Posted by: everynation | April 15, 2009

The Problem of Evil

paul-barker-en-plogby Paul Barker

If God is all powerful and all loving, then how can evil exist in the world?

Many professional skeptics and many ordinary people have asked this question over the centuries.

The problem of evil is a theological problem that arises from the following propositions:

1. God is all-powerful
2. God is perfectly good
3. Evil exists

Because evil exists, skeptics say, one of three things must be true:

1. God is not all powerful and cannot stop evil
2. God is not all love and does not want to stop evil
3. God does not exist

Different religious traditions have approached this problem from different perspectives.

Hinduism, Christian Science, and Stoicism have tried to solve the problem by denying the existence of evil. Evil is mere appearance or is imaginary.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, the best-selling author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, concluded that evil exists in the world because God is powerless to stop it. He wrote his book after losing his teenage son to a rare disease, an experience that challenged his faith in God. He said,

“If God existed and was fair, loving, and just, how could He do this to me? Even if I could convince myself that I deserve this punishment for some sin I was not aware of, on what grounds did Aaron have to suffer?”

Kushner agonized long over what he thought was the logical inconsistency between a loving, all-powerful God and the persistence of evil. He decided that if he had to let go of either God’s goodness or His power, he would rather hold on to His goodness.

Elie Wiesel has chosen the third alternative. Wiesel’s first book, Night, describes his experience at Auschwitz and some of his feelings regarding the problem of evil and the existence of God:

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.” (Elie Wiesel, Night, p. 32)

Orthodox Christianity, however, has generally chosen to live with the tension involved in affirming all three propositions. (Evil, Problem of, Encyclopedia Britannica)

There is no simple answer to this question. But the following clues provide some of the possible answers to the problem.

* The world is fallen.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)

Philip Yancy said, “The existence of suffering is a scream to us that something is wrong…that the entire human condition is out of whack.”

* Man has the freedom to choose.

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

God’s original desire was that people would love Him of their own accord. He was not interested in robots that would act only according to how they were programmed.

* All choices have consequences.

“God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29)

God has given man the freedom of choice but not the freedom of consequences. Many people blame God for their problems, but everyone makes their own choices. So many of man’s choices have gone awry and produced much of the evil and suffering that constantly surrounds us. These wrong choices are what the Bible calls ‘sin.’

* There is an evil being in the universe bent on destroying God’s creation.

“The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

God has a master plan and His ultimate goal is not man’s immediate happiness.

“From heaven, the most miserable earthly life will look like one bad night in an inconvenient hotel.” (Mother Teresa, Quoted in Peter Kreeft, What is God’s Answer to Human Suffering? http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/suffering.htm)

There is a purpose in suffering that our finite minds cannot comprehend. Like the Olympic athlete who sees the Gold medal as worth all the sacrifice it requires, so too the person who endures sufferings for its eternal reward.

Victor Frankl, who suffered in a Nazi prison camp, said, “If there is a meaning in life at all then there must be a meaning in suffering for suffering is a part of life.” (Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning)

* God is sovereign and His ways are sometimes a mystery.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

We will never fully comprehend all the ways of God. But He has made himself infinitely worthy of our trust in the Incarnation.

“He was a man of sorrows, fully acquainted with suffering…” (Isaiah 53:3)

Through His suffering and death on the cross, Jesus bore the burden and responsibility for all of man’s wrong choices. In that one sacrificial act, He swallowed up the consequences of every man’s sin and severed the root cause of all his suffering. And He forever vindicated His Father from every railing accusation of injustice.

Paul Barker is the Director of the Every Nation Leadership Institute-North America and the author of PaulBarker.org.

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