In the introduction of his book, Norman Geisler states that, in 50 years of studying difficult questions, the one most asked is, “If God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world?” (9). He adds that, “from a purely apologetic perspective, more skepticism, agnosticism and atheism have sprung from an inability to answer various aspects of evil than any other single issue” (10).
These facts are the motivation behind his writing of If God, Why Evil? The prolific author of more than 50 books begins his discussion by providing the three most basic views that people take on the subject: “Pantheism which affirms God and denies evil, atheism which affirms evil and denies God, and theism which affirms both God and evil” (12).
Geisler then quickly moves into discussions of the nature of evil and its origins, noting that many people believe that God himself created it. However, as he points out, evil is not a created entity like a tree or a rock or a horse and while some define it as an absence of good in the way that darkness is the absence of light, Geisler rejects that definition. He states that evil is a lack in or corruption of something good, likening it to rot in a tree or rust in a car or a wound in a person’s arm.
Geisler then tackles the issues of God’s sovereignty and humankind’s free will, noting that it is the latter that makes evil possible. As he puts it, everything that God created was perfect, but it is possible for a perfect creature to choose that which is evil over that which is good. If human beings did not have that choice, they would be mere robots.
Yet, this does not mean that God is powerless when it comes to the existence of evil. Geisler suggests that “God’s role in the world is similar to that of the author of a novel” (24). A story has a hero that the writer commends and a villain that he condemns, but he controls the course of it so that, in the end, his ultimate purpose is accomplished.
This is the case with God, Geisler says, explaining that it is precisely because God has a purpose for humanity that he does not simply eradicate evil from the world. He notes that we do not always know the good purpose for every evil, but that does not mean that it has none. As he puts it, “the unexplained is not necessarily unexplainable”(48). In fact, he says, “an infinitely good mind knows a good purpose for everything” (47). He quotes Joseph, who said to the brothers who had sold him into slavery, “that which you meant for evil, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20) as well as Rom. 8:28 (All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose). And he points to God’s promise that he will, in the end, dispose of evil forever.
In his last two chapters, Geisler tackles the topic of hell as an eternal evil and answers the oft-asked question about the fate of those who have never heard of Jesus. Ultimately, he concludes that the existence of evil in the world and the reality of hell are not logically incompatible with the existence of a good God.
Of additional note are the appendices in which he discusses animal death before Adam, evidence for the existence of God (specifically cosmological, teleological, biological and moral arguments), and provides a critique of the best-selling book, The Shack, by William Paul Young. The latter is particularly interesting as he presents 14 problems he has with the novel’s view of God and evil, remarking upon its rejection of traditional Christianity.
Geisler uses a great deal of Scripture in making all of his points because, as he notes, he is writing a book about the truth of evil and God’s Word is the source of that truth. He writes in a straightforward, clear and concise manner, putting the problems and his responses to them in succinct and logical forms. This book is aimed at the average Joe. A background in theology or philosophy is not required to appreciate it.
Will Geisler’s book have a major impact on how people view God and evil? The potential is certainly there as his arguments are sound and compelling. However, there is a major stumbling block, one that Geisler himself notes. The issue of evil is not simply an intellectual matter. It evokes strong, passionate and overwhelming emotional responses from both theist and atheist alike. Can a discussion of the topic based on logic and rationality comfort the couple whose teenage daughter was just raped and murdered or the man whose entire family was swept away and lost in a flood?
Evil hurts and we all want the hurt to stop. We can know that God has a purpose and a plan in it and that he is using it for a good reason, but we can still resent him for allowing it to happen. That’s just human nature. Let’s face it. We have this tendency to think God is good if He’s doing things the way we want. If He isn’t, then we question His goodness. Yet goodness is an incontrovertible part of His nature. It never changes no matter what’s going on in our lives.
Seventeenth-century French Mathematician-philosopher Blaise Pascal put it well when he said that the heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of. Therefore, while the head knowledge Geisler offers about God and evil may be correct, there are those who will continue to struggle reconciling the truth of God’s goodness and love with the reality of the pain in their lives.
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Mary Lou is a Canadian journalist currently working on a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Tyndale University College and Seminary, Toronto, Ontario. She holds three other degrees, including one in history, and writes poetry and fiction as well as non-fiction.