The Table Podcast

Christian Responses to the Problem of Evil

In this episode, Kymberli Cook, Dr. Timothy S. Yoder, and Keith S. Lindley discuss Christian responses to the problem of evil, focusing on theodicy.

Timecodes
00:15
Lindley’s and Yoder’s work on the problem of evil
04:05
What is the problem of evil?
08:13
How has the Church historically responded to the problem of evil?
12:51
Differences between academic and pastoral responses to the problem of evil
15:52
What are some unorthodox responses to the problem of evil?
24:44
Does God cause suffering and evil?
27:15
How does the Narrative Theodicy address the problem of evil?
36:52
What role do the end times play in responding to the problem of evil?
39:45
What resources are helpful for thinking about the problem of evil?
Resources Eleonore Stump, Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and The Problem of Suffering Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain Tim Keller, Walking with God Thorough Pain and Suffering John Stackhouse, Can God Be Trusted?  
Transcript
Kymberli Cook
Welcome to The Table Podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kymberli Cook and I am the Senior Administrator here at the Hendricks Center and today, we’re going to be talking about theodicy and the problem of evil. We’re joined by Dr. Tim Yoder, who is an Associate Professor of Theology here at DTS and one of our local philosophical and apologetics experts, and Keith Lindley who is a PhD student here in the theology department and came to us from Baylor, correct?
Keith Lindley
Yes.
Kymberli Cook
With a bachelor’s in?
Keith Lindley
Film and Digital Media.
Kymberli Cook
Film and Digital Media. I tried to say that several times and it never came out and it didn’t this time either. Well, thank you so much for joining us and for being here. I think to get started, let’s just jump in and talk about how you all got interested in the problem of evil in the first place because that’s a pretty heavy topic. So Keith, why don’t we start with you and then we’ll hear from Dr. Yoder.
Keith Lindley
So, like you said, I started out with a bachelors in film at Baylor University. When I first came to DTS, I was planning on really going back into film upon graduating, but then I really fell in love with the study of theology and apologetics and things of that nature. When I decided to sort of make this shift more to the academic side of things, the apologetics and philosophy of religion just came very naturally with all that.

So, the problem of evil started with some of my classes back a few years ago with Dr. Blount and all the apologetics and philosophy classes he taught. So that’s how I kind of got into this. And then when I was graduating with my ThM I had to pick a focus for my thesis and I wrote a new sort of theodicy approach called a Narrative Theodicy with my ThM thesis. That’s how I got really into the problem of evil study.

Kymberli Cook
Okay. And Dr. Yoder, you said you just mentioned that you even just did a presentation on this somewhere else. So how did you get involved in it?
Timothy Yoder
Well, so my previous appointment before coming to DTS was at Cairn University in the Philadelphia area where I was professor of philosophy and ethics and apologetics and world religions and a number of things. In teaching my introduction to philosophy course to undergrad students who were not philosophy majors I tried to do the whole gamut of philosophy in a single semester. After doing it for a couple years I realized how interesting and important the problem of evil is. Because while there’s lots of important philosophical issues, many of them are things that people aren’t really all that interested in like the problem of universals or the problem of nominalism or other sorts – philosophers love these things, but ordinary people are not.

But the problem of evil is one that hits all of us. We all feel the suffering of our world. We all recognize that this world is not the way it could be. So the kinds of disasters that philosophers and theologians wrestle with – these are part of everyday life. So this is one of the areas that is most applicable to everyday life. And so as I began to teach on this the students really responded and gradually grew to become a more and more important part of my courses and my own thinking and study and research.

And it’s also of interest to me because it’s one of the best places where philosophy and theology can intersect. I enjoy academic work that lives in the intersection, the interdisciplinary aspect of academic thinking. And the problem of evil is one that has obviously very solid roots in theology and the Word of God, but also in philosophical reflection. Bringing the two together I think is very fruitful in thinking through this problem.

Kymberli Cook
So the problem of evil, which is essentially how evil and omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving God can exist at the same time is, like you said, so deeply felt and discussed in academia but also at a dinner table. It’s just a very emotional conversation for a lot of people.
Timothy Yoder
It sure is.
Kymberli Cook
So, just so we’re all on the same page, would you mind walking us through the problem properly and kind of shaping it so we can all know what we’re talking about?
Timothy Yoder
Absolutely. A good place to start is with the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, who lived roughly around the same time as Aristotle, about 300 years before Christ. Epicurus was a bit of a skeptic and he posed this question: “If God is all-good and all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?” And he didn’t think there was a good answer to this question, so he dismissed most thoughts about God and many of his followers did as well and we even – they show up in the New Testament in the famous chapter in Acts 17.

But his question resounds down through the history of philosophy as people try to make sense of this idea. And the classic problem of evil as philosophers and theologians often comment on is these three propositions: that God is all-good, God is all-powerful which we as Christians and Theists clearly believe, but evil exists in the world. There is suffering. There is pain. There are things that are not the way they’re supposed to be. And the challenge put out to us is: “Well if your God is so good and your God is so powerful why is there cancer, why are there earthquakes, why are there shootings, why are there pre-mature deaths, why is there abuse? Why do all these things happen?”

And it’s an important question. And some of the most – some of the boldest of the skeptics believe that the problem of evil rules God out all together. “If there’s evil in the world, there is no God.” There are others that are more cautious and say, “Well, maybe there is a God, but maybe he’s not very good, or maybe he’s not very powerful, or maybe he’s not very interested, or maybe he’s got other things on his mind.” And so we have some that say on the basis of the problem of evil, “There is no God at all.” Others that say on the basis of the problem of evil, “Well, we have a God but not the good and loving God of the Bible but some kind of flawed or second rate God. Maybe a disinterested God, or maybe a not very powerful God, or maybe a God who is playing video games, or you know, catching up on his sleep or something like that.”

Kymberli Cook
So if we as Christian’s look at this, is there somewhere in Scripture that – are there different passages that we should consider as we’re looking at it and even that just reveal the problem and maybe people in Scripture trying to wrestle with the problem?
Timothy Yoder
Yeah, there’s a lot of places. I think the first thing that we should acknowledge is that the Bible clearly reflects this problem. Job cries out, “Why did these bad things happen to me?” Habakkuk also says, “Why, oh Lord, do you make me look on evil?” Various Psalmists cry out about the evil that they face. Even Jesus himself: “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” So throughout the Bible we see people recognizing that there is suffering in the world and that the world is – as we experience right now, is not the way it could be.
Kymberli Cook
So we’re in good company. It’s not bad to ask the question itself. It’s not disrespectful of God or the world that he created to ask it. We’re in good company amongst the people in Scripture that we obviously look to.
Timothy Yoder
The various laments that we read, I think, give us permission to ask the question, “Why? Why Lord is there suffering. Why did this bad thing happen to me? Why are things not the way we expect them to be?”
Kymberli Cook
Now, Keith, the Church has historically, and you don’t even have to go into historically, but the church has worked to address this question as a problem. Would you mind walking through some of the ways that they have addressed that, ways that they have come up to try to answer it or just even engage it, because like you said, Epicurus from the very beginning didn’t even really think there would be an answer.
Keith Lindley
Yeah, so typically apologists have tried to address the problem of evil by presenting a – what they’re going to call a morally sufficient reason that God might have for permitting the evil that’s in the world. And so, they try to find something – so Dr. Yoder gave us these two propositions, or three propositions earlier, statements, and the apologist wants to find maybe a fourth that they can add to this set that will show that, “Oh, okay, well God does have a good reason for the evil that exists in the world.” And typically, one major one throughout the history of the Church was put forward by Augustine, and that is the Free Will Theodicy.

And it’s been championed throughout the history of the Church. Most recently, Alvin Plantinga has taken it up and changed it a little bit to make it a Free Will Defense. But ultimately, this says, “Yes. God is all-powerful, he is all-good, and evil does exist in the world. But if evil had not existed, then God perhaps would not have been able to create creatures that are significantly free. That if you’re going to have creatures that have the capacity for moral goodness there also is going to be the possibility for moral evil. And to protect the freedom of his creatures and what not, that God perhaps allowed there to be this moral evil in the world. And that’s called the Free Will Theodicy. So that’s one of the ways they put this forward.

A more recent one that’s really taking a lot of the philosophical literature today is called the Skeptical Theist Defense and it’s kind of got a funny name especially because theists don’t generally speaking think of themselves to be skeptical. But this one is alleging is really it gets close to what the book of Job addresses the problem of evil with and that is well we are finite humans and who are we to say that God doesn’t have a good reason. If we were to know all the reasons that God could possibly have for allowing evil to exist we would need to have the same all-knowing mind that God has. And as human beings we lack that kind of knowledge.

So it’s really actually inappropriate for us to allege that there’s no good reason God could possibly have for allowing evil in the world. So that’s a more recent one called the Skeptical Theist Defense and there’s many others that we could talk about pretty much the rest of the time. But those are probably the two most popular and probably the two most orthodox that you hear right now.

Kymberli Cook
Now, I heard you use two different terms, both a theodicy and a defense. Would you mind talking about the difference in those?
Keith Lindley
Right. So a theodicy is – well, let’s get into the terminology. You know here at DTS we have our introductory to theology classes and we typically define our terms early and so with theology we have these Greek roots. We have theos and logos. Theos meaning “God,” logos meaning “the study of” or “the word.” And so we have theology, “the study of God.” So likewise, with theodicy we have theos and the Greek word dikē. So theos, “God,” and dikē meaning “the justice or righteousness of God.” So a theodicy tries to defend God’s righteousness and justice in light of the evil that’s in the world.

And so throughout the history of the church we’re going to see people put forth theodicies, and the main distinction between a theodicy and a defense is a theodicy is going to allege to know one of God’s actual reasons, an actual reason for allowing evil to exist, where as a defense is where things have moved in the more contemporary literature and a defense says I’m not going to suggest an actual reason but maybe a possible reason God could have. And so there are strengths and weaknesses to both, the theodicy is obviously going to be harder to demonstrate because it’s supposedly an actual reason, but if it’s achieved it’s more powerful.

The defense, though, is a more humble approach and it’s a little bit easier to achieve, but at the same time there is something to be said for the humility of saying, “Okay maybe this is a possible reason God could have. I’m not going to myself claim to know the mind of God, especially if the argumentation and the logic doesn’t get me to a point where I can declare this is an actual reason confidently.” So you’re going to see a lot more defenses in the contemporary literature and you’re going to see more theodicies throughout the history of the church.

Kymberli Cook
Now this is largely, like what you have been describing, I think, would largely be characterized as an academic response and there’s a little bit of a difference especially when you’re talking about these really emotional topics between the academic response and the pastoral response. Could you speak to that a little bit, Dr. Yoder.
Timothy Yoder
Sure. I think it’s important, any kind of discussion like this to bear this distinction in mind because it helps govern how we use the information. So we can imagine a situation maybe in our church or our family or our neighborhood in which something awful happens, a car accident and maybe some people die or a sudden illness or something like that. And people in the midst of their grief and suffering, our Christian reaction because we are filled with the Holy Spirit, is to weep with those who weep, to mourn with those who mourn, to comfort, to bear one another’s burdens.

There’s a whole raft of Scriptures in the New Testament that talk about this compassion that we’re supposed to feel, that we walk through the trials together just to be with them, to pray with, to cry with, to bake a casserole for, all those sorts of things. And that’s great because in the moment we can walk with the difficult things with people and that’s bearing one another’s burdens, weeping with those who weep. That’s what I mean by the pastoral or the personal. It doesn’t require a lot of education or lots of theology just simple compassion. At some point those simple acts of compassion aren’t enough. Not in the moment. In the moment that’s what people need, the moment of grief, the moment of intense suffering.

But down the road maybe someone who has lost a child feels, well, “Why did this happen? Does God not love me?” Does – and at that point they don’t need another casserole or another shoulder to cry on. They need some answers and that’s when I think sitting down to help think through these things in an academic way using good solid theology, good solid philosophy to think through the answers, to help reassure them.

Know it’s not necessarily that God is punishing you. It’s not necessarily that God hates you. In fact it’s probably just the opposite. And so balancing those two together. I think in our responses to the problem we need the pastoral approach which is just loving people and being compassionate, but we also need the academic approach. And so a podcast like this helps to equip us for those more difficult questions when that’s the appropriate response.

Kymberli Cook
In context it is the right thing to do not necessarily to launch into this with somebody who just underwent something.
Timothy Yoder
No. Not when somebody is crying. “Let’s talk about the freewill defense!”
Kymberli Cook
It’s not going to be satisfying.
Timothy Yoder
No, or appropriate.
Kymberli Cook
So with this conversation we’re weaving in and out of really important things about the character of God and important assertions about the character of God. So I’m going to throw out a question to both of you. And Keith we’ll start with you. What are the theological parameters that we need to know about and kind of the lines for us playing the game on the field? What are the appropriate ways to think about God and the world and evil and what are those things that are outside and we really shouldn’t be entertaining as we’re thinking through this?
Keith Lindley
So Dr. Yoder brought some of this up earlier, but the problem of evil, if we were to expand it past God’s goodness and power, we can throw his omniscience, his all-knowingness in there. So God is all-powerful, he’s all-good, he’s all-knowing, yet evil exists in the world. And sometimes you’ll have people who might be willing to say, well, “Perhaps God isn’t all-powerful. Maybe the reason that tornado destroyed that town and killed those families is because God knew about it and he loved those people but he just lacked the power to stop that tornado from happening.” And we want to really stray away from those kind of approaches to theodicy because that’s going to really challenge the way we think about God’s power in an orthodox manner.

Likewise, somebody might say, “Oh, well, perhaps God just didn’t know. If he knew about these things ahead of time he could have planned appropriately and used his power to prevent these bad events from happening. So perhaps he didn’t know about those things.” And we want to watch out for those as well and make sure that we’re keeping the character of God as revealed in the Scripture orthodox. And as the history of the church has maintained it for the past 2,000 years.

And probably the worst of all of these is the notion that, and you usually don’t hear people go this route because people, they want to maintain God’s goodness, but the worst approach you could have is, “Well, maybe God is all-powerful and he is all-knowing, but maybe he’s not good.” And that would probably be the one we would want to stay away from the most out of these theodicy approaches we could possibly take. And the thing is there are theodicies in the history of the Church that do try to go one of these routes. Or maybe they’ll even try to challenge something else, like for instance, British theologian, John Hick, put forward what he called a Soul-Making Theodicy. And where there are many things to be commended in this approach, there is a few areas where he challenges orthodox areas of Christian doctrine.

And in his theodicy he says, “Well, perhaps the reason we are suffering is because suffering builds character. It makes us into better moral people, and you know what? Perhaps God didn’t make creation initially good, and perhaps there was no fall. Perhaps he made us imperfect so that we could continue to grow into better spiritual beings through the suffering in the world.” And where as that theodicy doesn’t disturb any of God’s attributes as revealed in Scripture it does mess quite significantly with the orthodox doctrines of the creation and the fall. And so we do want to stray away also from theodicies that might challenge other areas of orthodox Christian doctrine that lie even outside of God’s attributes.

Kymberli Cook
Dr. Yoder do you have anything to add as far as parameters that we should be aware of?
Timothy Yoder
Yeah. I think we need to be careful to recognize that while God uses suffering and God can achieve his purposes through it – that doesn’t make suffering a good thing or even a necessary thing. And so maybe this is more the next level, not just the character of God but the actions of God and the way God has set up the world, but suffering is a part of our world. I agree with what Keith said earlier about the Free Will Defense, that God gave us the ability to choose. It’s part of what makes us humans.

And because we have the ability to make genuine decisions some of those decisions like Adam and Eve’s in the garden of Eden are going to be sinful. And so therefore, there is evil and suffering in the world. But just because there’s suffering, that doesn’t mean that God is punishing us. I think that the story of Job illustrates very clearly that Job suffered the things that he went through not because he had sinned but because God was testing him. So there’s a difference between God disciplining or testing us and punishing us. It’s interesting, that particular point is repeated in the New Testament. It’s in John, chapter 9, where the disciples see a blind man and they say to Jesus, they say, “Master, who sinned? This man or his parents that he is in this situation?

And Jesus said, “Neither of them. This happened so that God would be glorified.” And the point is that he was refuting this kind of punishment theodicy that said all suffering is punishment. That’s actually more of a Hindu idea than a Christian idea. It’s more the idea of karma then it is the actual Christian theology. Although there are lots of Christians that want to go there, make that move, that if something bad happened it must be because you sinned.

If you had a flat tire it’s because you haven’t been reading your Bible enough, or if you got sick it’s because you cursed God or something like that. And I think we need to be very careful. That’s not what the Scriptures teach. The man born blind was born blind because it was an opportunity for Jesus to reveal the power, the majesty of God in making, doing that miracle. The suffering itself wasn’t good, but it was used for a good outcome, and I think that idea runs through the Scriptures. When James tells us, “To count it all joy brothers when you suffer not because the suffering is good but because the suffering produces character and maturation in our faith.”

Kymberli Cook
So are there any theodicies or defenses that have been presented, which you mentioned John Hick’s, that people listening might be familiar with or may have heard and not necessarily know exactly where they’re coming from that stray from these parameters that maybe should just be on their radar when they start saying these things or this specific line of thought really is probably not the best way to go. Dr. Yoder why don’t you start?
Timothy Yoder
Sure. Let me go back to what I just mentioned which is what I call the punishment theodicy. I think this is one of the most common and it’s the idea that all evil, all suffering is a direct result of a specific sin and so when bad things happen to us it happens to us because we have sinned and God is enacting an immediate punishment. Now it’s clear that sometimes God does punish when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the church, Peter called them out and they died, their lives ended. But actually that typically is somewhat rare or at least not always the norm.

A lot of times we see God as patient and as waiting for opportunities for repentance and giving people a chance to ask forgiveness, to confess, to come to faith. And so we actually read lots of examples in the Bible and we see lots of examples in our everyday life of people that suffer, and it’s not a punishment. If somebody, if a family driving home from church or a ball game gets hit by a drunk driver and the family is killed, it’s not their fault that they suffered. It’s because the drunk driver hit them. If somebody gets raped or abused, it’s not their fault that they suffer it’s because of the person making bad choices.

So we have to be very careful. There have been a number of Christian people who have used this sort of a way of thinking, and I think it’s dangerous. I remember after 9/11 a certain prominent pastor said that the reason that this happened is because God is punishing America because we allow abortions, and we allow homosexuality. That’s bad theology. God doesn’t necessarily punish these things immediately. The way God works in the world is much more complicated than that. It’s not just a simple one for one. That’s karma. That’s Hinduism. The Christian approach to these things is a lot more complex.

Kymberli Cook
With suffering not coming necessarily as punishment. I think there’s also something I’ve seen, at least being raised in the church, of suffering is sanctification. And I feel like sometimes that creates this idea that you’re just waiting for God to drop the shoe. And you’re supposed to be okay with it because it’s making you holy and, you know, sanctifying you and that kind of thing. How would you all answer that question. Because I think that even more than punishment sometimes is what people think and they don’t really know how to think through the suffering, and it can lead to this understanding of God or fear of God that I don’t think should be there. So how would you all respond to that?
Keith Lindley
This is almost the flip side of –
Kymberli Cook
Yeah. It seems like the other side of the coin.
Keith Lindley
Rather than this sort of retributive justice sort of theodicy, it’s almost the, “Well, Christ promised us trials and tribulations in this life. So we just inevitably are going to wait for them and God’s going to make us suffer because we are believers.” And I think that misses the points of Christ saying – he doesn’t say that God’s going to cause you the suffering in your life. He’s saying that there will be trials and tribulations in this world. It is the sinfulness of the world that’s going to bring these trials and tribulations. Yet God is so good that when the suffering comes into your life he’s not going to let it remain unredeemed, just pointless suffering. When the world’s going to cause suffering to believers God is so good and so powerful that he is then going to redeem that into the redemptive purposes of growing his children more into the likeness of Christ.

So God’s not the one dropping the shoe at all. What God is doing actually is when suffering does come into the believer’s life he’s the one coming in and acting redemptively to help grow them more into Christ’s likeness. So I think we need to have more appropriate way of thinking about the suffering that comes into our lives. “To say that God causes the suffering is almost to side with the person who says, “Well, God’s not good,” in response to this question.

Timothy Yoder
It’s very close to that, yeah.
Keith Lindley
And so I think that’s the more appropriate response is if we’re going to maintain God’s goodness that we maintain God is not the cause of the suffering and the evil in the world, but he’s so good that he acts redemptive through it.
Kymberli Cook
So your PhD, or your work in your PhD, and hopefully moving forward will largely be in developing this Narrative Theodicy. Could you walk us through it and just describe it a little bit because it is potentially a new way of looking at things. And so just let us know how you’re thinking through it.
Keith Lindley
Right. Well first of all I’m thankful that Dr. Yoder is going to be working with me on this. He’s going to be one of my readers for this dissertation. And so we’ll be talking about this a lot over the next few years.
Timothy Yoder
Indeed.
Keith Lindley
But where this came from as a whole – so I already said I had this background in film and filmmaking and when I started making this transition to ministry and the academic side of things, I thought to myself, and I think praying and talking to God, I said, “Lord I know you gave me this background in film and story telling and that’s not pointless or purposeless. You have a reason for that. Why you let me study this for so long in college.” And then sort of, God made it clear to me that, “Okay, well, he wants me to use this in my theological approach to dealing with apologetics and things of that nature.”

And so there came this point where I said – okay, well we already talked about how apologetics and philosophy are often cross disciplinary between philosophy of religion and theology and I thought, “What if we were to make this even more cross disciplinary and if we were able to bring literary studies into this and try to make this more accessible to lay people everywhere?” Because as we talked about earlier, philosophies often deal with nominalism and the problem of universals and even a Free Will Defense – most people, they understand they’re free but they’re not going to talk about counterfactuals of creaturely freedom or things of that nature. But what does everybody do? Everybody goes to the movies, watches Netflix, reads books. We have entire industries devoted to this that gross billions of dollars every single year in America alone.

And I thought, “This could be a possibly very appealing thing if we can bring the study of theodicy to literary studies, this could be very appealing to people everywhere because this is something that we all experience, but it’s also something we all love. And so this Narrative Theodicy approach is that one of these beneficial goods or I guess morally sufficient reasons, like I mentioned earlier, that God might have for permitting evil to exist is the existence of stories about good versus evil. And I call these, “The Stories that Really Matter” or “The Great Stories.”

And basically the stories that humans really enjoy to partake in and to listen to and even to tell themselves are the stories about good in conflict with evil and good eventually overcoming evil. But then it appeared to me that, “Wait a second. If evil wasn’t actually something that had a tangible presence in the world then we probably wouldn’t be able to tell these stories of good verses evil.” So I was trying to imagine, you know, a world in – let’s say, let’s pick Star Wars, a Star Wars world with no evil. And so you have young Luke Skywalker living on Tatooine and it’s a desert planet, no scratch that, it’s not a desert planet because that’s kind of a harsh environment. It’s a fruitful planet with trees and flowers and everything and he’s getting ready to go fight the Galactic Empire.

Actually, no he’s not because they’re an evil organization and if there’s no evil in the world, he’s not going to fight the Empire. Actually Luke is going to go be a baker and he’s going to bake cinnamon rolls for uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and that’s the end of the story. And guess how much money that grossed at the box office? Zero dollars. Because we like that story but at the same time there’s no conflict, there’s no tension between good and evil and I think we want to know that goodness is going to triumph over evil in the end.

And as Christians we believe that it will in Jesus Christ. But we have these stories that we love so much about good versus evil and the Narrative Theodicy approach is really to suggest that if we didn’t have the presence of evil in the world we wouldn’t be able to tell these stories. And it’s going to start from there and we’re going to develop it into a more robust argument that really details all of the ways that moral evil and natural evil are present in these stories that we tell. And if we didn’t have examples of this moral evil and natural evil in the world, we very likely wouldn’t be able to tell these stories. So that’s the theodicy kind of in a nutshell.

Kymberli Cook
Okay. Now, Dr. Yoder you’ve heard this several times from him I think in your courses and interactions. What do you feel like this can add to the conversation?
Timothy Yoder
Well, I think it can certainly add an explanatory factor that helps us to see why there – the place of evil, why God allows evil to persist, because we work through these difficult circumstances creating the good – the stories that matter. The stories that matter include overcoming problems. I know in his work he’s continuing to talk about literary theory. The idea of a story is that a protagonist faces a challenge and works through that and then learns a lesson, develops morals, becomes a better person, and that’s why it’s a happy ending, the good triumphs over the evil. And while that seems like a pretty simple sort of a thing it’s actually a very profound thing and it mashes with the Christian story, which is that God is going to triumph in the end. That we are looking forward to a happy resolution and not a sad one. I do think that there is a challenge though with the Narrative Theodicy and – Keith knows this already.
Kymberli Cook
Well, I’m about to ask you what you feel like the critiques coming are. Either one of you can.
Timothy Yoder
The critique is, “Does this make evil necessary in the world?” And because we do want the existence of good stories, like for instance – like a New Heaven, a New Earth without sin, without tears, without sorrow. So we want to allow for a metaphysical state of being in which there is no evil. Does the Narrative Theodicy mean that evil is necessary in the world?
Keith Lindley
Right. And so I think the way to address that question is when I first started writing the Narrative Theodicy I made a very much more grandiose claim and it was that all narratives require there to be the presence of evil in the world. And then in conversations with professors like Dr. Kreider, and I think Dr. Yoder, it became apparent, you know, “There are stories in Scripture where it does seem like there is little to no evil,” like the narrative of Revelation 21:4, that there will be a New Heavens and a New Earth with no evil.

So it became apparent that, “No. Evil is not necessary to tell narratives, period.” But if we’re going to be able to tell narratives about good overcoming evil it seems like there has to be some kind of presence. So it’s not logically necessary. You don’t have to have evil in the world for a Narrative Theodicy, but only if you make a more humble approach. And that’s where we sort of redefined it to make this narrative approach about what I’m calling, “morally significant narratives,” and these are the ones that have good versus evil – whereas there are existence of stories without necessarily good versus evil. You can even say, maybe, Genesis 1 …

Timothy Yoder
Yeah, I think so.
Keith Lindley
Might be an example of a story where there’s not really evil present because it’s the story of God creating and it is good, it is good, it is good. Now, evil does come in the picture later on, but we can tell stories clearly without the presence of evil. It’s just the ones that we really, really love, that we find the most aesthetically beautiful and that we find the most ethically pleasing show us how good goodness is in contrast to this evil that it is overcoming. And one way that I think this plays out in this Narrative Theodicy is – in her book, Wandering in Darkness, Elenore Stump writes that, “Every theodicy has to consider the afterlife,” that has to consider how is this going to matter in the future.

And I think one way that this plays out in the Narrative Theodicy is that by experiencing this struggle versus good and evil in this world really, and then by being able to tell these stories of good verses evil, that we will still be able to tell these stories of good verses evil in the New Heavens and the New Earth in the future. And these will be stories where we reflect on how good Christ was in overcoming the evil in the world. We’ll still remember evil, but we’ll remember how Christ overcame it and defeated it and he is that much more worthy of worship and things of that nature because of it.

So I think that in this state of affairs that we’re in now where evil exists, temporarily for people who trust in Christ’s death and resurrection, that it’s setting us up to have this good of story telling, of these great stories like the story of Scripture, that we will be able to tell for all eternity as we worship God and talk about his triumphs over good and evil. But I don’t know what the Eschaton is going to be like entirely, but I do hope that we will still tell new creative stories with fictional characters, and whatnot, that tell of good overcoming evil, as art is a good thing and I hope that it continues on in the New Heavens and the Earth.

Kymberli Cook
Now this idea of the Eschaton in relating to theodicies has been an interesting one to me. It came up in a course that all of us were in and we had quite a long conversation about that, but I’m curious if either one of you could outline a little bit more about how other theodicies – like you said, they all have to take the Eschaton into account. How might that look for some other theodicies?
Timothy Yoder
Well, I think one of the ways that it seems to me that we can answer your question is that justice requires this final summing up of all things. One of the things that we as Christians recognize is that not all evils are repaid immediately, and in fact, even in this world, right, there are people that are martyrs and others that suffer injustice. What is owed to them because of what they suffered is not paid back to them. Some criminals die, die in their beds with their family all around them rich and happy at the end of a long life.

And lots of Christian folks die at the hand of evil people. There are martyrs and others, and so not everything is wrapped up and finished in this world. And so if we think about some kind of a greater good defense that holds that the difficult things that happen in this world, some of them are in place for the purpose of better goods down the road. Sometimes that better good might be the final justice of God at the end of time, a God who will restore things the way they should be in which the righteous will finally be rewarded, and the guilty, the unrighteous, will be finally punished.

And so that kind of eschatological hope is really necessary for a final and complete reckoning with the evil that we see in our world. Because, frankly, it’s not all taken care of in this world. We see people that die in prison of things that they were not guilty of. We see poor people die just because they’re poor, and other instances of injustice. And the hope is that God will make those right at the end of time. So I think that in that sense almost all of our reflection on evil and suffering in this world, in this right now, is rooted in the idea that down the road in the Eschaton God is going to restore things. And that applies to almost all refection on this particular issue.

Kymberli Cook
So a couple of resource questions for somebody who attends church regularly, likes to think deeply on certain occasions, and may have stumbled across this because of something they’ve personally experienced, somebody in their life has experienced a tragedy and they’re trying to think deeply on this. What would you suggest for them, and then what would you suggest for pastors who are trying to walk people through this kind of topic, both in either a pastoral sense and the more, like we talked about, the intellectual, really getting down to the nitty gritty of some of the defenses in the theodicies? What all would you suggest?
Keith Lindley
That’s a hard question because I don’t think there’s really been a good, simple presentation of a lot of these theodicies that are easily accessible. So I would say, for the determined layperson, maybe Alvin Plantinga’s God Freedom and Evil, because Plantinga meant this to be more easily accessible, but in some ways it’s not.
Kymberli Cook
He’s so brilliant it’s hard for him to be accessible.
Timothy Yoder
I’m laughing that you suggest Plantinga. I think it would be a very, very determined layperson. I mean he’s not impossible but he’s hard.
Kymberli Cook
He’s a deep thinker.
Timothy Yoder
He’s a deep thinker.
Keith Lindley
Let me ask this, are you aware of any, like, let’s say with William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith he has this On Guard. I know there’s been a book that I think Alvin Plantinga put out recently that was supposed to be for the layperson. I’m trying to think of …
Timothy Yoder
That was more on epistemology.
Keith Lindley
Epistemology, right.
Timothy Yoder
I think that going back to C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain is not a bad place to start. Lewis is a good writer. He sometimes can be difficult and The Problem of Pain is a 70-year-old book and that creates its challenges too. But that’s not a bad one. I think that a good book that I’m going to be using next semester when I teach this class, I teach a class on good and evil in the Spring of 2019, is Tim Keller’s Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Keller is a very good writer and thinker and obviously a popular pastor, and his stuff is pretty good. Another one that isn’t too bad, I’m not sure where it fits in your scheme, Kym, but it might be good for pastors, but I think it would also be helpful for thoughtful people that want to read, is a book by John Stackhouse called Can God Be Trusted?

And he works through a number of things relating to the problem of evil. Thinking through some of the resources that are informed or some of the answers that are supplied by other worldviews, other religions, other worldviews, non-religious worldviews, secular perspectives. And one of the things that he reflects on is that while we may not be able to give a single answer, a single silver bullet answer to all the things that Christian’s are worried about regarding the problem of evil, as it turns out, the Christian worldview is able to supply an answer to this question that is probably more satisfactory than any other worldview. If you’re a secular individual and you believe that on the basis of evil that there is no God and you reject God all together, what are you left with?

Well, you’re left with matter in motion and bad things happen, that’s what evolution is all about. It’s the survival of the fittest, right? Some people are going to survive and others are going to die and it’s just this competition, this red toothed, red clawed. Well, that’s not answering it. So if you say, “Why do bad things happen? Well, that’s just the way the world is. Well, that may be true, but that’s not really any kind of comfort. There’s no hope for justice, or there’s no hope for reconciliation, there’s no hope for grace or forgiveness, none of those things. But in the Christian worldview those are all things that we are promised and those go a long way towards reconciling the difficulties of our present situation with the character of a good and powerful God.

Kymberli Cook
Well, that is all the time we have. I just want to thank you all so much for joining us and thank those who are listening for joining us and just encourage you to join us next week as we discuss issues of God and culture.
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Keith S. Lindley
Keith S. Lindley (ThM, 2016) is currently pursuing a PhD in Theological Studies at DTS. He is an ordained pastor and is an active member of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. He also serves as an instructor of Bible and theology at the Opened Bible Academy. His main research interests include theology, apologetics, and the intersection between faith and popular culture (keithlindley.com). He and his wife, Megan, live in Plano, Texas with their dogs, Fitz and Faith.
Kymberli Cook
Kymberli Cook is a doctoral student in Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and serves as the Senior Administrator at the Hendricks Center, overseeing Cultural Engagement events and efforts, pastoral relationships, and creative design. She holds a Master of Theology from DTS and resides in Dallas with her husband and daughter.
Timothy S. Yoder
Dr. Timothy Yoder currently teaches as an associate professor in the Theological Studies department with a special emphasis in Philosophy and Apologetics. He and his wife Lisa came to DTS from Cairn University in the Philadelphia area, where he taught since the early 1990’s. Dr Yoder has a seminary degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a PhD in philosophy of religion from Marquette University. The Yoders love travel and missions, reading books and rooting for the Super Bowl champion Eagles!!
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