“Everything is determined by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star.”
— Albert Einstein
The Problem of Evil 1, a theology topic 2, is one that atheists probably site the most for their objecting to Christianity. So it’s a really important key to Christian apologetics. The Greek philosopher Epicurus said:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
In other words, the POE asks how a loving god (called omni-benevolence) could allow bad things in the world (war, famine, disease, suffering). Examples would be the Holocaust, cancer, the African civil wars, and AIDS.
The traditional view on God is that He is very much with us every day. The analogy used most by Christians and occasionally in Scripture is that of a parental relationship. Certainly the image of the prodigal son wreaking havoc on his pitiable life by the bad choices he made is a fitting one. The evil that befalls the son in that parable are all results of his free will.
The more difficult forms of evil are those that we don’t deserve. The fundamentalist Christian view of Original Sin dictates that all people are born into sinfulness. But does that really mean that an AIDS baby deserves his terminal disease because of the sins of his mother? Does a war refugee really deserve amputation? Where is God during these times? Where was God when Job was persecuted by Satan on a wager? The parental analogy begins to break down under the pressure.
Ok, here’s my own theory (by no means am I qualified to back this up scholoarly)…
I believe that the creative aspect of God is so vastly superior to anything we can imitate, that He doesn’t need to oil His machine to keep it operating. I believe that God made this incredibly engineered universe and has stepped back to let it run its course. I know that’s not popular in the Evangelical world, but it does seem to “exonerate” God from the POE (if indeed God needed exoneration).
With the few exceptions of incarnations — isolated Old Testament miracles, Jesus’ birth, interaction of the Holy Spirit — God has willingly stepped back from His creation to allow us to exercise our free will. Thus, the POE is no longer on God’s conscience. Does such a model of God make him to be uncaring? The traditional parental analogies of God would make it appear so. But a God who is infinitely removed from us now could not be construed as cruel. The gap between us an God remains vastly great, due to our sin nature and fallen state. Christ bridged that gap in one moment of time. Not until we are reunited with God in the afterlife will that be a permanent bridge.
There’s also a lot of evidence in the material universe for pre-design. All our physical constants (gravitational, speed of light, electron charge, etc.) have precisely calibrated values such that the universe would not work right without their foresight by a designer. Those values aren’t drifting (very, very little), so the universe doesn’t require constant maintenance. I think it speaks more for God’s design that He spun it up and is letting it run.