Norman Geisler's latest book, If God, Why Evil? addresses the timeless question of how a good God can exist despite prevalent suffering and evil. I was able to talk to him about his book earlier this week at the International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta.
OWENS: You state that the foundation for evil is the existence of human free will, but isn't that letting God off the hook?
GEISLER: It doesn't let God off the hook because God made us and He gave us that freedom. If we are free, it even makes it more difficult-why did He create free creatures to begin with? The problem is resolvable, but it isn't resolvable by saying God shouldn't make creatures that aren't free.
OWENS: You write that God didn't create us with the highest form of freedom, which is freedom from sin. Why not?
GEISLER: You can't get to the Promised Land without going through the wilderness. You can't form character unless you're in a condition that works character. Tribulation works patience. There's no courage without fear. In order to develop the highest type of character in a free being, you have to allow evil.
OWENS: What about Job? According to the Bible, he used his freedom to honor God, but God still allowed evil to come to him.
GEISLER: Even the perfect man can become more perfect. Even Jesus-although He was sinless, learned things through suffering that He could not learn any other way.
OWENS: Do you think we would have had character without the Fall?
GEISLER: Not the highest type. You can't produce a perfect [human] being who hasn't gone through the process of perfection. Part of being human is enduring suffering.
OWENS: Will we have freedom in heaven? Will we still have choice?
GEISLER: Heaven is to earth what marriage is to courtship. Heaven is the fulfillment of our freedom. It's not the erasing of our freedom. When I said to my wife 56 years ago, "forsaking all others, I will cling to you and you only the rest of my life," I immediately cut myself off from dating anyone else. But I didn't lose freedom. I gained freedom because my freedom is being fulfilled in that marriage. Heaven is like that: I freely want to do His will forever. The real desire of our heart will be fulfilled.
OWENS: Why didn't God make our hearts that way at first?
GEISLER: It goes back to the process. If God, Why Evil? is [based on] a greater good theodicy: God had to permit evil to defeat evil and defeating evil is better than not defeating it [which would only be possible if God did not allow evil by not creating free creatures]. He had to permit evil as a way to achieve the greater good.
OWENS: What is missing from a theology without free will?
GEISLER: You cannot explain the origin of evil without it. If free will means doing what you desire and God has to give you the desire, which is what people who stress sovereignty over freedom [say], then you have no explanation for why Lucifer sinned: Did God give him that desire? There is no other answer to the problem of evil than free will: You have the ability to choose otherwise.
OWENS: How do the Gospel message and the question of evil intersect?
GEISLER: God [permitted] evil in order to defeat it. He defeated it by sending Christ to die for us and to rise from the dead.
OWENS: Most of the book is in "if-then" statements, called syllogisms. But if you had to give a simplistic answer about the problem of evil without using a syllogism what would it be?
GEISLER: Depends what you focus on, the origin of evil, persistence of evil . . .
OWENS: Persistence: If God is good, He could destroy evil. If God is all powerful, He would destroy evil. Evil is not defeated, therefore no such God exists.
GEISLER: Well the answer to that says that if God is all good He would destroy evil, and if He's all powerful He could, but evil is not yet defeated. They forget the word "yet" and therefore they suggest that there is no such God. It's like cutting someone off in the middle of their sentence, but God hasn't finished His sentence yet.
OWENS: What do you think about the current debate on hell?
GEISLER: I think it's good we're talking about it. You're going to be dead a whole lot longer than you're going to be alive. The reason there has to be a hell is because God is just, but also because He's loving and He can't force people into heaven. Forced love is not love. Forced love is rape and God is not a divine rapist. He's going to allow them to freely choose and when they freely choose, He's going to say "Thy will be done."