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Providence and the Problem of Evil

I am pleased to be writing a short introduction to the doctrine of providence for Crossway. It will be part of their “Short Studies in Systematic Theology” series, which is designed to introduce systematic theology in short studies of individual doctrines.

I have become convinced during my study of this topic that there is no philosophical solution to the problem of evil and that the only adequate answer is the narrative we get from Scripture. Scripture tells us about God’s creation of a wholly good but finite world, the angelic and human fall into sin, the plan of redemption climaxing in Christ’s death and resurrection, and the hope of the resurrection of the body and eternal life. Put briefly, my thesis is that if we cannot believe in the resurrection, there is no way we can understand this universe to be a moral universe. In this world evil often flourishes, and the innocent often suffer. If this life is all there is, then evil wins.If this life is all there is, then evil wins. Click To Tweet

One of the main philosophical theories put forward by theologians to explain evil is libertarian free will. Now, I have many problems with this idea, and I do not even think it is possible to think of the idea of libertarian free will coherently. But setting all that aside for a moment, if we assume for the sake of argument that libertarian free will exists and that humans have it, does that explain evil? Well, on one level it does. The answer is that evil exists because angels and humans choose it freely. But that solution only pushes the problem up a level. The next question is why does God allow free will, knowing that it will result in great evil?

If you say it is because God knows that the good that results from allowing angels and humans to fall is greater than the pain involved in a fallen world, the problem is that this answer says nothing to individuals qua individuals. It is just a utilitarian calculation that takes into account the total amount of pain and suffering overall. It says nothing to the young mother dying of cancer while her husband and three children stand by helplessly.There is no philosophical answer to the problem of innocent suffering; there is only the gospel message and the sure and certain hope of life after death in the presence of God. Click To Tweet

The only answer to the problem of innocent suffering is the resurrection of the body because that is the only answer that speaks to the individual qua individual. That particular mother will be raised from the dead and she will see her husband and children again. They will all be blessed by God in heaven so that the suffering they endured will be seen by them as temporary and as sanctifying. There will be justice not only for the universe as a whole, but for each and every individual as well. On that final day, all will confess that God is good and just.

There is no philosophical answer to the problem of innocent suffering; there is only the gospel message and the sure and certain hope of life after death in the presence of God.

Craig A. Carter

Craig A. Carter is the author of Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis (Baker Academic, 2018) and Contemplating God with the Great Tradition: Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism (Baker Academic, 2021). He is currently writing a third volume in the Great Tradition trilogy on the recovery of Nicene metaphysics. Other upcoming projects include an introduction to Theology in the Great Tradition and a theological commentary on Isaiah. He serves as Research Professor of Theology at Tyndale University in Toronto and as Theologian in Residence at Westney Heights Baptist Church. His personal website is and you can follow him on Twitter.

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