Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
This question plagues us. It plagued the authors of the Bible (Habakkuk 1:13). Atheist and Christian philosophers have debated the problem for millennia. Both feel confident in their positions. But even those of us who continue to believe in God despite the prevalence of evil want to know: Why does God allow us to suffer the way we do? Why doesn’t he intervene?
In Death to Deconstruction: Reclaiming Faithfulness as an Act of Rebellion, Joshua S. Porter appeals to a generation abandoning the faith, urging them to choose a more nuanced faithfulness instead of outright rejection of orthodox Christianity. He structures his book around five “great predators”: biblical illiteracy, the problem of evil, a politicized Christianity, hypocrisy, and self-denial, laying out paths forward within orthodoxy avoiding each.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to work through Porter’s book and offer a response. The book is great—there is much I agree with. However, I sympathize with the deconstruction trend more than Porter does, and so I will also talk a little about how toxic streams within evangelical culture have contributed to the deconstruction movement and how often deconstruction is a rejection of American evangelicalism and not a rejection of Jesus. I also want to suggest a path forward for reform and paint a picture of what a post-evangelicalism could look like.
The second of Porter’s great predators is the problem of evil. The problem of evil is typically expressed in one of two ways: the deductive problem of evil and inductive problem of evil. The deductive problem of evil is that it is logically inconsistent to believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God when evil exists. After all, an all-powerful God would be able to prevent evil, and all-knowing God would know about its existence, and an all-loving God would want to stop it. The deductive problem of evil has been defeated by Christian philosophers with the argument from greater good—that evil exists temporarily for some greater good. The best analogy for this is that while we would acknowledge that it is wrong to stab someone, we recognize the good that surgeons do when they stab people for a greater good (saving them). God has temporarily allowed evil to exist so that creation will be better off in eternity.
More difficult is the inductive problem of evil, which is that the amount of evil present in the world (especially meaningless suffering) makes the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God possible but unlikely. Porter writes about people walking away from God because of the problem of evil:
“There are, of course, Christians who believe God specifically plans, ordains, and controls everything from the flight patterns of dust particles to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, but for hundreds of years, no Christian believed such a thing. In fact, by the time Augustine proposed an all-controlling god at the center of the broken universe, his problematic deity was unanimously rejected by an official church council. Christians who still insist on an all-controlling god (usually operating under the label of reformed or Calvinist) would probably admit that their theological tradition isn’t exactly famous for its humble approach to doctrine, which explains why so many former Christians who bailed out on the all-controlling god had no idea there was any other way to understand him.
They abandoned Christianity hating an unknowable god who predestines mass shootings and damns children to hell before they’re even born. I don’t blame them. I hate that god too. They Bible is very aware of all the horrible things constantly unraveling in our broken world, but it never blames them on the good God whom Jesus called ‘Dad.’” (100)
I don’t know that Porter is being fair to Reformed theology here, but there are certainly some who believe what he has described and there are certainly many who have walked away from the faith because of these ideas.
Porter follows Greg Boyd in arguing that the solution to the problem of evil is to emphasize human freedom and our role in the brokenness of our world. Satan and his demons are warring against God and pushing humans to behave demonically. Thus, the sovereignty of God is not at play in human evil but rather demonic rebellion against God. Porter writes:
“My heart breaks and my stomach turns when some vile thing happens in the brokenness of our world—a mass shooting, a hurricane, a child beaten—and I hear the old adage that has become the inroad for innumerable deconstructions: God is sovereign. God is in control.
No. God doesn’t do those things.
I once sat and listened as a man stood before a congregation and claimed that though his father had physically abused him for years, God had orchestrated each beating with a great purpose in mind.
No. God did not do that. A broken man did that, and he carried out the will of Satan, not God.
The distinction matters.” (112)
How troubling to your faith is the problem of evil? Do you find Porter’s (Greg Boyd’s) solution helpful—that evil comes from Satan and his demons and not from God?