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What Is Evil and Where Did It Come From?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
September 20, 2021 12:01 am

What Is Evil and Where Did It Come From?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 20, 2021 12:01 am

The problem of evil is one of the most common objections raised against the Christian faith. How can we account for the existence of evil in a world ruled by a perfect and holy God? Today, R.C. Sproul responds to this thorny challenge.

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The universe was created by a God who is holy and righteous. It is also governed and ruled by such a God… God is holy and if he is righteous. How in the world can he tolerate so much evil in it. Skeptics challenge the consistency of the Christian worldview argue that evil could not have originated in a universe created by a good God. The reason that since evil does exist. The universe could not have been created by God. This challenge is not new.

So today in all this week on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. RC Sproul and several other trusted teachers tackled the tough questions the Christians face today's messages.

What is evil in the comfort I have been given two questions to address each of which would be worthy of a lengthy series to consider, but will give you a little introduction to these questions in the first of the questions is what is evil.

The second question is where did it come from, but the first part of the question is what is evil, and my immediate response to that in presidential fashion is to say it depends upon what the meaning of is is now. That's really not a joke. I'm serious about that because there are different ways in which we use the verb is as a verb to be and when were dealing with the question of what is evil we face immediately. The issue of whether evil really is at all that might seem strange to you but my first assertion this morning is that evil isn't that is it is not. Why, because evil is nothing my going too fast evil is nothing unless you think that I've fallen into Christian science and religion.

That's neither Christian nor science where the reality of evil is denied altogether and considered to be an illusion. I want to clarify what I mean when I say evil is not or that evil is nothing for I do that let me tell you a story of an occasion where I was asked to debate a spokesperson for Christian science on this question of the nature of evil and the position of my opponent that day was that evil is an illusion. And so in the course of that discussion. I asked him a question that they think that I was an illusion bonsai a fig Newton of his imagination and he declared that he did not think that I was an illusion. They consider that I was real and I said when were really having this discussion here and I am saying that evil is not an illusion, and you are saying that it is an illusion that my simple question is this. Do you think it's good that I am saying that evil is not an illusion. He said no. I said well if it's not good that I'm saying that it must be bad. And so here's one example of an evil that is not an illusion and it sort of went downhill after that. What I mean when I say that evil is nothing what I mean by that is I'm taking the word. Nothing and resting upon its etymological derivation where the term nothing comes from the combination of a negative prefix and a subject in the word. Nothing really means no saying the reason I want to stress that point is that in the culture we get the idea that evil is some kind of independent substance, something that is in your drinking water or in the clouds somewhere. Some force or power that is independent that exists in and of himself, and influences the affairs of your life and of this world. And so the first thing we have to say about what evil is is what it is not.

It is not a thing that has existence evil has no being. It has no ontological status rather evil is an action of something that is a thing I am something. You are something and when I do something that is not good, then I am doing something that is evil but evil, then, is an activity of somebody getting it has no being itself. Now that may seem like a pedantic point and of no immediate concern to the second question of where evil comes from but later on, God willing, I'll try to indicate why our definition of evil is so important to the deeper question of where it comes from back to the idea of its nothingness. Historically, the two great theologians and philosophers in the history of the church who have addressed the question of what is evil were of course Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine before him, and both Augustine and Aquinas used two Latin words to describe the nature of evil. And those two words were not got PO and provide PO and you can guess the translation of those two Latin words provide video comes into the English language, with the word privatization and comes into the English language, with the word navigation and so historically and classically the nature of evil has been defined in terms of negation and privatization in philosophy and in theology. One of the most important ways in which we try to give definitions to things that are mysterious is by using the method called the way of negation and that method talks in terms of what something is not. For example, when we talk about the character in the being of God. We say that God is infinite, with the said main.

Well, that means he is not finite and so what Augustine and Aquinas were getting at is that to discuss the nature of evil. We have to first understand it. By way of negation by what it is not know evil. In this sense can only be defined against the backdrop of what is good and in biblical terms.

Evil is defined by words like this on godliness on righteousness in justice. For example, so that the term is used as the negation, the opposite of the positive thing that's being affirmed so that injustice or unjust mass can only be understood against the previous concept of justice on righteousness can only be recognized as unrighteousness against the background of righteousness as the standard by which unrighteousness can be recognized and can be defined. I think that's pretty easy to see that the way in which negative language is used to describe evil in this sense, the great theologians would indicate that evil is parasitic. It's like I parasites. It can't be known, in and of itself, as some independent being, but can only be known and understood against the positive standard and like a parasites if the host dies.

The parasite dies with it because the parasite depends upon the host for its own strengths and existence. In like manner and in an analogical way.

The same thing is true of evil is that you can't really describe it.

The can't really define it except against the background of the good mall the other word that is used by Augustine and Aquinas is the word privatization and what a privatization is is some sort of lack or some sort of deficiency. If you don't get something that you want. That doesn't mean that you are experiencing deprivation, but if you don't get something that you need that I can be properly said that you have been deprived that you have are lacking something that is necessary and essential to your very being. If we go to the Westminster confession of faith or something century reformed confession and its catechetical formulations in late Westminster larger catechism and then in this shorter catechism you have the simple question that is asked what is sin what is sin.

Sin is any one of conformity to or transgression of the law of God, so there can professionally sin, or moral evil is defined in terms of a lack of a probation of all one of conformity to righteousness involves conforming to the law of God doing what God commands. But sin enters in. When we fail to do what God commands and we fail to conform to his standards of what is righteous. So on the one hand, the catechism says that sin is a one of conformity to which is a kind of providing kind of probation or transgression of the law of God. Now were moving out of simple privation and simple negation to another element, an element that the reformers of the 16th century added to the classic definition of evil. They agreed that evil is negation and is privatization, but the last anyone should think that because evil has no being no independent status is not a thing and less because of that we come to the conclusion that evil really is an illusion. The reformer said that yes Sam is negation or evil is negation evil is privatization, but they added another Latin term.

Don't they always that of the term actual OSHA that is to say evil is providing no actual OSHA meaning that though evil is not something that exists in and of itself. It is real and its effects and its impact are devastating. There is an actual privation that is an activated privatization on activated disobedience to the word of God and because real beings act out real evil though evil is not independent. Nevertheless, it is really my making sense to getting that the understanding that points visit to obscure the course that you'll get adventure. So that's where we start with this question of what is evil and where does it come from. That's the easy part of the two questions. The second part of the question has to do with the origin of evil and how evil could intrude into a universe created by a God who is altogether holy altogether righteous and not only is this universe created by such a God. It is also governed and ruled by such a God.

And if this God is holy and if he is righteous. How in the world can he tolerates so much evil in it. The origin of evil has been called the Achilles heel of Christianity and that analysis or that analogy goes back to the billiard and to the battle of Troy were Achilles can only be wounded in one place and that was at his the back of his heel, which was the only part of his body that was not protected by his armor and so when we say that something is the Achilles' heel remain that it is the supreme point of vulnerability and critics of Christianity have said where the Christian truth claim is most vulnerable is at this point of the presence of evil in a world allegedly made and governed by a good and holy God, though sometimes as Christians we fail to feel the weight of that problem. The philosopher John Stuart Mill put it this way, the presence of evil makes the very existence of God problematic because in the Christian view of God. We say that on the one hand, God is omnipotent, he possesses all power on the other hand, we say that God is loving and God and Mill looks at the pain and the sorrow and the suffering of the moral evil in this world and he said wait a minute. These two ideas. The goodness of God and the omnipotence of God in light of the reality of evil cannot logically cohere or coexist. His argument is this. If God is all-powerful and has the power to create a universe without evil or has the power to rent the universe of evil, and any given moment, if he has the power to do it and he doesn't do it.

That is not good or is not loving what kind of being who has omnipotent power could stand by and observe the pain, the suffering and wickedness in the universe of his own creation and not eliminated. Can't be good. Upon the other hand, God is good and God is loving and once to get rid of evil that brings so much about blemish to his creation like the BP oil spill that everybody recognizes is a disaster and God would see it as a disaster. We would love to see it cleaned up but he doesn't have the power to do it.

So you see one where the other gods either.

Not good or he's not all powerful. Now I think there's an adequate answer to that question. But before I go any further to answer the question of where evil came from. I have to give my short answer to the question but down and dirty answer the question, where did evil come from in my answers this I don't so maybe as time existed on the shut up.

But what I want to do in the time remaining is to tell you why I don't know 40 years ago I was giving a lecture on this subject. Back in Pittsburgh and in the audience was my mentor, Dr. John Gerstner, and he heard me say on that occasion.

These things I said I don't know how to explain the origin of evil.

And what else I can tell you is that I'm sure that in this world. I will never be able to answer that question. I don't know of any philosopher or theologian who has answered it adequately at least satisfy my mind and I'm sure I'm not going to go beyond the insights of Augustine and Aquinas, Luther Edwards and the rest of wrestled with it when I was finished my mentor took me aside and he was somewhat pained and the visibly irritated with me and I said what's the matter, and he said what's the matter is your arrogance. I said my arrogance work that I do this said, you told these people that you didn't know where evil came from and that you couldn't explain the problem and that's fine.

But you're only 30 years old and you assume that you have already reached the saturation point of all the knowledge that you will require in your lifetime. How do you know RC Sproul that you will be able to solve this problem tomorrow.

I should because Aquinas couldn't do it and accustomed couldn't do it. And Edwards couldn't do it and you can't do it.

And these guys are so much more intelligent than I am.

I'm trying to tell you I don't think there's much likelihood that I'm going to solve a conundrum that they were unable to resolve the leave you with this thought, though I don't know or fully understand the origin of evil. I do know the future of it I do know that it has been overcome, and that God will read this universe of all moral evil physical evil and metaphysical people. As we grow up in the fullness of Christ and inhabited a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more crying no more deaths. Death shall be no more, no more pain and no more sin we hear someone say that the existence of evil is the Achilles' heel of Christianity. It can cause us to pause and take stock. Are we personally equipped to answer in objection like that were thankful for Dr. RC Sproul's clear answer today here on Renewing Your Mind all week were featuring highlights of the 2010 leader ministries national conference were several speakers address the topic tough questions Christians face. So how do we equip ourselves to give a recent defense of the faith.

But we must understand the things of God in order to understand the questions coming from our culture that means a committed study of theology. Some might say I don't need theology I just need to love God will if you love God you want to.

There was much as you can about them, and that's what theology is. It's the study of God Dr. Spruill maintain the everyone's a theologian in the beaver and wrote a book by that title. He surveys the basic truths of the Christian faith, reminding us once more of what God is like and what is done for his people in this world and the next. This paperback edition of everyone's a theologian is available to you today for gift of any amount you can reach out to us and make your request or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343 and in advance let me thank you for your generosity tomorrow as we continue with sessions from our conference. Dr. Steven Lawson answers the question is the Bible. Just another book as a rational argument should be known by each one of us here today. There needs to be more galling in our heads. Then simply I was raised this way I was brought up this way. There needs to be some strong pillars that uphold our convictions that the Bible is the very word of God.

I hope you'll join us Tuesday for Renewing Your Mind

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