The answer to the questions, “Why do people die? Why are their natural disasters? Why is there disease? Why is their pain and suffering?” is actually a simple one. The reason for all of these realities is that God cursed the earth at the time Adam and Eve sinned. All evil, pain, suffering, sorrow and tragedy are by-products of sin. This historical event is documented clearly in Genesis 3 and expounded upon throughout the rest of the Bible. This explanation is in stark contrast to the one given by traditional apologists like Dean Hardy who believes that “evil sometimes is merely an accidental by-product of good, and not necessarily a choice…humans can make free good choices that result in evil.”1 To Hardy, there is no direct correlation between evil and the Fall.
In the beginning God created the world out of nothing in six days (Gen 1). The original creation was “very good” and without sin; all on earth was harmonious. Adam and Eve disobeyed and incurred the promised consequence of sin (2:17), namely death (Rom 6:23). A holy God must punish sin, and He did. Traditional apologists don’t like talking about the wrath of God in this context. Nevertheless, it’s at the heart of the issue. In His anger, God punished all of creation with a curse (3:14-19; 5:29; 8:21). God cursed the constitution of man, human relationships, nature, and the demon world. Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, God promised life would be characterized by “enmity” (3:15), “pain” (3:16), “toil” (3:17), hardship (3:18), and death (3:19).
God explains the effects and cause of the curse in the New Testament. Paul tells us the “sufferings of the present time” are a result of the curse, for “the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it” (Rom 8:18, 20). Why is there pain and suffering in the world? Because God cursed the creation. Why did He do this? As a punishment for sin. How long will the earth be cursed? Temporarily, for God cursed the earth “in hope, that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:20-21). God has a perfect plan; He’s the Author of history (Isa 46:9-10); He works all things together for good and in accord with His divine will (Rom 8:28). The curse will be terminated in the future, at the end of the age, because of the saving work of Jesus Christ, who is Savior of the world. Christ’s redeeming work on the cross had more than personal soteriological implications; it also had cosmic implications. Jesus created this universe (Col 1:16) and He will also redeem this universe. At the end of the age, God declares, “there shall no longer be any curse” (Rev 22:3).
The Fall was a Historical Event
One key reason traditional apologists struggle so much with the classic dilemma of the problem of evil is because so many of them deny the historicity and reality of Genesis 1-3, in whole or in part. This is where Cornelius Van Til was unique and at his best in establishing a solid foundation for apologetic methodology. He warned Evangelicals that if you compromise with the beginning (Gen 1-3) then you concede the rest: “I have frequently argued…that the historicity of Christianity cannot be maintained unless the historicity of the Old Testament and in particular the historicity of the Genesis account be also maintained.”2 Where did evil come from? Genesis is clear. Van Til goes on: “I hold sin to be that which the Confession and catechisms say it is. This involves the historicity of the Genesis account.”3 He concludes, “I believe in the infallibility of the Bible. How could I believe in that unless I believed the historicity of the Genesis story.”4
Compromise Run Amuck
A literal view of Genesis 1-3 should be a basic litmus test for vetting Christian apologists’ views, theology and methodology. If scholars, theologians, philosophers or apologists botch the first chapter of Genesis and deny, marginalize or dismiss its literal historicity then that is a tell-tale sign that they are operating with a mangled hermeneutic. The preponderance of Christian apologists who have compromised in this area is startling. For example, Geisler says, “Most scientific evidence sets the age of the world at billions of years.”5 Similarly, J. P. Moreland speculates, “if science seems to point to a universe of several billions of years, it seems allowable to read Genesis in this light.”6 That’s preposterous! No one can come to that conclusion reading Genesis at face value. These two Christian philosophers are basically saying, “Most secular, atheistic, humanistic, anti-biblical, Darwinian proponents tell us all their so-called invalidated hypotheses of origins suggest the world is billions of years old, and we believe the meaning of Scripture can be stretched to align with them.”
Everywhere he speaks William Lane Craig rejects the biblical perspective of a young earth, calling it naïve and not plausible, while wholeheartedly embracing the secular humanist’s notion that the universe is 13-plus billion years old. Kelly James Clark unabashedly embraces Darwinian theory with respect to the origin of the universe and humanity, and therefore outright rejects the literal history of Genesis 1-3. In his discussion on the problem of evil, Clark claims Christians need to explain the way God acts “naturalistically,” using “the truth of evolutionary theory.”7 This comes from a professing Christian apologist who claims he follows in the footsteps of Calvin! Tremper Longman, one of the most influential evangelical theologians today, goes so far as to say that Adam was not even a real person but a concept.8 Space does not allow a detailed exposé of all the other well known evangelicals who have compromised in this area over the years, including Bible scholars such as B. B. Warfield, Gleason Archer, James Mongomery Boice, Meredith Kline, Douglas Groothuis and Walt Kaiser, to name a few.9
By contrast, God (Gen 2:16), Eve, Adam’s wife, Cain, Abel and Seth, Moses (Gen 5:5), Job (Job 31:33), the prophet Hosea (Hos 6:7), Paul’s companion Luke (Luke 3:38), the Apostle Paul (Rom 5:14), Jude, the half brother of Jesus (1:14), Jesus (Matt 19), the Jews of Jesus’ day, and the Church for 1,800 years all believed Adam was a real man and that Genesis 1-3 was all history. Even Adam believed he was a real man (Gen 2:23). When one takes the same view as God, Jesus and the saints of the ages on Genesis, then the problem of evil has a rational historical context and a future with perfect resolution.
Hebrew scholar, Bill Barrick, sets the record straight on the importance of maintaining biblical fidelity in the area of origins with this powerful admonition:
… in spite of the revelatory nature of the biblical record, many evangelical scholars continue to give up valuable ground to secular scientists and liberal biblical critics. Evangelicals too often attempt to baptize secular and humanistic theories in evangelical waters without realizing that those theories and their methodologies have never been converted. While there are valuable kernels of truth buried within contemporary critical and so-called “scientific” studies, evangelicals must take great care to irradiate the material with the Word of God so as not to unknowingly and unintentionally introduce secularized thinking into the Church.10
God, Mystery and Evil
A basic common denominator between Arminian theologians and Christian philosophers is that they don’t like mystery, and as a result tend to downplay mystery. They want to diffuse all apparent tension, paradoxes and antinomies from religion. This is especially true when they confront the problem of evil. To eradicate any tension or mystery when it comes to the problem of evil or the conflict between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility they concoct man-made doctrines like “middle knowledge” (Craig), Open theism (Pinnock), Arminianism (Geisler), pre-evangelism (Schaeffer) and natural theology (Sproul). Erickson gives an impeccable diagnosis on the matter:
…natural theologians tend to be Arminian…Natural theologians assiduously avoid paradoxes and logical contradictions, considering them something to be removed by a more complete logical scrutiny of the issues under consideration. A paradox is a sign of intellectual indigestion; had it been more completely chewed, it would have disappeared.11
They seem to be bothered by the fact that God knows more than they do. If a Christian makes any reference to “mystery” then that Christian is quickly labeled a “fideist,” a “mystic” or an “anti-intellectual.” This is a dangerous mistake. God is infinite; we are finite. God is perfect; we are fallen. God is omniscient, we are ignorant and see through a glass dimly (1 Cor 13:12). In this life we can only “know in part” and what we can know about ultimate realities are only the things that God has revealed (Matt 16:17). God has not revealed everything to us: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever” (Deut 29:29). All the major Christian doctrines have elements of “apparent” irresolvable mystery. This attests to God’s infinity and our humanity. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter” (Prov 25:2). That’s mystery. This is good, not bad. God is smarter than me…I like that.
Too often philosophers are like five-year-old children, asking endless questions, and worse, demanding answers for every one of them. This is human pride. Not every question is a legitimate question, especially when it comes to the deep things of God and His unrevealed mysteries. That’s why in Romans 9, when an antagonist keeps questioning why God does what He does with respect to human free will versus His sovereign choices, God the Creator stops the inquisitor in his tracks with this resounding divine rebuke:
On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (9:20-22).
It is blasphemous to question God about His behavior. He’s the one who has the right to ask the questions. Remember the book of Job, God’s divine answer to the problem of evil. The lesson at the end of the book is that God is the Almighty sovereign One: “Then the LORD said to Job, ‘Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it’” (40:1-2). Job got the message. In the end he acknowledged his pathetic limitations in light of God’s infinite splendor: “Then Job answered the LORD, and said, ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:1-3). In his wisdom Job conceded that there was mystery that defied human comprehension.
Jesus also illustrates that not every query is legitimate. Some questions are veiled, insincere attacks on God Himself. The Christ-hating Pharisees routinely asked Jesus questions in public for the sole purpose of making Him look foolish. They were “testing Him” (Matt 19:3; cf. John 8:5-6). Their ongoing strategy was to ask Him trick questions so “they might trap Him in what He said” (22:15). Not every religious question is a legitimate question. “Jesus perceived their malice, and said, ‘Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites?’” (22:18). Like Jesus, Paul was aware of illegitimate questions and gave Timothy this warning: “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels” (2 Tim 2:23).
Romans 9-11 is the New Testament answer to the problem of evil and God concludes the discussion by saying: “For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?” (11:32-34). God chose to create a world that allowed for sin, evil and suffering. He did so based on His “wisdom.” This passage says His wisdom is “unsearchable” and “unfathomable.” Ultimately, all the intricacies and questions about the problem of evil are incomprehensible to the finite, fallen, ignorant human mind. That’s why the Christian is called to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). God Himself has decreed that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6).
1. Hardy, Stand, 108.
2. Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 192.
3. Ibid., 190.
4. Ibid., 191.
5. Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 272.
6. J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 220.
7. Clark, Five Views, 281.
8. Tremper Longman, <www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8Pk1vXL1WE>.
9. See Coming to Grips with Genesis, Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury, eds. (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009) where the whole Evangelical compromise is thoroughly catalogued.
10. Ibid., 252.
11. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985), 156.