Resources to Help You Respond to the Problem of Evil (Free Bible Insert)

I recently sat down for an interview with a host who expressed his concern about the problem of evil in our world: If there is an all-powerful, all-loving God, why would he allow evil to exist in His creation? Is He unable to stop it? If so, He isn’t all-powerful. Is He unwilling to stop it? If so, He isn’t all-loving. While I wish I’d had enough time to respond properly to the interviewer’s concerns, I recognized the sometimes daunting challenge of responding to objections of this kind. The problem of evil is multi-faceted both in its rational form and its emotional response. There are times when a reasonable explanation will suffice and times when a sensitive, empathetic ear is more appropriate.

I’ve written quite a bit about the problem of evil at ColdCaseChristianity.com, and I’ve responded to five forms of the objection. This brief summary links to the articles on the website and it is also available as a free, downloadable Bible Insert:

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If God Can’t Do Anything, Is He All-Powerful?

“Can God do anything?” I asked an audience of Christians at a recent apologetics conference. I gave my answer and offered an explanation. Apparently, my answer was not well received by everyone, as one man in the audience was so incensed that he stood up shaking his head in disgust. He turned for the exit and walked out of the auditorium, but not without glaring back at me one last time, continuing to shake his head in anger. So what did I say? No, God can't do anything.

Clearly the Bible affirms God’s power. Job 9:4 says, “His power is vast.” Psalm 24:8 refers to the Lord as “strong and mighty.” Isaiah 40:26 says that out of His “great power and mighty strength” God brought forth the universe. Don’t these passages indicate there is no limit to God’s power?

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Is God Violent?

Anyone reading the Old Testament will acknowledge that it describes
  a people who endure great tragedy and triumph, which includes
     many acts of violence. There are stories of treachery, terrorism, rape, murder, war, slaughter of the innocent, torture, enslavement, and mass killings. While the Bible documents this violent behavior, we can’t assume God always approves. But the question is, is he violent? Does he engage in violent acts?

 

Why Does God Commit Violence?

 

The short answer is yes. But unless we have a context for God’s violence, we risk misunderstanding his nature. He is merciful and loving (Psalm 103:8). He is holy and righteous (Psalm 145:17 and Revelation 3:7). He is also fair and just. “O Lord, you are righteous, and your decisions are fair. Your decrees are perfect; they are entirely worthy of our trust” (Psalm 119:137-138). “He is the Rock,” Scripture states, “his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
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Did God Appear in Bodily Form Before Jesus?

The Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building (Genesis 11:5).

 

>How could God “come down” to the earth prior to him taking on human form in the person of Jesus?

 

Explanation: Prior to the incarnation—God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus—he did in fact make his presence known. Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8 niv). God appeared to Abraham (Genesis 17:1 and Genesis 18:1), Jacob (Genesis 32:1), and Moses (Exodus 3:2).

 

These appearances or manifestations of God are called theophanies. It is when God makes himself tangible to the human senses, as when Job was able to hear God in the wind (   Job 38:1), or when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. But in a more restrictive sense God has “come down” and made himself visible in the form of a man, like he did with Abraham and Jacob. Some scholars believe certain appearances of God were the pre-incarnate Christ. Other possible pre-incarnate appearances include the meeting between Joshua and the “Commander of the Lord’s army” (   Joshua 5:13-15) and the fourth man “like a son of the gods” who was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:23-25). But in any case God did make appearances in tangible form prior to the appearance of the God-man Jesus.
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The True Christian Myth

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.

C. S. Lewis

Everybody loves a hero. Whether it’s a real life ordinary person who does something heroic in a moment of crisis, or a comic book superhero who saves the world from bad guys, we just love a good hero and a great heroic story. To say Jesus was a hero might seem inappropriate or even sacrilegious because Jesus wasn’t ordinary and he certainly didn’t fly around in a cape. But if you give it some thought, it isn’t all that far-fetched, especially when you consider the classic definition of a hero: “A being of godlike prowess and beneficence who often came to be honored as a divinity.”

The idea of the classic hero has been a part of human lore, legend and literature for thousands of years. The Greek poet Homer wrote two epic poems, Illiad and Odyssey, that defined the heroic tradition in literature eight centuries before Jesus was born. Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s story, goes on a long journey following the fall of Troy in order to get home. But he doesn’t get there until he experiences a series of adventures. One of the most popular books and movies of the last century, The Wizard of Oz, is based on this heroic tradition.

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The Christian Bible vs the Book of Mormon

The term Mormons is the common designation for those who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1827 Mormon founder Joseph Smith claimed to be informed by an angel named Moroni about a set of gold plates buried in a hill in present-day New York. These plates were said to have ancient writings engraved on them. Smith said he uncovered these plates and then translated and published them as the Book of Mormon in 1830. So how does the Book of Mormon differ from the Christian Bible?

 

The LDS church bases its beliefs not just on the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith also claimed to have had an encounter with Jesus in which Jesus revealed many things to him. These revelations were published in the Doctrine and Covenants. The accounts of Smith’s interaction with Jesus and his story of discovering gold plates are found in a third book, entitled Pearl of Great Price. These three documents, along with the Bible, form the basis of LDS beliefs and continuing revelations. However, the LDS officially consider the Book of Mormon as the “most correct” book of scripture. Since the death of Joseph Smith in 1844 these documents have been supplemented by other revelations that the LDS church says have been given to its leaders.
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Bible vs Qur’an

Christianity and Islam are both monotheistic religions that believe in one almighty creator. The Muslims’ holy book—the Qur’an—teaches creation, the existence of angels, that Jesus was a sinless, virgin-born prophet from God, and that there is a heaven, a hell, and a day of judgment. So with all these similarities, what are the differences between the Bible and the Qur’an?

Muslims believe the Qur’an is a revelation from God (Allah) that began to be verbally transmitted through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad when he was 40 years old (AD 610). They say that over a 23-year period Muhammad received these messages, which he precisely memorized. Shortly after his death (AD 632) the Qur’an was compiled into a single book. Today it is divided into 114 chapters, or suras, and is about the length of the Christian New Testament. Muslims consider the Qur’an in the original Arabic text to be the literal word of God. They believe it provides divine guidance for all humanity. They say Muhammad was God’s last prophet, superseding Christ, and that the Qur’an is God’s final revelation to us all.

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How do the Christian and Jewish Bibles Differ?

The Christian Bible contains both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Some people say the Jewish Bible is the Christian Bible without the New Testament. Is that true? What is the Jewish or Hebrew Bible, and how does it differ from the Christian Bible?

The Jewish Bible is often referred to as the Torah. In the narrowest sense the Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible. In the broader sense, the Torah includes all Jewish law and tradition.

Contemporary Jews do not consider that they have an Old Testament. What Christians refer to as the Old Testament, the Jewish people would call the Written Torah or the Tanakh. Christians often refer to the Written Torah as the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible contains the same text as our Old Testament, but in a slightly different order.

Do Old Testament Laws Apply Today?

The Old Testament was written to the children of Israel (the Jewish people). So some people say that most of it doesn’t apply to Christians today. And so while we may get some good stories from the Old Testament, is it really binding on Christians?

First, it is important to realize that neither the Old nor the New Testament was written to people living in the twenty-first century. The Old Testament audience was the children of Israel, and the New Testament was written to a Jewish and Gentile audience in the first century.  But that doesn’t mean the truth of Scripture isn’t relevant to or binding on us today.

The Bible was written within certain historical contexts, all quite different from ours today. But even though the words of Scripture may not have been written specifically to us, that doesn’t mean they weren’t written for us. Scripture is God’s universal and relevant truth that is applicable to all people, in all places, for all times. Both the Old and the New Testament messages transcend history, cultures, customs, languages, and time lines. So to interpret what God is saying to us in the twenty-first century we must first identify the universal truths of Scripture that were applied in ancient times in order to understand how they apply to us today.

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Were books left out of the Bible?

Over 100 years before Christ was born, all 39 books of the Old Testament had been written, collected, and officially recognized as God’s inspired Scripture (canonized) by the Jewish leaders. By the late 300s the 27 books of the New Testament were recognized as God-inspired. But were there some good spiritual writings that were perhaps God-inspired but were overlooked or excluded from the official Bible? If so, why? And why isn’t God still inspiring people to write his Word today?

What Is “Inspiration”?

There are many people throughout history who have written spiritually inspiring books and letters. But there is good reason they are not considered equal to Scripture. And it is true that the Holy Spirit is alive today and does guide people to write inspiring literature. But Jewish and church leaders long ago concluded that the period of what is called God’s special revelation and inspiration is past.

God spoke directly through his Old Testament prophets in times past to reveal himself. The New Testament writer of the book of Hebrews said, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). And once God delivered his complete message through his prophets he “closed the book” on the Old Testament. By as early as the 300s BC, all the 39 books of the Old Testament were considered to be the complete revelation of God to the Jewish people.

Jesus confirmed the completeness and authority of the entire Hebrew Scriptures (the 39 books of our current Old Testament) when he said that “everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Jesus was referring to the entire Hebrew Old Testament. Nor did he ever cite any books other than the current 39 books of the Old Testament to indicate there was any other literature that was also God-inspired. And by using the phrase “all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27 nlt) in regard to the Old Testament he showed that he accepted the same completed Jewish canon as did Judaism at that time.

The New Testament centers around the revelation of God through his Son, Jesus Christ, as written by his apostles. Obviously the best and most accurate writing about Jesus and all he revealed would be done by those who were in direct contact with him. Thus the men inspired by God to reveal the truth about his Son and his message would either be eyewitnesses or would know those who had personally heard the message of the gospel. By the end of the first century it became clear to the early church that God’s special revelation and inspiration of Scripture was complete.

So the “inspiration” God gives writers today is not a special revelation of himself, but a reflection of what has been given in inspired Scripture. By comparing what people write and teach today with Scripture, we can know if it is in fact the truth of God.

The Apocrypha

Yet early on there were some writings that emerged that some thought might be “God-breathed” Scripture. After the Old Testament canon had been recognized by Jewish leaders and officially closed, certain literature of a spiritual nature remained or appeared. Today these writings are referred to as the Apocrypha, which means “that which is hidden.”

There were 14 books that some people added to the 39 canonized books in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. These 14 books—the Apocrypha—were not accepted by the early church, but they were eventually included in the Old Testament by the Roman Catholic Church in AD 1546.

These added books surfaced between about 200 BC into the second century AD.[1] They are

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