The Nature and Origin of Evil -- By: Robert D. Culver

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 129:514 (Apr 1972)
Article: The Nature and Origin of Evil
Author: Robert D. Culver


The Nature and Origin of Evil

Robert D. Culver

[Robert D. Culver, Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.]

Not many years ago at a state college, a professor of sophomore ethics, more interesting than profound, proposed to refute by anecdote any Christian explanation of the problem of evil in history. The life of a small child in the small college town had recently been taken by a careless hit-and-run automobile driver. At the funeral, the pastor had administered the usual comfort. “God has taken this little one from scenes of this life to heaven.” The professor’s caustic comment to the sophomores, “God didn’t do that; a guilty hit-and-run driver did it!” The sophomores thought about the problem—and though no one phrased the question, what everyone was thinking about was: in a world which most men in a Christianized culture think was created by God, how can gross evil be present? Is God not strong enough to eliminate it? Or is He not good enough? Or is He not wise enough to make a better world? Each of these refinements of the question leads to still further questions.1

The usual Christian explanation starts with a distinction between natural evil(s) and moral evil. Examples of natural evils are floods such as the one in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, eighty years ago, which destroyed many lives and much property; the epidemics of plague that decimate populations from time to time; great fires, such as the Chicago fire; earthquakes, such as the recent disastrous ones in

Sicily, Turkey, Iran, and Peru. The evil in each natural calamity consists in harm to rational moral beings—men, women, and children, or to their environment. Examples of moral evils are murder, theft, adultery. Note how each of these three examples involves injury to other persons. Natural evils involve no moral dereliction in man, it is thought; it is only God’s power, righteousness, and wisdom which are brought into question. Yet upon reflection, man’s moral dereliction is frequently seen to be involved in “natural” evils. If the Johnstown engineers had done their duty as well as they should have, the dams up the river would not have burst. If Mrs. O’Leary had watched where she set the lantern (granting that the famous story is not apocryphal), the cow would not have knocked it over and set Chicago afire. And if so many persons were not crowded into unsafe apartments about the world, neither plagues nor earthquakes would take such a heavy toll.

Now it is a matter of considerable importance that the Bible nowhere attempts to justify God (theodicy) in allowing evil in the world....

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