My piece on Epicurus’s famous riddle last week garnered a number of comments. One of those was from one of my regular commenters, GV, who asked the question, “Is there any other religion that gives a solution to his riddle?” I got the impression the question was probably rhetorical, yet it’s a good question and deserving of some thought.

The basic gist of what I wrote in that piece is this. Undergirding Epicurus’s riddle are two major presuppositions, both of which are flawed. The first is the idea that God isn’t solving the problem of evil. The second is that the evil that needs dealing with is all “out there”.

The problem with the first is that it assumes that God needs to deal with the problem of evil according to our ways. He should come and zap the evildoer right here and right now. And if he doesn’t, what kind of God do you call that? Yet the Bible tells us that he has dealt with the problem of evil, he is dealing with the problem of evil, and he will deal with the problem of evil. That he dealt with it in the past by sending his Son to take the sins and the evil of his people upon himself at Calvary. That he deals with it in the present by calling people to repent of their wickedness, and to trust in the death of Jesus as the payment for their sins. And that he will deal with it in the future, when at the end of time he will banish wickedness forever when he proclaims judgement on those that have refused to repent and accept his offer of salvation.

The problem with the second presupposition is that the problem of evil isn’t “out there”. It’s “in here”. In my heart. And yours. And Epicurus’s. And so when Epicurus invites God to respond to the problem of evil by “dealing with it”, he knows not what he asks. Does he really want God to come and “deal with” all wickedness? If he does so in the way that Epicurus is suggesting, then Epicurus gets zapped along with everyone else. Not just the murderers, the rapists, the thieves, the genocidal maniacs, the warmongers etc. Everyone. Which is why it’s a fine thing that Epicurus is not God, or that God didn’t hearken to him to “prove” his goodness and his omnipotence. For had he done so in the way that Epicurus was suggesting, that would have resulted in only one good remaining – God himself – whilst all humanity would have been subject to his wrath, since “there is none righteous, no not one.”

Which brings me onto GV’s question: “Is there any other religion that gives a solution to his riddle?” It won’t surprise you to hear me answer that with a resounding no, but why so?

Question: What is the fundamental difference between Christianity and all other religions? It is this: all other religions are based on man doing something to earn salvation or reach paradise. They are man reaching upwards, trying to reach heaven or some equivalent, and trying to prove his worthiness in getting there. Christianity, on the other hand, is God reaching down to pull sinful and helpless man up to heaven. All other religions are man striving to earn salvation. Christianity is man admitting that he can never earn salvation, and being entirely dependent on God to save him.

And so the most astonishing and radical message that this world has ever heard is that God came down to earth and took on humanity. He became a man. Not only this, but he was subject to illness, temptations, and trials just like the rest of us. Ultimately, he was subjected to the most cruel and humiliating death, despite his obvious innocence, and his sinless life. God – the God that Epicurus questions as not being able or willing to deal with evil – came here and did that!

What has that to do with GV’s question? Everything. Epicurus’s riddle supposes a God who is distant and removed from evil. A God who doesn’t much care. But by coming in the flesh, God shows that he cares passionately that evil has infiltrated his creation, causing such pain, misery and anguish. And on the Cross of Calvary, he showed just how much he was willing to banish evil forever, by facing wickedness head on, taking the punishment for evil on himself, so that every sin of those who repent and follow him could be forgiven.  

Epicurus’s riddle also supposes a God who is unable to deal with evil. A God who just isn’t powerful enough to destroy it. But again, God coming in the flesh, shows that this is not the case at all. When Jesus Christ came to earth, he came because he was determined to deal a death blow to evil. And he did. Yes, it still lives on, and will do until the end of time. But the death of the Son of God, followed by his resurrection where he openly triumphed over evil, shows that God has already dealt with the fundamental problem of evil by placing the guilt of it on his willing Son. Those who accept his payment are now granted eternal life, free from all wickedness, and those who refuse this gracious offer will have to bear their own guilt when good and evil undergo their final separation at the end of time.

Name another religion where these things are true? Where the god of that religion has showed that he is not aloof to the misery that evil has caused. Where the god of that religion has showed that he had a plan to banish evil after all. Where the god of that religion has come amongst his creatures to deal with the problem. I don’t think there is one.

Epicurus’s riddle can only be answered by a God who enters his creation to deal with the problem of evil. It can only be answered by a God who deals with evil by taking on the punishment for evil himself, so that guilty humanity can go free. Which is why Christianity alone can give us the answer to this riddle.

4 thoughts on “Epicurus Trolls God’s Ability and Willingness to Deal With Evil; God Enters His Creation to Answer the Charge

  1. “God has already dealt with the fundamental problem of evil by placing the guilt of it on his willing Son.”

    Rob, I have been thinking over this statement of yours, and especially the word ‘willing’ (which I suspect was carefully chosen and deliberately included). The Gospels portray Jesus as a man who passionately cared about other people’s physical & spiritual wellbeing and who deprived himself of his material comforts to meet the needs of others. There is no hint anywhere that he was merely putting up with the inconveniences and costliness of his life & death out of cold duty towards God his Father. For sure, his loving obedience to his Father governed and prompted everything he did, but at the same time he demonstrated unambiguously that his love for people was as vehement, heartfelt, and intense as God’s love for them.

    Jesus of Nazareth was a stunning man. I have never met or read of another human being like him. His virtues were full and perfect in degree and extent without any deficiency or contaminant. There is nothing disappointing or disillusioning about him. As John Flavel said, “The excellencies of Jesus Christ are perfectly exclusive of all their opposites; there is nothing of a contrary property or quality found in him to contaminate or devaluate his excellency.” If the eternal, absolute, holy God were to become a human being, Jesus is exactly what I would expect such a person to look like. I find myself increasingly gripped and riveted by him.

    1. Thanks Phil,

      Yep, you’re right, that word “willing” was deliberate. In fact, I think I added it after first writing the piece, because it is so key to understanding who God really is and what the death of Jesus was. Had he not been willing, then those who have dismissed the doctrine of penal substitution as “cosmic child abuse” would have a point. But the fact that he was totally willing shows not only that the charge is utterly blasphemous, but also shows how much those who still use Epicurus’s riddle today to mock God couldn’t be more wrong. You want to know if God is willing to defeat evil? Take a look at the innocent Son of God being tortured and killed in the most gruesome manner imaginable, and then tell me he isn’t willing!

      The one point you make that I would add to is this:

      “If the eternal, absolute, holy God were to become a human being, Jesus is exactly what I would expect such a person to look like.”

      That’s very true looking at things this side of his 1st coming, but I don’t think we would ever have expected God to be like that before he actually came. We would have expected a mighty king to come. We would have expected a conqueror. We would have expected a judge. At least that’s what many in the 1st century appeared to have been expecting.

      What we got was a baby in a manger. A healer. A man with physical weaknesses. Someone who didn’t really look the part. Someone who was unafraid to speak truth to power in his day. Someone who spoke in the strongest terms to both his friends (to Peter: Get thee behind me Satan), and to his enemies (Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees). Someone who took us deeper into the requirements of the law, in order than we might see our need of his salvation. Someone who gives completely unexpected answers to the questions he is asked. Someone who deeply loves the poor, the widow, little children. Someone who hates hypocrisy. Someone who would willingly lay down his life for friends, and those who were at enmity.

      He often appears to me to be like a whirlwind going through the land (specially in Mark’s Gospel, which is written in such a way as to convey that sense of immediacy and urgency). At other times, we see the peace and the rest that he brings. In short, we got someone far more multi-faceted than we could ever have imagined, and someone who defies all our attempts to pigeon-hole him. And yet you’re right: when you look at him after these events, you cannot help but see God himself.

      I don’t know if you’ve ever come across a singer songwriter called Andrew Peterson. Well worth checking out if you haven’t. His lyrics are often extraordinary, and in one song (The Reckoning), he uses some very simple words that seem to me to capture this multi-faceted nature of God, which we see in the life of Jesus Christ:

      “You are holiness and grace
      You are fury and rest
      You are anger and love
      You curse and you bless
      You are mighty and weak
      You are silence and song
      You are plain as the day,
      But you have hidden your face –
      For how long? How long?”

      Best wishes,

      Rob

  2. I think it is amazing that God bothered to deal with evil at all. God was grieved when man rebelled against him, and he might have washed his hands of this creation, annihilated it, and started over. This creation is dispensable from his point of view. But instead he chose to continue with it and put it right, even though it required his costly self-sacrifice to accomplish it. He who is entitled to enjoy continuous honour and felicity gave up his rights and volunteered to suffer for the benefit of people who hated him. In Greek and Roman mythology the wildest imaginations of man has not dreamed up any god that remotely resembles the God and Father of the Lord Jesus.

    God did not merely throw a rope ladder over the side of the boat and shout down to drowning people in the water to grab hold of the ladder and climb up to safety. We are too weak to climb the ladder anyway. Instead God lowered himself down to sea level on the end of a winch from a helicopter to take hold of us personally, pluck us out of the water, and lift us up to safety.

  3. Thank you Rob, I needed that elaboration because I couldn’t get my thoughts straight.
    Looking forward to the delivery of your book.

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