unfathomable purpose for the existence of evil.


Suffering and God’s mercy

There is a case for arguing that God does limit suffering:

  1. All suffering ends with death
  2. Human comfort can be given in suffering
  3. It can be an inspiration to faith
  4. Its value in soul making
  5. It can be an alternative to despair


Does this mean that God is merciful? What do you think?


The Brothers Karamazov is a story by Dostoyevsky in which there are two brothers one of whom, Ivan, refuses to believe in a God who allows innocent children to suffer – no such suffering to him can ever be justified even on the grounds that they will be compensated in Heaven.


James Sure: ‘Christians and others who believe in a transcendant, personal God are faced with the problem of evil… If God is both good and omnipotent why is there so much evil…If God exists, God is either not completely good or not completely powerful.’

The existence of evil suggests that God has chosen to allow it.


Samuel Putnam: ‘God must be all good or not good at all.’


Swinburne: ‘There is a problem about why God allows evil and if a theist does not have a satisfactory answer then his belief in God is less than rational.’


Since there are many types of evil how do we define it? What is it?

Examples include rape, murder, torture, oppression, famine, disease and death.


But is it

  • The absence of good?
  • The opposite of good?
  • Sin or the consequence of sin?
  • The choosing not to be good?
  • Is suffering the consequence?


Moral and natural evil are different, have different causes but often overlap or affect one another e.g. war leads to famine; pollution to global warming to floods or drought…


To what extent can man be blamed for natural evil?


Mary Baker Eddy of the Christian Scientists believed like the Monists that evil is simply an illusion.


John Hick said, outside of God’s nature and existing independently of Him, there is material that He did not create and with which He struggles with only partial success. (Process Theology)


So theodicies demonstrate that god has good reasons for allowing the continued existence of evil and suffering and these outweigh their existence i.e. they provide greater benefits than the benefit of removing evil.


Swinburne said …a generous God will seek to give us great responsibility… to make our lives valuable… The problem is that He cannot … without allowing much evil on the way.


Both Augustinian and Irenaean depend on the principle of free-will:

Either God created man in His likeness from which he fell through abuse of free-will

Or man’s moral development is evolutionary and he has the capacity to grow into the likeness of God through use of free-will.


In the NT St Paul developed his own theodicies:

  • Test of faith
  • Promise of glory to come and the reward in a future life


God and evil


The problem of evil has haunted the history of Israel and the Bible

  • Why? Is answered in the psalms
  • Job
  • The story of Jesus
  • Insurance policies call floods and disasters ‘ acts of God’


Atheism states that because evil exists therefore God cannot. Proponents of this view included Iris Murdoch, Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw


JS Mill said: ‘not even on the most distorted theory of good which was ever framed by religious or philosophical fanaticism can the government of nature resemble the work of a Being at once good and omnipotent.’


Dualism: can’t blame evil on God – anti-god. The universe is the battlefield on which the principles of Good and Evil fight for domination.

The neighbours of ancient Israel bequeathed much of their imagery to the Bible and the Qur’an – hence the references to the battle between Light and Dark and Good and Evil.


Judaism, Christianity and Islam are monistic not dualistic. The Oneness of God is central despite the problems and references in the Bible to God doing ‘evil’ deeds:

“I form light and darkness, I make weal and woe…” Isaiah 45:7

“Shall we receive good …and not evil too?”(at the hand of God) Job 2:10

“I believe in God… and believe everything both good and bad comes from him…” comes from the Muslim profession of faith.


Evil is unreal St
Augustine‘s view that– not a positive but a negative, an absence, therefore God’s hands are clean is no comfort to an actual sufferer.


Original Sin

  • All evil originated in man’s rebellion against God
  • Whole of creation pronounced good 7 times – humans disobeyed and disrupted and introduced disorder.
  • Freewill solution – we had the freedom to choose
  • Rest of Bible after Genesis chapter 3 longs for a future when this original disorder will be eliminated.
  • Naïve – how did the author know? Scientific fact disputes this – floods and earthquakes pre-date man so the freewill solution doesn’t help!


It is a punishment

  • Sent by God deliberately – this is what the OT and NT say!
  • Job is written to repudiate the link between guilt and suffering. He suffers in spite of his innocence.

Read about Job in the Bible. What is his story? What is his answer to his critics?

  • Jesus urges us to forgive indiscriminately because God does.
  • It is blasphemous to suppose that the starving in the 3rd world would have offended God while we in the prosperous West are in God’s good books.


It is a test

  • Evil is used to encourage growth; encourages loyalty, self-sacrifice, discipline – and builds character.
  • Irenaeus – our painful world is a ‘vale of soul-making
  • John Hick – developmental nature of life. Humans not born perfect. Perfection comes at the end not at the beginning. Only thru challenge can virtues like courage and compassion be formed.
  • But a God who would construct an obstacle course to build the muscles of some while others fall by the wayside is a monster!



  • God does not need to apologise – the beauty of the end result is worth it! Good can come out of evil.
  • Worse evil can come out of evil
  • Evil can come out of good
  • Evil for evil’s sake is irresponsible in the face of suffering itself


Package deal

  • Simply part of the world take it or leave it
  • World of physical laws – slightest adjustment would have produced a totally different world
  • So far as we can see this world where we are vulnerable and prone to accident is the only world where could be for the emergence of beings with a genuine freedom of choice in relation to God and one another.” Bishop Richard Harries 1988


A Christian Solution

  • The God of the Bible is an incarnate God – close at hand, present and sharing in His creatures’ condition.
  • His almighty power is not one of compulsion but of self-giving love; as vulnerable as His creatures are He suffers with them.
  • As Job discovered the problem will never be anything other than the cosmic mystery of God
  • But the story of Christ offers a practical approach to the problem
  • St Paul in Romans 8:18-39 paints the picture of the world as creaking and groaning, hardship and persecution, calamity and death. These are not good but they are less strong than the love of God. Through them God continues to work for our good.
  • The supreme example is the death of Christ
  • The cross wasn’t beautiful but if we can see God in the midst of that is there anywhere that He is not?
  • All this means believing God will not magically intervene or interfere; trying to believe in all events of our life, good and evil, that we are loved.
  • Process theologians insist that a God who is in ‘process’ cannot do other than share the suffering of His creatures.
  • The best clue we have to the nature of God, is Jesus suffering and dying for us on the cross.” Peter de Rosa



  • It is easier to deal with pain if we can find an understandable cause other than just a perverse world.
  • We have to deal with it somehow by: stopping /reducing /coping /accepting or preventing it.
  • The Bible suggests That God is not aloof; He is present in our lives suffering with us.
  • Jesus grew angry and grieved at pain and suffering; he empathised.
  • But he dies rather than use aggression to conquer evil.
  • Ivan Karamazov could not rationalise evil and was offended by it, he plunged into despair rejecting God.
  • Job chose faith and love to encounter peace with God
  • BOTH are fictional but nevertheless real responses to the problem.

Now tackle one of the questions on this topic see document: a selection of questions on evil and suffering.


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