3 Circles & ALL the Problems of Evil



(The FreeThinking Theist)


January 22, 2019

Why would God allow moral evil? For example, why would God allow Hitler to torture and murder millions of Jews in the horrors of Nazi concentration camps? Why would God allow natural evil? For example, why would God allow hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis that kill and cause so much suffering? Why would God allow what seems to be gratuitous suffering? For example, why would God allow a bunny rabbit to slowly suffer to death in a forest fire? These are good questions and are all based on what is known as “the Problem of Evil.”

In his book, Middle Knowledge: Human Freedom In Divine Sovereignty, John D. Laing points out how Calvin dealt with the Problem of Evil (2018, 29). In a nutshell, he declared that God allows evil so that we can learn to “give God glory for anything positive we enjoy,” and that through evil we have an opportunity to learn patience and humility. Moreover, “when disaster strikes, we have an opportunity to exercise self-reflection and, perhaps, repentance.”

I actually agree with Calvin on this score, however, his approach seems to imply limited libertarian freedom — a concept many (not all) Calvinists reject. Calvin’s model makes perfect sense of what I refer to as the “Three Circles Model,” which implies Mere Molinism along with other theological truths. This model is composed of the following “planks” (this is not to be taken as a syllogism):

a) Suffering, whether it be moral evil, natural evil, or seemingly gratuitous evil, points us to the way things ought to be (we learn from suffering and evil that it ought not be).

b) The “way things ought to be” is an eternal love relationship with God and all people in a perfect state of affairs. This is what we refer to as “Heaven.”

c) Libertarian freedom is necessarily required for true love.

d) Finite creatures who possess libertarian freedom learn over time.

e) Supernatural “zaps” of knowledge do not work. Most created beings must attain experiential knowledge (See Can God Create a Morally Perfect Creature?).

f) Adam, Eve, Satan, and a third of all the angels took suffering-free states of affairs for granted, and freely chose to “wreck” it.

g) You and I have experienced evil, suffering, and affliction — and we are aware of so much more. Because of our experiences with evil and suffering, you and I will not take suffering-free states of affairs for granted because we have genuinely learned from our experiences.

h) Because you and I have learned how stupid evil is, although we possess the same ability to “wreck” a perfect state of affairs, God created a world in which He knew that we we will always freely choose to love God and all people exactly as God intends us to for eternity. (That is to say, although we could “wreck it” and sin as Adam did, God knows that we never would or will sin into the infinite future after experiencing limited amounts of evil on earth.)

i) Some creatures have freely chosen not to learn from evil. They will be eternally separated from those of us who have.

With these theological truths in mind, certain mysteries become solved. Indeed, what was once assumed to be an unsolvable cold case, is now open for further investigation.

Practical Application 

Not long ago I was helping with a kid’s summer camp at a church in Miami. Each day I would read to the children from the Bible and then engage them in conversation. One day I told the elementary school students that they could ask me any question about anything. I was surprised with some of the deep questions they threw my way.

One little girl asked me why God allows animals to suffer. I thought that these kinds of questions were only relegated to philosophers in ivory towers, but apparently elementary school children in southern Florida think about these matters too. After saying a quick prayer (“God help me explain this so that kids can understand it!”), I came up with a diagram of sorts on the spot — I should say God gave it to me — and I began to draw it on the white board in the classroom.

I explained to the children that we live in this “middle world” which is a combination of both good and bad. This includes all the bad things they can think of, including “the bad” of animal suffering — even the suffering animals we never see with our own eyes.

I then explained to them that the pain and suffering we experience and are aware of on earth often leads people to Christ, or brings us closer to Him. I know this first hand. As a pastor I have baptized dozens of believers. I always ask each person why they want to get baptized and to share their personal testimony. The vast majority of the time the new Christian will tell me about the pain and suffering they have experienced. During these seasons of affliction they each realize that they cannot do life apart from God. Indeed, they typically exclaim how suffering pointed them to Jesus Christ. So, in these cases (and they are legion), it was because of suffering that these individuals came to Christ, and it is only those who know and love Jesus Christ who go to heaven.

The salient point is this: suffering often helps people come to Christ.

I then asked the kids this question: Why would anyone who has experienced affliction and is aware of all kinds of pain and suffering on earth, and who is now in heaven — where there is absolutely zero pain and suffering and “Everything is Awesome” — ever freely choose to leave heaven to go to hell? Especially when they know that hell is so much worse than the pain and suffering on earth?

I have never seen so many “light bulbs” turn on all at once. The classroom full of kiddos got the point. Of course no one would freely choose to leave a perfect state of affairs–where suffering does not exist–after experiencing so much of it on earth.

Arguing for the Model

Not only do school children grasp this truth, so do academics in the “ivory tower.” Consider the words of Paul Draper (a well-known atheist philosopher):

“Logical arguments from evil are a dying (dead?) breed. . . . even an omnipotent and omniscient being might be forced to allow E[vil] for the sake of obtaining some important good.” (The Skeptical Theist” in The Evidential Argument from Evil:1996:176-77).

Molinism helps explain exactly what this “important good” is in which Draper refers. At least one of these “important goods” is that this temporary suffering-filled world allows humans the ability to freely love for eternity and teaches us not to take a perfect state of affairs for granted as Adam, Eve, Satan, and a third of all the angels seemed to do. With this in mind, it is easy to answer the following question:

Why did God call this world, “very good” (Genesis 1:31)?

Because God knew it would (implies God’s middle knowledge if God possessed this knowledge logically prior to His creative decree) lead to an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). God has eternity in mind; we ought to as well. With this in mind, consider a syllogism founded on a Molinistic framework which “destroys” (as the Apostle Paul proclaims in the tenth chapter of 2 Corinthians) the supposed problems of moral, natural, and gratuitous evils:

1 – If God is omnibenevolent, then he desires genuine eternal love relations with humans.

2 – If God desires genuine eternal love relations with humans, then he creates humans with libertarian freedom (because):

2.1 – A genuine eternal love relationship between God and humans necessarily requires that humans possess libertarian freedom.

3 – If God creates humans with libertarian freedom, then he allows humans to experience suffering (because):

3.1 – Suffering can result from libertarian free humans.

3.2 – God created a world in which he knew that unless he permitted natural evil, some would not freely choose to eternally preserve the suffering-free state of affairs in the new heavens and new earth (2 Cor. 4:17). 

4 – God is omnibenevolent.

5 – Therefore, God (since he is omnibenevolent) allows humans to experience suffering

This argument makes use of all three of the essential ingredients of the strong view of Molinism (Mere Molinism applied to soteriology): 1- God is eternally omniscient (entails God’s middle knowledge if He is also omnipotent)2- Humans possess libertarian free will (the ability to choose between a range of options each compatible with human nature), 3- God is a maximally great being who loves and desires the best for all people. In fact, no competing views of God’s sovereignty have access to this argument.


With God’s eternal intent in mind, it is easy to see that God is not a “morally guilty mind.” That is to say, the concept of Mens rea does not apply to God if Molinism is true. This is a knockdown argument against the common atheist mantra that if God is all-powerful — and since evil and suffering of all kinds obviously exists — then God cannot be all-good or all loving. In fact, when we keep eternity in mind, we see that this world suffused with all kinds of suffering is the most loving kind of world God could have created.

The Apostle Paul realized this and rejoiced in his terrible sufferings:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

Bottom Line: Molinism (with the help of the “3 Circles Model”) takes the teeth out of the bite of the atheist’s objection raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Stay reasonable (Acts 17:2),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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