Dr. Clay Jones is one of my colleagues in the Biola Apologetics M.A. program. Although he has been teaching and thinking about the problem of evil for decades, he has just released a new book: Why Does God Allow Evil? Here is my endorsement that made the back cover of the book: “If you are looking for one book to make sense of the problem of evil, this book is for you.”
I plan to use this book very soon with a group of high school students. And it will now be the top book that I recommend on this subject (along with If God, Why Evil by Norman Geisler and The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis).
Professor Jones was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding the problem of evil and what unique contribution his book makes. Check out the brief interview and then consider getting a copy of his outstanding book:
SEAN MCDOWELL: There are many books on the problem of evil. What makes your new book unique?
CLAY JONES: Craig Hazen, the founder of Biola's MA in Christian apologetics said it well, "In this book, Clay Jones actually answers the question ‘Why Does God Allow Evil?’ So many books on the topic don't give an answer. Hence, this is a breath of fresh air. There is a bonus too. In his answer to the question Jones gives a full-arc presentation of the gospel. I've seen even seasoned Christians awaken to the depths of the gospel for the first time in response to Jones's material." Indeed, so many books on the problem of evil conclude only with an "I guess we'll find out in heaven" kind of answer, but I contend that the Bible tells us why God allows evil.
MCDOWELL: What do you think most Christians fail to grasp about why God may allow evil?
JONES: In the 1980s, I began to seriously study what God had done for us as Christians now and the glory that God had in store for us for our eternities. Later I began to study the lost state that we were in before we came to Christ. In other words, I started to study the depths of human depravity. Most Christians don't understand these things deeply and that's a problem not only for understanding why God allows evil, but for understanding much of what the Lord is doing in the universe. As the renowned Bible expositor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Most of our troubles are due to the fact that we are guilty of a double failure; we fail on the one hand to realize the depth of sin, and on the other hand we fail to realize the greatness and the height and the glory of our salvation.” Lloyd-Jones is exactly right.
MCDOWELL: You have studied the problem of evil for decades. How has your perspective changed over time?
JONES: My perspective hasn't really changed from the 1980s—it has intensified. As I've continued to study the horror of human rebellion, the nature and value of free will, and the glory that awaits us in heaven forever, I appreciated the significance of those teachings ever more fully. Some Christian truths like Roman's 3:20, "there is no one who does good, no not one" are counter-intuitive to even many Christians. But those intuitions are mistaken. We need to revolve certain ideas in our minds until we find them not only worthy of intellectual assent but emotionally compelling. That's what my study has done in my own life.
MCDOWELL: What is the most powerful response for believers to use when skeptics raise the problem of evil?
JONES: When talking with a skeptic, I focus on three things. First, my book thoroughly documents that humans aren't good, and we need to argue that point with skeptics. I point out to skeptics that every genocide researcher I’ve ever read and even every genocide victim I’ve ever read concludes that it is the average member of a population that commits genocide. That tells us there is something terribly wrong with humankind and skeptics really don't have an answer for this. Well, if humans really aren't good, then the question "why do bad things happen to good people" is moot from the start. I also point out the free will entails being able to use your free will wrongly—that's as logical at it gets. Finally, I point out that eternity will dwarf our suffering to insignificance. I have found great success in arguing these points with skeptics.
MCDOWELL: What motivated you to spend so much time reading, thinking, teaching, and writing on this topic?
JONES: I've found that it not only answers the question "why does God allow evil?" it also explains most of what God's doing in the universe and what our own lives are about. For me, studying the problem of evil is studying the whole of Christian doctrine because it is all related and that’s life-changing.
MCDOWELL: What is the biggest truth missing from the typical argument against the problem of evil?
JONES: The biggest lack in the typical discussion regarding "why does God allow evil?" is a focus on the eternal. I've read a lot of books on the subject and most of them barely nod at eternity playing a part in our answering the question. But C.S. Lewis was right: “Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain that does not do so can be called a Christian one.” But it is much more than answering the problem of evil; a failure to understand the glory that awaits the Christian for eternity hurts Christians in many other ways. That's why I spend three chapters on eternity in my book. We need to do Colossians 3:1-4!
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org, where you can find the original version of this article.