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, 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. 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.
 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.
 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.