If God is good, why does He allow suffering? And if He is all-powerful, why does He not put an end to sinful actions and natural catastrophes? If God is all-good and if He created only good things, then where did evil come from? How can evil come from what is perfectly good? Thinking Christians face these troubling questions. And many opponents of Christianity also challenge believers with these queries.
St. Augustine answered this by noting that one of the good things God made was free choice. “It is good to be free. We all enjoy it. No one marches against freedom. Even if someone did, he would be enjoying the good of his freedom to do so. But if it is good to be free, then evil is possible. We cannot be free to love God unless we are also free not to love Him. We cannot be free to praise God unless we are also free to curse Him. So evil began when a free creature (Lucifer) used his good freedom to will the good of the creature over the good of the Creator.” However, I believe Augustine missed the mark.
We gain insight from the Prodigal Son. Simply put, the story of the Prodigal shows how Natural evil (Prodigal’s experience; no food, no friends, no life); the result of his choices, serves as a call back from Moral evil (i.e. his selfish immoral lifestyle) to a new level of understanding the love of his father (natural evil and moral evil having run their ordained course and accomplished their intended purpose). The father’s reception demonstrates the doctrines of grace of our heavenly Father. The prodigal came to a place of repentance and self-deprecation only to find how truly and deeply his father loved him and to what lengths of taking on his shame the Father was willing to go.
Natural evil is God’s call back from moral evil. Moral evil is best understood as a violation of the commandments of God intended to show man how they might attain the highest good. Natural evil is not punishment but the result of cause and effect. One of the significant challenges of religion is the perpetual and often propagated view of God as transactional – the view that Job’s three friends articulated that somehow our suffering is the result of our sin.
Moral evil is God’s design to bring depth to the revealed glory (general revelation) of Himself. Natural evil on the other hand manifests for us the mercy of God and His gift of regeneration (making alive what was once dead as a result of moral evil, i.e. spiritual death). Man is guilty of three things in particular, 1) Not seeking, understanding, or doing what is right; 2) Acting contrary to our nature; 3) Autonomy – declaring one’s independence from God.
What is the relation between general revelation and special revelation? One can lead to the other and is intended to do so by the Creator. General Revelation is what we can all know about God all the time (and for all time). God has revealed Himself in such a way by His creation that all men are without excuse (Romans1.20). What is available to man through general revelation is to know that God is eternal (and only God), and that man is accountable to Him exclusively. General revelation is complete (“full and clear”) and as such the need for redemption becomes apparent – insofar that the reality of sin becomes apparent.
Special Revelation is the Creator’s plan for redemption from that reality of sin that general revelation has made apparent – mankind “knew God” (Romans 1.21). Man is condemned for rejecting the glory of God and pursuing gods (idols) of their own design i.e. general revelation. God, through His special revelation has made provision for redemption through the Gospel. An important distinction to make is that man is not condemned for rejecting the Gospel, rather man is condemned for exchanging “the glory and truth about God for a lie” (Romans1.23,25). Man needs the Gospel because man is condemned. Reason helps man see good and evil.
If “free will (Augustine’s belief) is necessary for human dignity, and moral evil is the result of free will [human dignity], and moral evil resulted in natural evil,” then man is God/god and God is dispensable or at best co-equal with man. The free will solution which embraces the idea that man somehow operates at a point outside the Sovereignty of God can only be resolved by man being god. Man being god/God is the offense of original sin and many false religions. “The human will is always dependent and created,” therefore we must say the free will solution is insufficient.
In Psalm 73 we see the relationship of natural evil and moral evil. Spurgeon calls this Psalm the “great soul-battle.” “Truly God is good…” (v.1) – His desire is to be known and to be worshipped (in spirit and in truth). God puts an “end to everyone who is unfaithful…” (v.27); v.26 says “the [unbeliever] will perish” ultimately. Asaph needed to look at the conclusion of the life of the wicked, while more importantly seeing his own need for a Savior (v.17). If the purpose of Natural evil is a call back from moral evil and if moral evil exists to help the believer reach depths of knowing God and His character, we understand then that until moral evil accomplishes its purpose, natural evil must serve its purpose. This Psalm also demonstrates that mankind (saved and unsaved) is without excuse. Good (i.e. God) must overcome evil in the end.
Moral evil leads to spiritual death which reveals God’s justice. If man is seeking God then man can understand how death is the consequence of sin including spiritual death. Man can then see the necessity of pursuing holiness…Are you?