Process theology’s attempt to solve the problem of evil

December 4, 2013

I don’t know much about process theology. My systematic theology professor disparaged it in one lecture, saying that it teaches that God doesn’t create out of nothing. Rather, “in the beginning” there was preexistent stuff alongside God, including evil, over which God has no ultimate control.

As Roger Olson points out in this concise summary of process theology, it appeals to some Christians because it lets God off the hook for evil in the world. Not only did God not cause evil (as orthodox theology has it), he isn’t powerful enough to do anything about it anyway.

Evil presents a problem for us Christians because we are monotheists. In the old days of polytheism, we could blame the bad gods for the bad stuff and hope the good gods ultimately prevail over them. If God is one, however, and creator of all, then God must ultimately be responsible for everything that happens in the world, including evil. If God is responsible for evil, then that takes some explaining. And this explanation is what’s called theodicy: How do we justify believing that God is good in a world full of evil?

To be clear, to say that God is responsible for evil isn’t to imply that God created evil. According to orthodox theology, evil isn’t a thing at all; rather, it’s the absence of a something—namely, the good that inheres in all of God’s creation. The Creation is good but it’s been corrupted by sin through free will and stands in need of redemption.

But to say that God didn’t create evil doesn’t let God off the hook for it. Why? Because God didn’t have to create our world in the first place. He chose to, knowing that one consequence for doing so would be sin and evil—and, yes, the cross of his Son Jesus. God obviously believed that creating the world with this trade-off was completely worth it. But not only is it worth it, it’s to God’s glory, as will become clear at the end of history.

From where I sit, how can I possibly disagree? Life seems incredibly good to me already, in spite of everything.

For those who disagree, however—who object to the Christian God on moral grounds—I would say, along with N.T. Wright, that the problem of good is a bigger problem for them than the problem of evil is for us Christians.

Besides, as Olson writes,

[P]rocess theology solves the theodicy issue at too high a cost. The God of process theology is hardly worshipful. In order to be worshipful God must be both great and good (but not one at the expense of the other). The God of process theology is not great enough to be worshipful. He/she/it is great enough to be admirable but not worshipful.

9 Responses to “Process theology’s attempt to solve the problem of evil”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    It is absurd and totally contrary to scripture to argue that God cannot “control” evil, leaving the world simply to proceed as it may between the “forces of good and evil.” No “good” outcome of the universe could be guaranteed under such a view; indeed, any “culmination” of history itself would be uncertain, given the uncontrollable evil forces.

    I agree with you that there was a “trade-off” by God in creating a world where evil would eventuate, even though God would not cause the choices which led to that result. To me, this trade-off was based on the nature of love, and God is love. Love of necessity by its very essence cannot be “forced”; you have to be able to choose to “love back,” or not. Choosing to “love back” is righteousness, and choosing not to, to one extent or another, is disobedience or sin. God wanted love more than he wanted “enforced” obedience (i.e., no possible sin or evil). He made the right choice! (Naturally, since he is God!) Love is best.

    But another aspect of God’s “goodness” is that ULTIMATELY sin or disobedience must be done away with. Since love can never be forced, those who ultimately elect to choose sin over God must be “divorced” from those who ultimately elect love (manifested by obedience). So, God’s “almighty-ness” means that ultimately he will “conquer” sin, death, and the Devil (as he did initially via the Cross and resurrection, and will ultimately do so upon his return). Hence, God must be “love” and ALSO “almighty” for him to be “good,” which he is, and for the universe to be “good,” which it also is. It is the best universe that there CAN be!

    • brentwhite Says:

      It strikes me that theodicy becomes much easier to solve when we account for the Devil.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Yes. He was (apparently) the first to reject a love response to God, choose to disobey, become a rebel. And he has been “leading the charge” against God and love and “goodness” ever since. BUT, he has to have been a “created being” and “on a leash” to avoid “process theology.”

      • brentwhite Says:

        Of course. Otherwise we may as well be Manichaean, a dualistic religion that emphasized that good and evil were at war (and equally matched).

  2. Robert WIlliams Says:

    Nice succinct treatise … As a thought … For whatever reason, although Satan was created by God with no doubt a nature of goodness, Satan revealed the first known sin … self Pride .. ie. “I can be God”. From this seed all sin grew and was imparted by Satan into God’s creation … and the struggle began. Mankind has always collectively tried to inject themselves past the supremacy of God … “I too can be God” .

    Scripture does not reveal the exact manner in which Satan – once the most favored of the host – contracted his sinful Pride. When all things are revealed and we share in the knowledge and wisdom of our Lord, we will surely know the answer as to how and why Sin began.

    I do believe that since the true nature of God is Love and Wisdom derived of that love … to abolish sin with the wave of His hand … would have violated the true nature of God. Satan – through us – has continuously attempted to draw God to violate his nature and strike down sin with only his Omnipotent power. God is the same now, always and forever so He chooses to defeat sin – through us – with His love and wisdom as we choose to accept it. In the end His love will prevail of us, by us, and for us as we accept His Son as Christ and Savior. Satan tempts God through Man … therefore God reveals and defeats Satan through Man.


  3. Is a god that is not all powerful worshipful?
    Yes. The problem with those who insist otherwise is that it is impossible for God to be both all powerful and all good, at least in light of the realities of life in our universe. Perhaps theoretically it could be both, but we live in the world we have not the one we wish to have. And it seems that people are too willing to dismiss or ignore the true awfulness and evil inherent in our world, for the sake of defending omnipotence.

    It is better by far to worship a God that is all good, but not all powerful or all knowing, then a God who is all powerful and all knowing but only all good in theory, never in actual practice.

    • brentwhite Says:

      On what basis do you say that God isn’t all good—I mean, according to orthodox Christianity? Christianity explains why the world isn’t the way it ought to be. And the good news is that in the end justice will be fully and finally done.

    • Tom Harkins Says:

      Saying God is omnipotent (all-powerful) means that he is capable of doing anything he may choose to do. This includes “staying his hand.” That “staying” is necessary for free choice, which is necessary for love, which is the greatest good. Without love, God would indeed not be good, because he would be withholding the greatest good from us. So, there has to be a trade-off (at least, in the short run). Choice (and, hence, love) requires the possibility of sin, which in fact we choose to do, and “The wages of sin is death.” But thanks be to God, he did not leave us in the dire strait–he himself came down and sacrificed himself in our place. The greatest act of love.

      Finally, in fact the inequities which you may be thinking of are only temporary. Judgment Day is coming, when all the books will be opened and everyone will receive his “reward” for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. Then those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, who willingly received and returned love (in the manner and on the basis that scripture sets forth) go to Heaven, ultimate perfection, and those who rejected and did not return love go into Hell, ultimate banishment and punishment.

      So, God is “in control,” except that he makes allowance for free choices with their consequences, as he has the power so to do out of his all-powerfulness, and then he weaves together those choices to fully accomplish his plan, which plan is, in its most ultimate aspect, the accomplishment of love, with its eternal consequences. So, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him….”


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