Any attempt to make the existence of an All-knowing, All-powerful and benevolent God consistent with the existence of evil is known as a Theodicy. Augustine uses Genesis 3 to explain the origin of evil. The Fall is not God’s responsibility and yet God makes a way for redemption. Augustine, in his sole deciding view, plays heavily on both Genesis 3 and Romans 5. God is justified in allowing the evil to stay but out of his grace the rescue plan of Jesus’ sacrificial death enables freedom from the consequences of the Fall. The individual is free to decide on whether to accept this or not. To quote Augustine, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist.”
Irenaeus treats the Fall narrative differently – he appreciates that any being other than God is incapable of perfection. This is because they are created not creator – they are contingent, not necessary beings. Irenaeus sees the presence of evil and suffering as an opportunity for redemption, and his soul making theodicy encourages the reform of beings through the challenges posed by suffering. Humans are made in God’s likeness but they are not fully formed as children of God. Suffering is used in the honing process.
Another method of explaining the origin of evil and suffering is the Free Will Defence. Swinburne appreciates that the Fall demonstrates God’s goodness in allowing humans to be free to choose. Free beings cannot be forced to love, and God wishes his creation to respond in love just as he has responded to them – but this cannot be demanded. Therefore suffering is the inevitable consequence of allowing such freedom and this is coupled with hope and abounding grace on the part of God. The theistic perspective confirms that suffering is not from God – “God is light, in Him there is not darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) Suffering can be blamed on human will and fallen angels, such as Satan. However, the story does not end in the negative, for the Old Testament foresees a new way of freedom represented in the Messiah (Christ). This is the hope which the Christian faith rests upon.
Nonetheless, these theories only explain the origin of moral evil. The origin and existence of natural evil is much more complex. How can we blame free will on events that humans have no control over? Aquinas surmised that natural evil is only evil from a narrow human perspective. Natural ‘evil’ is part of God’s design for creation. Volcanoes can fertilise soil, hurricanes help distribute the Earth’s heat more evenly and wildfires can enrich soil and eliminate unwanted plants from an ecosystem. Any suffering caused by these events can often be traced back to humanity. Earthquakes don’t kill people; human infrastructure does. Some theologians believe that sin, brought about by the fall, can manifest even in the natural world as a form of divine justice. This suggests that the blame for natural evil also lies with humanity.
Moving on, many philosophers have attempted to explain the origin of evil and suffering without religion. Kant was the first to offer a purely secular work on the existence of evil. He thought that evil originated at the same time as human reasoning, when we first developed to gain the concept of right and wrong. He wrote, “when the human being begins to use his reason, he falls into foolishness … the first development of our reason toward the good is the origin of evil.”
Atheistic nihilism believes that evil is a natural phenomenon. Nietzsche looked at the world and all its suffering and declared that there was no order. This led him to confirm that there was no God. Therefore, man is alone in a pointless universe and must make the best he can of this absurd reality. Suffering is the natural consequence of a random universe, a victim of the big bang and evolution which are disordered biological drives. Evil and suffering, as Russel put it bluntly, are “a brute fact.” However, more commonly the atheistic view rests on the principles of humanism. They accept the reality of suffering but positively believe that it can be conquered by the human will and intellect.
Ultimately, the question surrounding the origin of evil and suffering will never truly be solved with our fallible human understanding. To quote Joseph Conrad, "The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”