Framing the problem of evil

black-and-white-glass-game-chess

My initial ambition of blogging through the entirety of John Frame’s systematic theology turned out to be fiendishly unrealistic. It turns out that being a husband and (recent) father, working full time, studying for an MA, serving at church and being involved in live performance projects is surprisingly time consuming (who knew?!).

Nevertheless, I thought that I would make the most of some holiday time by resuming my brief foray into Frame’s weighty tome of Christian Theology. Given that it is one of my research interests, I thought I’d delve into his treatment of Theodicy, otherwise known as ‘the problem of evil’. Put simply, this all hinges on the question of how an all powerful, all knowing, loving, ever present God could allow evil and suffering to exist. It’s a great question, so without further ado, let’s see what John Frame has to say:

The problem of evil

“In a nutshell, the problem is this: How can there be any evil in the world, if God exists? Or to put it more formally:

1. If God is omnipotent, he is able to prevent evil.

2. If God is good, he wants to prevent evil.

3. But evil exists.

4. Conclusion: either God is not omnipotent, or he is not good.”

“The syllogism above is sometimes called the logical problem of evil, for it accuses the theistic worldview of logical inconsistency.” [1]

Very well then. Frame goes on to look at the creation/fall narrative in Genesis 1-3, rooting his understanding of evil in these passages. He distinguishes between what he calls ‘natural’ and ‘moral’ evil, stating that the latter came first and ultimately caused the former to exist. ‘Natural’ evil is defined as ‘natural’ disasters/sickness/et al, whereas ‘moral’ evil is propagated by sentient human and/or angelic beings by virtue of their choices. He neatly explains it this way:

“Scripture, therefore, gives us an explicit answer to the problem of natural evil. Natural evil is a curse brought on the world because of moral evil.” [2]

Granted, this still doesn’t answer the original question: why would God even allow this to occur? Frame looks at various ‘common defences’ against the problem of evil, which he groups into three categories: the nature of evil, how evil ultimately benefits the universe, and how God acts with regard to evil. He discusses evil as illusion (e.g. Hinduism) and privation (e.g. evil is the absence of good/’metaphysical entropy), as well as critiquing various forms of the ‘freewill defence’ (blame the creatures), and the ‘best possible universe’ defence (i. e. It doesn’t get any better than this, God did his best-for now at least). Finally, he lands on what he calls the ‘greater-good’ defence, described thus:

“When all of God’s actions are added up, it will be plain that the sum total of his works are righteous. From the evils of history he has brought unquestionable good, worthy of the highest praise.”

“It is important for us to define greater good theistically. The greater good should be seen, first of all, not as greater pleasure or comfort for us, but as greater glory to God.” [3]

Frame then poses a series of questions, one of which is:

“Does the greater-good defense presuppose that the end justifies the means? It does say that God’s good purposes justify his use of evil.” [4]

And in summary:

“Since the burden of proof is on the objector [presumably any objector to Frame’s greater-good defence], it is not necessary for us to come up with a full theodicy, a justification of God’s ways.” – (parentheses mine).

“My conclusion on the greater-good defense, then, is that God certainly does will evil for a good purpose. The good he intends will be so great, so wonderful and beautiful, that it will make present evils seem small.” [5]

Finally, Frame undertakes a more explicit and detailed analysis of how God acts in relation to evil. He draws the threads together with another tri-perspectival model of how humanity can (not) understand or question his (Frame’s) deterministic conclusion. When all is said and done, his perspective is unashamedly Calvinist. Frame deliberately refuses to offer a complete theodicy, and instead appeals to his own view of divine sovereignty and mystery.

Clearly, I have condensed a substantial amount of Frame’s thesis on this topic into a few selected quotes and summaries. For the sake of integrity therefore, I am not claiming to fully represent his position on this (or any other) matter. Rather, these examples are what stood out to me as being the most relevant to my attempt at simplifying his thinking. For clarity, of course, I would encourage any interested readers to explore Frame’s writing for themselves.

What do you think? Has Frame solved the problem of evil? Is his response biblical?

Until next time.

M

1. Frame, John M, “Systematic Theology: An introduction to Christian belief” (Kindle edition, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, USA, P&R Publishing Company, P.O. Box 817: 2013) 494.

2. Frame, Systematic Theology, 496.

3. Frame, Systematic Theology, 508.

4. Frame, Systematic Theology, 510.

5. Frame, Systematic Theology, 511.