The dilemma posed to Rob Bell by Martin Bashir of MSNBC at the outset of his interview was whether God was unable to prevent evil or unwilling to prevent it. In an earlier post we noted that there are perhaps two kinds of evil: that which results from human volition, i.e. moral evil, and that which results from natural events like disease, famine, earthquakes, etc.
In that post it was argued that it may be that God could be both able and willing to eliminate moral evil but has a good reason for not doing so.
It remains to consider possible reasons as to why He doesn't eliminate natural evil.
One possible answer is that among the things that even an omnipotent creator may be unable to do is create a world governed by physical laws that has no potential for evil. A world that contains gravity, for example, will also contain the potential for people to fall. A world that includes the law of momentum will also have serious consequences for embodied creatures which fall. All of which is to say that it may be that the laws which regulate this world, or any world, may make natural evils, or at least the potential for them, inevitable.
An objection to this idea is that in Christian belief heaven is a world that God creates that will apparently have no evil, so is that not a counter to the claim that any world God creates will have the potential for natural evil?
A possible reply to this objection might be that heaven does contain the possibility of evil but that God's presence permeates that world, overriding anything which would result in harm to its inhabitants.
But then, it might be asked, if that's so why doesn't God permeate this world in the same way so that an earthquake off the coast of Japan does not result in the deaths of 20,000 people? The answer to this question in Christian theology is that God did indeed create this world as a place He would fill, but that a terrible betrayal called by theologians the Fall resulted in an estrangement between God and His creation.
In an act of cosmic infidelity Man aligned himself with evil. It was as if a good and faithful spouse came home one day to find his wife whom he adored in bed with his worst enemy. Heartbroken, God withdrew His presence from the world that He had built for His beloved and a profound emptiness and aloneness has haunted us ever since.
Man was left to face the world pretty much as it is without God's superintending care. Parenthetically, since our forlorness is a consequence of Man's choice it could be argued that natural evil, like moral evil, is also a result of human volition.
The story doesn't end there, of course. God is intent on wooing back to Himself His beloved despite her betrayal, which is the message of the Christian Gospel. Nevertheless, until that happy denouement we find ourselves in a world that was originally meant to be filled with God and in which natural evils, though inherent or potential in the laws of nature, would never be able to manifest their baneful consequences.
I'm not saying that this is the answer, only that it, or something like it, is a possible answer. Maybe the reason Rob Bell didn't offer something like this to Martin Bashir is that such an explanation is difficult to convey in a thirty second sound bite.