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The Problem of Evil

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
October 14, 2022 12:01 am

The Problem of Evil

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 14, 2022 12:01 am

One of the thorniest questions in theology is the problem of evil. Today, R.C. Sproul helps us think carefully about the origin of evil and its place in the Lord's good purposes.

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Some people believe that man is basically good, but that brings up a difficult question. How could a good being who has no evil inclination or disposition whatsoever in their soul or in their mind ever choose evil? That's the problem. The question of evil has been a major sticking point for many people.

In fact, there are those who reject God altogether because they say if God is good, He would prevent bad things from happening. Today on Renewing Your Mind, we're wrapping up a week of messages by R.C. Sproul that we have never aired before.

They're from an archive that we reserve for our ministry partners, and I'll tell you more about that a little bit later on. But right now, let's listen to Dr. Sproul as he addresses this problem of evil. I was playing ping pong in the freshman dorm of the college where I attended in the rec room, and in the middle of one of the volleys, it struck me, the question, how can a perfectly just and righteous God create a creature that would incline itself in any way towards evil? And I stopped right there at the table and began to think about it and tried to figure it out and found no success in that endeavor. This is a question that is called in theology the mystery of iniquity. Now I'd like to say this morning that there have been all kinds of attempts to explain this difficulty, and what I am going to try to do with you this morning is not to explain it, but rather to explain to you why in my judgment the prevailing explanations are simply inadequate and why I think we have to leave it, at least for now, in the realm of mystery.

Some of the simple, and I have to say simplistic explanations for it include the following. Some people say, oh well, it's easy to understand how Adam and Eve sinned. They sinned out of ignorance and insofar as they were ignorant, they didn't really fully grasp the import of what was going on and therefore they fell. Well there are two serious problems with that explanation.

The first one is obvious. It is contrary to the text itself because the text makes it clear that they were not ignorant, that their creator had informed them of what the parameters of the limits that they had in the garden and what the consequences would be if they violated his law. So on the last day, Adam and Eve cannot appeal to ignorance to excuse them, nor can an appeal to ignorance explain for us the mystery of how they could have sinned.

Does everybody see that? Alright, the second argument is that they were deceived, and this argument is based upon the biblical description of Satan's guile and craftiness, and the Bible itself speaks of Eve's having been deceived, so he was fooled. But again, this falls back on the first argument of ignorance because deception is just one way of provoking ignorance. If you fool somebody, you get them to do something they don't know what they're doing because they have been tricked, they have been deceived. But again, that falls right back on the argument that we had a moment ago about ignorance because even as crafty and as sly and as deceitful as the serpent could be, nevertheless, God was not deceitful. God was crystal clear, according to the text, in his telling them what they could and could not do.

And after all of the beguiling attempts to deceive Adam and Eve, in the final analysis, the serpent did come straight up and directly contradict what God had said in such a manner that any sentient creature, particularly one who has not yet fallen, one who has no effects on their mind from the ravages of sin, would have spotted in an instant and would not have fallen into the snare of the deception. You know, I have to say something here. One of my frustrations as a student of theology is I'll talk to Christian people about this problem and they'll look at me like, what's the matter with you? This is simple. This is not a problem. It doesn't bother me.

I'm at ease in Zion. You know, they say, why are you so exercised about it? Because it's simple. The obvious answer to the problem is that Adam and Eve sinned through their own free will. I can't tell you how many people look me in the eye and think that they're telling me the answer to the problem because they haven't felt the weight of the problem. I say, yeah, I understand that Adam and Eve made a choice and they weren't coerced because if they were forced, which is another option, if they were absolutely coerced, then what? Then they wouldn't be held accountable either. But they were held accountable and the Scripture gives no indication that they were coerced. Certainly we all agree that they chose to disobey God. They exercised their will freely from any external coercion. We all understand that. But the question is, how could a good being who has no evil inclination or disposition whatsoever in their soul or in their mind ever choose evil?

That's the problem. That's the weight of this question and that takes us back to what I said when you first came in the room, that you, every time you choose, you choose according to your desires that in your whole life no one in this room has ever, ever chosen to do something they didn't want to do, ever. I want you to think about that because already you're thinking, wait a minute, as recently as this morning I got in the car and I came to this class and I didn't want to come to this class, but my wife said I had to come to this class. And so she dragged me all the way here and to make me listen to you talk about these things. Maybe that's what you're thinking, but what happened really when your wife yelled at you and said you better get out of bed and you better get ready to go to church because we're going to go to that class this morning, you're thinking I don't want to go to that class, but there's something worse.

I don't want to have to endure the wrath of my wife. If all things were equal, I'd just as soon not have to go to church this morning, but all things are never equal. So I have to choose here between two alternatives, neither one of which is particularly appealing to me, but I'm going to choose the one that's most appealing or least appalling to me. I choose according to my strongest inclination at the moment, and at the moment of your choice to come this morning, your mind said it would be more pleasing or less painful for you to come than to stay at home.

And so you chose to come. Free will does not operate in a vacuum. Free will and choices that we make, those choices are never effects without causes.

Every choice that we make has a cause, and the cause is the strongest inclination or desire that we have at the moment of choosing. If that's true, and we now go back to the garden, and we see Adam and Eve confronted by the serpent, and we know that they chose to disobey, which can only tell me that at the moment of decision, their desire to eat from the tree was greater than their desire to please God. Their desire to sin was greater than their desire for obedience. In other words, I can think of no rational explanation for their choosing evil except that they already had an evil disposition or desire in their heart. Because it's axiomatic, biblically, that prior to every evil act in a human being lurks an evil desire in the heart. And if that's the case, then Adam has fallen before he fell, you see. He's already committed sin before he disobeys because he already has the evil desire in his heart.

Are you beginning to feel the weight of the problem? Because reason demands, as far as I can see, that Adam and Eve sinned because they had an inclination to sin. And if they had an inclination to sin, where'd they get it? Now there are some theologians, very few of them, who argue that they got it from their Creator. That God created Adam and Eve with an inclination towards righteousness and an inclination toward evil. And so that Adam and Eve got their disposition towards sin from their Creator.

Where else could they get it? They couldn't get it from society, couldn't get it from their parents. Adam couldn't say, I was born in sin and sin did my mother conceive me like David did.

But then if you say that, what's the problem? Now you raise questions about the integrity of God, because the most important axiom, what we call the biblical a priori, that overriding primary assumption of Christian theology is that God is not the author of sin. And if God created Adam and Eve with a disposition to sin, and then punished them when they worked according to this disposition, then this would seem to indicate that God Himself was unjust, and if unjust, not righteous. Now that's a pretty heavy price to pay. And I'll have to say this, the most logical explanation that I can think of for the origin of sin is that God created Adam and Eve, not just with an ability to sin, but with a disposition towards sin.

That's scary. Now what happens in orthodox theology, particularly in Reformed theology, is that the vast majority of Reformed theologians would say, look, reason may demand that Adam and Eve were created with a fallen inclination, but the Bible doesn't say that they were, and we can't understand how a good creature would in fact choose a bad action. That's a mystery, and that's where we're going to place the mystery. We're going to say Adam was created good, he did something bad, and we have no idea how he did it, alright? That's a mystery, and that's where the theologians throw their hands up in the air and say we can't fathom that. On the other side, those who say, well, we can fathom it, he was made that way, and they say, well, then that must mean that God is unjust and unfair. Oh no.

Oh no, they'll say. God's not unjust. God's not unfair. He's perfectly holy, and he's perfectly righteous, and in his righteousness he has every right to create vessels fit for destruction, as the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 9, and manifests his glory by creating creatures with an inclination to do wickedness and then punishing them for that wickedness.

We don't see how that would be just. We don't see how that is righteous, but we trust that God is righteous in this. How he can do this and still be righteous is a mystery. Do you see what's going on here? The difference between the two camps is simply where the mystery is placed.

Let me say it again. The first group say Adam was created good, and this good creature did something bad. How he did it, we don't know. It's a mystery.

The second group says, no, we know how he did it. He did it out of an evil inclination. The only place he could have gotten the evil inclination was from his creator, but God is righteous in creating somebody with an evil inclination. How he could be righteous and do that, we don't know.

It's a mystery. Either way, you are impaled on the horns of a terrible, terrible dilemma. That's why it's said that the origin of evil or the origin of sin is the Achilles heel of Christianity. Others try to deal with this philosophically, have argued that Adam sinned out of finitude because that which is finite cannot be perfectly righteous. Well, there's no reason to assume that that being which is finite must be morally imperfect. There's nothing in the concept of finitude that requires wickedness. If there were, then the argument would prove too much because in heaven we will still be finite but yet we will be without sin. Jesus' human nature was finite and He was without sin, which proves that finitude does not absolutely require moral imperfection.

I'm just not going to take much time on that, but if you've been exposed to that kind of argument from people like Paul Tillich and others, you've heard a brief rebuttal to it. I take comfort in this, that though I cannot at this point in my life have not yet been able to figure out how a good creature made by a perfectly righteous God could do sin, one thing I understand, just like I don't understand how electricity works and I don't understand how gravity works really, but I know there is such a thing as electricity and I know there is such a thing as gravity and I know there is such a thing as evil and I know that Adam and Eve sinned. That they sinned is not in question by me.

How they did it, I don't know. But I do know that sin, as mysterious as it is, is real. But there are those who say, you know, that the reality of evil disproves Christianity because it proves that God is not good because He has let evil into the world.

Well, let's look at that for a second. In the first place, in our study of the Westminster Confession and we looked at the problem of evil, I talked about the nature of evil as being negation and privation, that evil is always explained or described in negative terms. Evil is a parasite, insofar as the parasite depends upon its host for its own existence.

But once the host dies, the parasite perishes as well because the parasite cannot live independent from the host. In that sense, evil is parasitical. It depends upon the good for its very definition. We talk about evil in terms of unrighteousness, imperfection, lawlessness, disobedience, so that we understand evil only against the background of the standard, the prior standard of goodness because evil is only known insofar as it fails to conform to the standard of goodness.

Do you see that? So in an indirect way, a backdoor kind of a way, the very presence of evil bears witness to the prior existence of the good. And so I will admit to the pagan that as a Christian I have an enormously vexing problem with evil, but they have a problem not only with evil, but they have a problem with good because they have no basis for believing in the good in the first place, and if they don't have any understanding of good, they can't have any basis for talking about evil. So again, evil indirectly as a parasite bears witness to the host. Now that's a small comfort, but it is a comfort.

It doesn't solve the problem. And finally, the weightiest matter is the question I mentioned last week or so. How could a righteous God allow unrighteousness in His creation? Now here's what I'm convinced of. I'm convinced of the reality of evil. I'm also convinced of the reality of God and that God is righteous. Now we have a problem if God is righteous and evil is real, how is it that a good God could allow evil in His creation?

Now let me take it one step further. It is a sin, the Bible says, to call good evil and to call evil good. We talked about last week how when we get involved in sin and we don't want to bear the weight of our consciences or the weight of our guilt, we'll try to get as many people as possible to agree that what we're doing is okay. To call evil good, that's sin, and we all do that. But again, it's a sin to call evil good or to call good evil, and I don't want to commit that sin. And I've already said that the first sin of Adam and Eve was real sin and it was really evil. However, as evil as the fall was, it's good that there was a fall.

How do I know that? Because I know that God is omnipotent and I know that God is good. And an omnipotent God would not allow wickedness to come into His world unless His intent in allowing it to happen was a righteous intent. This is the whole point that we learn in the book of Genesis in the story of Joseph when he's confronted by his brothers. I've been over this with you many times, but again, when his brothers are expecting a fierce reaction by Joseph to get even, an act of vengeance, Joseph says what? You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

You see that? That's how God in His providence can ordain evil and not be evil because when He ordains evil, He does it because it's good. So the only conclusion I can come to is that the fall was real. It was real sin, but it's good that there was one because God could have stopped it like that. He knew before it happened what was going to happen. And people ask the question, well, if He knew in advance that they were going to do that, why did He just not create them? Well, I don't know. It may seem to me that it had been better for all of us.

Well, it may be better for some of us that God had not created any of us, but no Christian better ever say that because if He hadn't created me, I wouldn't have the opportunity to be with Him with absolute felicity for eternity, enjoying the sweetness of His beauty and of His holiness. I hope you found that message helpful. That's R.C. Sproul, and you're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Friday. I'm Lee Webb.

This is classic R.C. Sproul material and an example of why we so appreciate his teaching. This message and every message we've heard this week is from a collection of sermons and messages available to our ministry partners. Those who sign up to give a monthly gift of $25 or more to this ministry. Their stable monthly generosity fuels everything we do here at Ligonier Ministries, all with one purpose in mind.

Here's our president and CEO, Chris Larson. Ligonier exists to serve and come alongside of the local church, and one of the ways that manifests itself is all of the teaching that we produce is designed with discipleship in mind. And he is using you, dear ministry partners, as we are linked in this remarkable ministry enterprise.

This is God's work. We exist for God's glory alone, and he is doing an amazing work through you and through Ligonier Ministries to serve the nations. That is what we are seeking to foster as we remain true to our purpose to proclaim, teach, and defend the holiness of God in all of its fullness and to reach as many people as possible. And to reach as many people as possible requires consistent financial support. That's why we consider our ministry partners the backbone of this ministry. Would you join this special group of people by committing to give $25 or more per month?

You can do that by calling us at 800-435-4343, or you can sign up online at renewingyourmind.org slash partner. If you're already a ministry partner, let me ask you to prayerfully consider raising your monthly commitment. We are grateful for your continued support. Well, Dr. Sproul was never afraid to tackle difficult topics, but he did so with great respect and a careful approach. Next week we'll feature an important series helping us understand Roman Catholicism. It's beginning Monday here on Renewing Your Mind. God bless. God bless.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-06 07:33:20 / 2022-12-06 07:41:43 / 8

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