The Problem of Evil - Part 3

The Common Solution

Given the fact that the Problem of Evil has been around for centuries, it should be no surprise that Christians have come up with (what they believe to be) solutions to the problem. And although many different approaches to solving this have been attempted, one approach in particular stands out as the most common. This is typically termed the Free Will Defense.

As the name implies, the Free Will Defense starts with the assumption that people have free will, and therefore have the ability to choose to do either good or evil. According to this view, God didn’t create robots (that would not be a loving God, after all), and so the existence of evil is therefore a potential situation. Since people have the freedom to choose to do good acts or evil acts, it is ultimately their freedom of will that brings about these evil deeds.

There is, however, a large problem with this particular line of defense. All the unbeliever need do is bring up the subject of Heaven, and the free will defense completely collapses. Why is this the case? Well, consider that there will be no sin (i.e. evil) in Heaven, but there will be people there who purportedly still have free will.

The unbeliever may point out that since the inhabitants of Heaven have free will, and free will can lead to evil (the very basis of the free will defense), then what is to guarantee us that there will be no evil in Heaven? It seems that the Christian must either give up free will, or the existence of evil in Heaven, or he must rethink his defense.

Now, in response to this challenge, the Christian might claim that God actually keeps people from sinning in Heaven[1], as that is the only way to be certain sin will never enter his presence. In other words, God actively works in people in order to keep them from sinning. However, the unbeliever can simply point out that God could also do the same thing on earth. If God is able to suppress people’s ability to sin in Heaven, then he certainly could do so here on earth. He is an all-powerful God, after all.

The Christian might instead claim that the inhabitants of Heaven will be able to sin, but that God knows that they will not sin. In other words, the claim that there will be no sin in Heaven is purely prophetic, rather than decretive[2]. For instance, heaven may be such a wonderful place, that the Christian never again will have the desire to choose evil, and therefore will not.

But the unbeliever is bound to ask some questions. For instance, how many variations of creation did God “test drive” (by looking ahead at an eternity of people’s choices) before creating the world he did, in order to guarantee that none of the people who end up in heaven will ever sin? Besides, the fact that God chose to create a universe where he knew people would sin (at least on earth) still makes God the ultimate cause of sin, it seems.

In addition, and more to the point, why didn’t God simply create earth just like heaven in the first place? Didn’t God know ahead of time how people would act? Didn’t he know that they would sin and do evil deeds? Doesn’t the fact that God could create a place free from sin (even if it partially owes to man’s free will), and yet he didn’t, mean that he is not all-loving? Doesn’t the fact that God knows there is evil going on right here and now mean he is also to blame for not stopping it by using the same “fix” he uses in Heaven?

The fact is, no matter what tack this Christian takes in using the free will defense, he must be able to provide an answer to the Heaven Test. The existence of a sin-free Heaven is a real problem for the Christian that chooses to use the free will defense.

In addition to the free will defense, there are a variety of other approaches that Christians use, each of which ultimately fails the “Heaven Test”. If God could have created earth just like Heaven (or just skipped earth altogether), then he is either not all loving for being unwilling to do so, or he is not all-powerful, for being unable to do so.

Next time we'll look at what I believe to be the Biblical (and only possible) answer to the Problem of Evil.

-- BK

[1] Of course, it should be obvious that this answer presents a real problem for anyone presenting the free will defense in the first place, as it would seem that God is messing around with the will of people, in order to keep them from sinning.

[2] A purely prophetic claim means God “looks ahead” at the choices his creatures will make, and realizes that none of them will sin in Heaven. A decretive claim indicates that God, in some sense, is in control of Heaven and does not allow any sin.


david said...

Excellent article, I agree that the free will defense cannot sufficiently deal with the problem.

I have heard David Wood use one argument about the "heaven test" that does go further than:

For instance, heaven may be such a wonderful place, that the Christian never again will have the desire to choose evil, and therefore will not.

He contends that it is the immediate presence of God in His holiness that somehow (I confess to be fuzzy on the details) guarantees no one will desire to sin.

You have already brought up the relevant response of why God is messing with free will that way, which of course some have just gone and said "why not just create heaven with no earth in the first place?"

Anyway, Wood's argument says that God doesn't reveal himself completely during our time on earth which is why we do choose to sin. One can see how the doctrine of sanctification at least appears to mesh with this (the increasing work of the Spirit and the removal of desire and tendency to sin), but I don't think his argument covers all the bases. For instance, only moral evil seems to be relevant and not natural evil.

Anyways, any thoughts on that?

You can check out his full argument on the radio debate he did with John Loftus on the problem of evil.
The mp3 is floating around somewhere online.

C.L. Bolt said...

1. If free will then potential evil.

2. Free will.

3. Therefore, potential evil.

Assuming the argument is sound
and we have free will in heaven
then there is always a potential for evil, which I think stands directly in contradiction to Scripture. The potential for evil is and inherent consequence of free will. God cannot violate this even through fuller revelation. Any action on God's part, revelation or otherwise, is wholly irrelevant to the problem. To make it plain, God cannot "touch" our free will and hence can never stop evil. I think that's the problem being pointed out here.


1. God is omniscient, i.e., God knows every fact past, present and future. God knows, e.g., whether O.J. killed his wife, what George Bush is doing now, and what I’ll have for dinner.
2. To know anything x, entails that x is true.
3. If God knows that I’ll have chicken for dinner tonight, then it is true now that I’ll have chicken for dinner tonight.
4. Freedom of the will requires that the future be open at least with respect to human choices. Thus, if I am free to choose whether to have chicken or not, it is possible for me to choose chicken and it is possible for me to choose not to have chicken.
5. But if it is true now (because God knows this) that I’ll choose chicken, it is not possible for me now not to choose not to have chicken.
6. Therefore, God’s foresight (which follows from his omniscience) is not compatible with freedom of the will.

Of course, this assumes we have in some way added a premise to the argument.

C.L. Bolt said...

"God doesn't reveal himself completely during our time on earth which is why we do choose to sin."

By the way, this is no longer the free will defense.

Poor Adam just didn't have enough revelation from God with respect to the tree?

david said...


Good point about foresight - that argument seems like a good one to push Christians towards consistency.

I agree with you that potential evil in heaven unbiblical, but where did you have in mind that it is contradictory? Just curious, since I don't buy into Wood's theodicy but I have wondered about that before.

david said...

Yeah horrible wording on that "reveal Himself", sorry about that.

I think he means that God's presence is not as fully expressed compared to when we will be with Him in heaven.

C.L. Bolt said...

I meant only that it is unbiblical ("in contradiction to Scripture"). I do not know whether or not it is somehow inherently contradictory.

The change in wording does not affect the objection about this no longer being the free will defense, if I understand it correctly.

david said...

If free will merely means we choose in accords with our desires, I have no problem per se with that notion. Man freely chooses to reject the Gospel until God changes his desires, etc.

Perhaps in heaven God's immediate presence naturally produces the desire to remain as such, which consistently trumps any potential desire to sin. Actually this starts to look more like what Brian already addressed in his original article.

Do you think that situation in heaven would still constitute free will?

Regardless I don't know how David Wood defines free will and I don't use his theodicy so I'm sort of out on a limb for no reason here. :)

All that aside, I think a heaven with the potential for evil is not completely out of the question...well for sake of argument. The Bible affirms that no actual evil will occur, so that would suffice to "guarantee us that there will be no evil in Heaven."

If the unbeliever wishes to question that on the basis of "well how do you know this if the potential is there?" then they are simply doubting the veracity of Biblical teaching.

I like this blog, its getting me to think more about this stuff with folks who can discuss it irenically. Once you get outside the gates, you'd better have a weapon and know how to use it! :)

C.L. Bolt said...

It still seems like we have left the free will defense as an explanation for actual evil.

Other than that, I have some thinking to do.

Brian Knapp said...

David -

Thanks for the comment!

I don't believe Wood's theory addresses the Heaven Test. Sure, the gradual revelation theory is consistent with progressive sanctification, but then again consistency is not a sufficient condition for truth.

I think the unbeliever would (rightly) come back to Wood and ask why God didn't simply reveal himself fully from the outset?

-- BK

david said...

Good point Brian, I'm not sure where Wood stands on that one. I wonder if he's changed his theology in the recent years? What got me looking into it is the debates coming up in a couple weeks that Dr. White and Wood will be participating in.

Here is that radio debate where Wood makes his theodicy:

C.L. Bolt said...

"It still seems like we have left the free will defense as an explanation for actual evil."

It was pointed out to me that "left" is ambiguous. I don't mean that we saved it, I mean that it is out of the picture, because it is not the explanation given for actual evil at all according to this ad hoc rabbit trail, a lack of God's presence or something like unto is. Sorry for the confusion.

Stephen Garrett said...

Good article!

I have argued this in debate with those who promoted the FWD. I have also seen the free will defenders squirm when given the "Heaven Test."

God bless,


david said...

Stephen Garrett?

C.L. Bolt said...

Yes, it's him.