Some argue that the following four statements cannot all be true at the same time:
This is typically framed as a "logical" problem intended to demonstrate the irrationality of believing that all four statements are true. The problem is framed by three propositions assumed to be true:
The propositions used to form the syllogism fail to discriminate between objective biblical claims and subjective cultural standards for such terms as good and evil. What was evil an hundred years ago, is now (culturally speaking) no longer evil - and never really was
evil - we were just confused by the now fading moral moorings of our former Judeo-Christian heritage. Of course that could all change in another fifty or an hundred years.
The point is that what the culture calls "good" and what the Bible calls "good" are two different things. The Bible does not claim that God is "good" in the cultural sense of the word. It claims that God is good in the sense that God is righteous
. Yet even His righteousness is at odds with what the world regards as righteous. So the syllogism fails because God doesn't claim to be good by cultural standards, but rather by biblical standards.
God sets the biblical standard for good at Himself
His commands bear a moral imperative
. The person who indifferently neglects what God commands sins as surely as the person who openly and willfully transgresses against them: both behaviors are considered damnable
evil (i.e. both behaviors produce the same results: eternal damnation).
A thing is "good" (according to biblical standards) if God ordains it. God gave Israel a comprehensive description of how they were to worship Him. When two of the very first priests decided to "worship" God by offering up to God an offering that God did not prescribe - God killed them on the spot (with fire) for their indifference to His commands.
These priests didn't understand that the entire sacrificial system that God presented to them was itself a picture intended to foreshadow the redemption that God would work through Jesus Christ. Their "innovation" would have polluted the image that needed to be preserved in order for the redemption that God had planned to be understood properly by the generations to come. The severity of the punishment demonstrates the severity of the offence - compromising the fore-image of the coming Christ could potentially have derailed God's plan of redemption - if not through this act of innovation - certainly by subsequent acts of innovation - the necessary imagery that was to be preserved would have been eroded.
We, as creatures, see history unfolding as it happens, but God created the beginning and the end, and all that is in between in the same act of creation. He created time and space, and exists apart from both. He does not "look ahead" to see the future, nor look back to see the past. He is not a creature, and not bound in creation to time and space. He sees the beginning and end in the same glance, and is present in every moment and every place with the same fullness of His being. Every sin we commit is committed in the full presence of God who cannot forget the sin, nor have it fade with time. Our every sin is every fresh and before the face of our living God.
We are told that God is too holy and pure to tolerate sin in His presence. Likewise, that God is righteous and cannot allow any sin to go unpunished. God set the punishment for every
sin (large or small) as death. Sin, by the way, simply describes the act of disregarding
God's will. If God says to do something, and you ignore it - that's sin. If God says not to do something, and you go ahead and do it that's sin. Sin is an act of open rebellion against God who (as both your Creator and the One who sustains your life minute by minute upon this earth) has the right to command and expect your unquestioned and immediate obedience.
Our culture doesn't understand that to ignore the God of the Bible is an act of damnable treason
. No amount of subsequent obedience can erase or undo the condemnation earned by even the smallest act of indifference to any of God's commands. We are all guilty and condemned already, no matter how "good" we try and make ourselves. God cannot (if He is truly righteous) ignore even the slightest act of rebellion against His rule.
As the source and sustainer of all life God isn't being evil in determining what kind of life He is willing to sustain. A potter who makes a pot to hold water isn't being evil when he discards a pot that won't hold water. How much more if the pot could hold water, but simply refused to?
The bible tells us plainly what most of us have already reasoned out - no one obeys God perfectly (c.f. Romans 3:10-11
). There was only one exception to this rule, and that exception was Jesus. Every other human being in the history of the world has lived a life that has not be perfectly good.
To phrase that in biblical terms, every other human has lived an evil
Before we move ahead, let's finish with the flawed syllogism that was used to introduce this discussion.
The bible contends that God is righteous, omniscient and omnipotent, and that evil exists. Likewise the bible teaches that everything that is in harmony with God's will is good, and anything (everything) else, is evil.
Let's examine the first proposition again:
- If God is all knowing it follows that he is aware of all evil.
God is aware of all evil, that is, He is aware of the fact that every last one of us is evil - including the Pope, Mother Theresa, and that kind elderly lady from the grocery store. God is aware of all of us who fail to do His commands, and either ignore Him, invent our own ways to worship Him, or reject Him entirely. All of us are evil, including those whom we would otherwise regard as doing or having done much good. God is certainly aware of us, and angry with our rebellion against His rightful rule.
Let's look at the second proposition again:
- If God is unwilling to stop the evil that he is aware of, it follows that God is not good
What this means (if we allow the Bible to define God, goodness, and evil) is that unless God strikes every man woman and child dead the very instant they fail to keep a single command (such as, failing to love the Lord our God with all our mind, soul, heart and strength) He isn't good.
Think hard on that one. It isn't that God is unwilling to stop evil. God's plan is to eradicate all evil for all time. It's call the Day of Judgment and it is certainly approaching. It is as it was in the days of Noah. God ordained a flood, but He held off on the rain until Noah had built the ark that would preserve the chosen animals and people God had determined before hand to save. The very day that the ark was completed God sent the animals into it, and Noah and his family stepped into it, as the rain began to fall. In the decades it took to build the ark, God's wrath waited. People continued to live sinful lives that denied their Creator right up until all was ready - and then the wrath came in a single day.
In the same way God has chosen to save some guilty sinners from the wrath that they have earned. Rather than placing them in a wooden boat that can survive a flood - he places their life in Christ, who, rather than suffering a flood of rain, suffered on Calvary the flood of God's wrath. Those whose lives are hid in Christ on Calvary pass through the judgment for sin, in that they were found guilty, and put to death in Christ - having died with Christ, their debt is paid in full. That's the debt that every sinner pays - but not every sinner will be found in Christ. Those whose lives were not hid in Christ when He died on the cross - will face God's wrath by themselves, and their death will not be in Christ it will be apart from Christ.
But make no mistake - every sinner - you and me included - will have earned in full the death that is appointed us - and not one of us - not me, and not you, will or can escape that death.
However, those who are in Christ - whose lives are united to the life of Christ, have already been raised from the dead in Christ, when Christ was raised from the dead. They, having become partakers of Christ's life, will not have suffered the loss of their being when the life they formerly lived - that life that was inherited from Adam - was put to death in Christ, because their being will have been united to the life of Christ - which alone shall be raised from the dead.
The life of Christ, being the true ark pictured by Noah's ark - which carries the being of every genuine believer through God's wrath (the second death) to be raised along with their new life - the life of Christ, which they have inherited the moment they repented of their rebellion, and put their trust in God to save them in spite of their sin.
So God not only is willing to stop evil - he has planned to stop evil. The only reason the world continues today, is because God, in His mercy, hasn't yet saved everyone he plans to save.
Let that sink in. God allows evil, because He hasn't yet saved all the people He plans to save. This creation continues to exist entirely for one reason: God isn't finished being gracious and merciful to those whom He has chosen to be gracious and merciful to.
It is no different now than it was in the days of Noah. There also God allowed the world (as it was) to continue being and doing evil - not because God was ignoring evil - but because his plan to save those few whom he had chosen, waited on Noah to build the ark. The moment the ark was done, the wrath came.
That answers the question, by the way, of "Why, if God is so good, does He allow evil?" God allows evil to continue, and will allow evil to continue, until that last person God has determined to save from His wrath is baptized into Christ. On that very day - and I expect in that very moment - Judgment day will arrive, and God will deal with evil once and for all.
That bring us to our third proposition again:
- If God is unable to stop the evil that he is aware of, it follows that God is not omnipotent.
God is certainly able to bring judgment upon every evil doer on earth. Since we are all evil doers, that includes you and me. But because I am in Christ, God has already poured out His wrath on my life - that is, He has already poured out His wrath on the life that I inherited from -- the life that my being/awareness/soul is presently affixed to in this current world. That
life died with (and in) Christ on Calvary - But as Noah passed through the flood unscathed in the ark, so I too pass through the wrath of God on Judgment day having been affixed (by faith and repentance) to the life of Christ.
God will bring the same judgment that slew Christ upon every sinner that every has lived. If you're not in Christ - that includes you. God is able
to do that, and God has promised
to do that. The day that God is going to do that continues to draw nearer with each sunrise. God not only can
stop evil - He has appointed a day when all evil will be condemned eternally. That day could be tomorrow, or it could be today.
It follows then that evil is endured for the sake of those whom God has chosen to save throughout time, and how have yet to be saved. Every last one of us is a sinner deserving the punishment God has assigned for sin: our death.
A right understanding of sin, evil, and good, only teaches us that God is profoundly merciful towards all the sinners on earth - from the worst of us to the best of us, not because He owes us this opportunity to abandon the path we are on - living on and on as though there was no God in heaven, and as though we haven't already earned His condemnation. He allows the world to keep on going because He hasn't saved everyone He plans to save...yet. But the day is coming.
Who knows when the last soul chosen by God will turn away from his or her rebellion against God's rule, and humble themselves before God - accepting the yoke of obedience, and turning decisively away from the pursuit of their own interests to pursue instead the will of God - crying out to be saved by and through Jesus whom God has provided for our salvation - trusting that there is no other way in which a guilty sinner can be saved - casting their only hope upon Christ, crying out in faith to be saved by and through Christ from the wrath to come. You who are reading this, if you don't know Christ, if you've never really understood repentance, or what it means to trust God for your salvation - you could well be the last soul to be saved before the judgment - if you surrender control of your life in faith to God, and trust Him to save you - not because you're good, or deserve it - but because He is merciful and has promised to save everyone who comes to Him in faith.
God is good. He allows evil because He is saving evil people.