By Brian Lowther
Ralph Winter once said, “There are very many people, even Bible-believing Christians not just non-Christians, who are profoundly puzzled, perplexed, and certainly confused by the extensive presence of outrageous evil in the created world of an all-powerful, benevolent God.” In other words, if God is all-powerful and all loving, then why is there so much evil, disease, and suffering in the world?
In this third and final post, I will explore one last Biblical view addressing this question. [Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2.] As before, I won’t venture to interpret any scripture passages. I’ll simply list the passages that at a surface level, seem to support the view I’m exploring.
View #3: Suffering and Evil are a result of a Cosmic War between God and Satan.
This conviction shows up any time someone encounters evil such as disease, demonization, or natural disasters and understands them through the lens of the warfare worldview. For example:
- “Life is war and the world is a battlefield, ravaged by eons of conflict among powerful invisible forces.”
- “Evil originates in the wills of Satan, fallen angels, and sinful people, rather than of God.”
- “The mystery of suffering resides not in God’s providence or because of an arbitrary streak in his character, but in the warfare that engulfs creation.”
- “Evil happens because in a war, casualties and accidents are expected and very likely. ‘Bullets fly, bombs explode, mines are stepped on, and children are maimed.’  In a war, suffering is not an intellectual puzzle to solve. In a war, suffering is a given.”
This understanding is taken from the Bible, where you can read of numerous indications of a cosmic war between God and Satan.
- Paul describes the necessity of the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) in this war, which is not a war between flesh and blood, but against “the cosmic powers over this present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
- Jesus repeatedly calls Satan "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), Luke suggests that Satan owns all the authority of all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5-7), Paul calls Satan "the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4) and "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), and John says “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1 John 5:19)
- Luke summarizes Jesus’ ministry as “doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” (Acts 10:38) Similarly, John explains, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And Paul confirms that the death of Christ was meant to “break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
One of the great benefits of adopting this view is that it creates a posture of revolt and resistance in the face of evil, rather than a passive resignation that often characterizes the response to the other two views. Evil isn't to be puzzled. Evil is to be confronted and overcome.
Surprisingly this conviction doesn’t come up nearly as often as the previous two views. However, it is older than Christianity itself. In fact, the primary way the early Church Fathers (such as Origen, Athenagorus and Tertullian) explained evil in nature was by blaming Satan and his demons.  This view was pre-dominant until St. Augustine in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries. Before he became the most influential Christian thinker of all time, Augustine was part of a religious sect called Manichaeism, which had two equal gods, one good and one bad. As he was inching back toward Orthodox Christianity, he reacted against this dualistic worldview so dramatically that he essentially banished references to an Evil One, taking a view in which there was no intelligent angelic opponent to God at all. Or, if there was, he did very little, all things instead being God’s initiative.
But should we take this view to be the universal explanation for all evil? If so, a few questions arise.
- To take this view seriously, we have to take angels and demons seriously. To many people today, especially in the West, the notion of a personal, real, and active Satan who has great power in the world is ludicrous.
- How does this view make sense of texts like the book of Job? In Job, it’s clear that Satan caused all of Job’s suffering. It can also seem that God controls every move Satan makes.
- Does this view attribute to Satan more power than he has?
- Does this view inevitably lead to Christians who are angrily militant, authoritarian, or even violent? In other words, does this view inevitably lead to tragedies like the ones that occurred in Waco in 1993 or Jonestown in 1978?
I personally feel that the explanation that people suffer because the world is engulfed in a cosmic war offers some important philosophical and explanatory advantages to the two other views I’ve explored. However, this is partly because I grew up with the other two views as the pervading theological assumptions, and frankly I always felt something was missing. Can these three views be synthesized into a more complete answer to the problem of evil? Is it possible to hold all three views in tension? Or does the third view cancel the other two or vice versa? These are questions for another day.
 Greg Boyd, God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1997) 58.
 See more here: http://gregboyd.blogspot.com/2007/07/argument-from-early-church-fathers.html
Brian Lowther is the director of the Roberta Winter Institute.