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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: February 2019

8 - The problem of evil and the question of theodicy

from PART II - KEY THEMES OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY

Summary

THE NATURE AND REALITY OF EVIL

Our examination of sin in the previous chapter emphasized that sin is rebellion against the divine will with deleterious consequences, including the estrangement of human beings from God, from one another, and from nature. Sin is a potent reality in human life, which unleashes dark forces in creation that cause incalculable misery. This is perhaps why the NT reminds us that humanity's real battle in life is with fallen “principalities and powers” (see Eph. 6:12), which can be understood as forces of evil, both spiritual and structural, that harass persons, from both within and without. In addition to sin, therefore, we must consider the sinister presence of evil – a power that causes suffering and destruction – in God's good but fallen creation.

Evil takes a variety of forms. It is customary in theology to distinguish between two main types of evil. On the one hand, there is natural evil, which occurs when seemingly senseless but potent natural forces oppress and devour innocent victims, such as when tornadoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes suddenly wreak havoc on entire communities, or when diseases stalk and attack countless people. On the other hand, closely related to sin, there is moral evil, which occurs when acts perpetrated by accountable moral agents result in suffering. Human beings, it seems, have a pronounced penchant for inflicting cruelty on their fellow creatures: assault, rape, and murder are frighteningly common in our disordered world, to say nothing of attempts to exterminate entire races of people, among other unspeakable atrocities and acts of terror.