The two primary objections to the Divine Gift-love Theodicy are defended here.
1. What About Heaven?
In a 2010 debate, Dr. Bart Ehrman reasoned that if Heaven is a place where free will exists and there is no suffering, why can’t (or didn’t) God create an entire world in which free will exists and there is no suffering?1 Couldn’t God have chosen to make us all morally perfect beings, thereby filling the universe with love and no evil?
Certainly, God could have chosen to make us all morally perfect beings. He also could have chosen to make the universe out of marshmallows, or not to make a universe at all! But the question we’re dealing with is not being asked of possible worlds. Rather it seeks the best explanation for the state of the universe we actually live in. When Ehrman began wrestling with the difficult task of reconciling an all-loving God with a universe that contains evil and suffering his ultimate response was to renounce his faith in God.2 While removing God from the equation may have solved Ehrman’s personal problem, it did nothing to solve the actual problem of evil. In fact, he made the problem worse for himself in two ways. First, without God, there is no possibility of finding significance in suffering or justice for evil. In a purely naturalistic universe, all suffering is meaningless and there is no ultimate justice for evil. Secondly, when God is removed from the equation all morality becomes relative, which means nothing can objectively be called “evil”. Suffering might be distasteful or unpleasant, but on moral relativism, it cannot ultimately be called evil, or even wrong. Richard Dawkins sums up both of these problems for us nicely in his book River Out of Eden:
In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.3
In other words, Dawkins is admitting that without God there is no good, no evil, and no justice. And, I might add, no love.
To fully consider this objection we also need to look at the Christian understanding of Heaven. While Heaven may be a place where there is free will and no suffering, Scripture tells us that every human will have endured suffering and evil on their way in (John 16:33). As established in the Divine Gift-love Theodicy, evil and suffering exist because man’s moral fallenness leads to him abusing his free will (Gal 5:13). But God redeems even the evil and suffering caused by man (Gen 50:20). And Scripture reveals that our suffering is not without purpose. It can produce character and hope (Rom 5:3-4, Jas 1:2-4), draw us to God (2 Cor 1:9), teach us to love (2 Cor 1:4-5), and play an important role in our sanctification (Heb 12:6-10, Eph 5:26-27). But perhaps the most significant fact of all in establishing that suffering has meaning and is not inconsistent with love is that God, Who is love, chose to enter into our suffering with us (Isa 53:3-5, Hebrews 2:9-10). Indeed, suffering plays a role in our very salvation (1 Pet 4:12-16). And our salvation is the reason Heaven can contain love and free will without the existence of evil. Through a saving faith in Jesus Christ, every citizen of Heaven has been washed clean (Isa 1:18) and made morally righteous (2 Cor 5:21) and, consequently, is able to always rightly use their free will for love rather than for evil.
2. What About Natural Evil?
The Divine Gift-love Theodicy may explain moral evil, but what about natural evil? How can this theodicy account for the human suffering caused by events of nature?
First, consider the outworking of natural evil. We only refer to forces of nature as “natural evil” when they inflict suffering. A hurricane that rages over distant seas affecting no one is not evil; it’s simply nature being nature. Where the problem of natural evil arises is when hurricanes, forest fires, tsunamis and other natural forces cause suffering to human beings. That’s when we might join Epicurus in asking whence cometh evil?
We can’t know all the reasons God allows this kind of suffering, but as established in the Divine Gift-love Theodicy above, we know that human suffering—whether it be from moral evil or natural evil—is not meaningless. It can be redeemed and used by God to fulfill a purpose in our lives. Beyond that, the highest moral value of love is often manifested in the aftermath of natural evil. The suffering produced by natural disasters presents an opportunity for humans to experience Gift-love as givers, receivers, and observers. It may not be the reason they happen, but during natural disasters, the world gets to witness the highest form of love writ large through the sacrificial acts of first-responders, rescuers, and volunteers helping total strangers. And to that end, these natural disasters provide the Church with the opportunity to do what it is called to do. Namely, attend to the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the oppressed, the naked, the widows, the orphans, and so on.4
1Bart Ehrman and Dinesh D’Souza, Debate moderated by Ryan Groff, Theodicy, God and Suffering, held November 11, 2010. Last accessed March 16, 2018 online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Isg6Kx-3xdI.
2Bart Ehrman, Bart Ehrman’s Personal Beliefs Interview, Published on YouTube by Bart D. Ehrman on May 8, 2014. Last accessed March 19, 2018 online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeFdhyuVyzI.
3Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York, Basic Books, 1995), 133.
4See: Isa 58:10, Matt 25:35-40 and Jas 1:27.