Originally Answered: A problem for christians: the problem of evil?
Keep the question open, I will write a response. I will have to come back later though because I have a Bible study.
Since you really asked several questions I will only deal with the first issue that you cite.
“The problem of evil has been called one of the most powerful objections to the existence of God. Its strength lies in the simple contradiction that an all powerful and caring God seemingly allows horrible things to happen to innocent people.”
To get at this, let’s put this in a kind of logical form:
An omnipotent God could stop evil.
A completely compassionate God would stop evil.
Evil is not stopped.
Therefore, there is no such God.
Note that this argument only seems to rule out the possibility of an omnipotent and completely compassionate God, but does not rule out the possibility of a finite god, just FYI.
I, as a Christian, respond that the first two propositions are not completely accurate.
The first statement is true as far as it goes, but we must realize that for God to stop evil, He would have to take away free agency. Since evil is not a thing, but a corruption of a thing, the only way to stop evil is to take away mankind’s ability to choose to do evil. But a non-moral universe is not better than a moral universe; they cannot even be compared. Furthermore, when considering natural evil, which is a result of Adam’s sin (Creation is cursed because of Adam’s sin - Genesis 3), the only way to have avoided that would be to have created a non-moral universe, or for Adam not to have sinned.
The second statement is likewise problematic when used to support the conclusion. This is because God has promised to one day overcome evil. So just because it is not done yet, doesn’t mean that it will never be done, it means that it is not yet done.
Now let’s deal with the most difficult part of the original statement as you quoted. Namely: “…allows horrible things to happen to innocent people.” There are two problems here as well. First, the simple, humbling fact is that the term innocent as used in this sentence is the kind of innocent as judged by mankind, not as judged by God. Mankind sees a child killed by a tornado as an innocent victim, but God sees all mankind as guilty of sin, for we are born into judgment and sin (Rom. 5:12 & 6:23). Now this doesn’t mean that the death of that child was a direct judgment on that child, but it does mean that that child was not innocent in God’s eyes. Therefore, it is only through pride that mankind can say to God who created him, “My judgment is superior to yours.”
Second, physical death is not the end of things for people. Only a non-believer thinks that it is evil to die. A believer thinks that it is *because* of evil that we die physically. Now a totally different question is where does a small child who dies end up, heaven or Hell? That is a whole other debate which I won’t go into here, but the important thing is that physical death is not the end of a person, so it in itself is not evil.
Now on to your quote from Isaiah 45:7 and Amos 3:6. Please note that you are using the King James Version of that passage. Now the KJV is fine, but it was translated 400 years ago and our understanding of ancient languages and the science of textual criticism has increased tremendously since then. Almost all other English translations of the Bible do not use the word evil in these passages. Have a look for yourself:
On natural evil:
“You have to explain how one man's action has caused the tectonic plates to move and how the pressure within the earth increased so that molten rock erupts among other things.”
I am not sure how to approach this one, not because I am holding a God Trump card, but because it I am not sure exactly what you are asking for here. Are you asking me to explain the exact mechanics of how the curse on Creation leads to each and every natural process whereby people get hurt? If so, I think you are asking too much of a mere mortal! All I or anyone knows is that Creation changed after the curse. How exactly God changed it cannot be known scientifically because all we have to examine empirically is the post-curse Creation, and what is written about the curse: “Cursed is the ground because of you…” etc.
But note that just because something is unexplained does not mean that it is unexplainable. I see this all the time in my work as a scientist. An example from my field of work: How is it that gravity (relativistic) is incompatible with the rules of quantum mechanics, yet both theories explain the phenomena they describe to a high degree of accuracy? To demand that one explain how it can be that these theories are contradictory before accepting either in its area of applicability is unwise. The fundamental difference in our thinking may be that I have invested a lot of my time to find out if the Bible can be trusted as the preserved word of God. The results of my investigation lead me to believe that where my knowledge ends, I can trust what the Bible says and hope I can figure it out (or ask God when I see him) later.
“Tell me, if my grandfather commits a horrible crime, should I be born in a prison?”
No, that would not be just. Let me ask you: how do we know it would not be just?
We know precisely because we have seen many times that the children of a person who commits a crime do not necessarily commit that same crime. Now let’s talk about Adam. His crime was sinning against God. Have you ever seen or heard of a single living person, over the age of accountability, who has not sinned (with the exception of Jesus of course)? Since the answer must be no, the analogy with your grandfather doesn’t hold on this point. The children of sinners DO sin, period. So it is wrong to say that we are punished for another person’s actions, we are punished because we have a sin nature, that is, we all sin and will keep sinning. It was started by Adam, but that doesn’t change the fact and it doesn’t mean we are punished for what he did.
The difference here is that when an abortion happens, an innocent person is murdered by another person. But when a natural disaster happens, which may or may not be caused by God, any life taken was his to take! Only God gives life, and since he gives it, he can take it away. Life is a privilege given by God, not a right we have as a sovereign over God.
Anyway, thanks for the great questions. You may not agree with me, but I think I have given you decent answers as much as I can, as I am not a Bible scholar, I am just a guy who tries to think things through. There are some things that we may not even be able to see eye-to-eye on simply because we are starting from different places. I also appreciate that the problem of evil is a significant one for anyone believing in an all loving and all powerful God. I admit my thinking on this isn't finished, but I am to a point now where it does make some sense to me.
I certainly understand your point of view, as I was raised an atheist and was an atheist until I was about 25 or so. It was going deeper and deeper into my study of physics that convinced me there must be a Deity. How I got from there to Christianity is a longer story I shall not repeat here. Good day.