Ehrman’s Problem 2: Free Will and Natural Evil
by Clay Jones
As I mentioned yesterday, Ehrman admits that free will can explain much human evil, but he asks how it can explain malaria, dysentery, drought, hurricanes, mudslides, or a “tsunami that kills hundreds of thousands overnight.” (12) In other words, how does the misuse of free will explain “natural” evil?
Although there are other answers to this question, here I’m going to briefly give the two major answers.
Adam’s Sin Brought Natural Evil
The first reason is natural evil exists because Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Adam ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and God told Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” (Gen. 3:17) I ask my classes all the time, “What natural evil couldn’t have been enabled by God looking at the ground and saying, ‘You are cursed’?”
Then, after God cursed the ground, He banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and thus removed them from the rejuvenating power of the Tree of Life. This ensured that they and their descendants would die. No specification was made as to when or how death might come. One might die at eight-months, eight-years, or eighty years from drowning or heart disease. Regardless, most natural evil arose because of Adam’s misuse of free will.
Saying that we all suffer and die because of a decision that some couple made long ago, although perfectly Biblical, brings up a problem that Ehrman doesn’t ask, Why is it fair that we all suffer so terribly for their decision?
The Bible gives two answers here.1 First, the Bible says that we all inherit Adam’s sinful nature and so all of us grow to become sinners: “sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men—because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12.)
Second, the Bible teaches that Adam and Eve were not just some disconnected couple who happened to live thousands of years ago who just happened to sin, and now, for some strange reason, we suffer for it. No. It teaches that they are our first parents, our original parents, and that they made a decision that resulted in our deaths and the suffering that our deaths entail. In other words, free beings named Adam and Eve made a decision that adversely affected us—their family…
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