One fact which each of us must face is the real presence of evil and suffering in the world. This is undeniable – we all recognize that bad things happen, that bad things happen to good people. We have to make sense of this somehow. Often this is presented as a problem for Christianity: something along the lines of, If God is good (as you say he is), how can there be so much evil and suffering in the world? If he was real, there wouldn’t be so much. So, he must not really exist. In essence, the argument says that the presence of evil means that the God Christians proclaim can’t exist because he is either unable (and therefore not all-powerful) or unwilling (and therefore not all-good), since he has not eradicated evil.
Identifying the Problem
Of course, there are really two issues when considering an answer to the problem of evil. The first and most immediate is that when this issue is brought up, it isn’t usually academic, but a response to a personal tragedy. Christian apologetics will almost never be helpful or appropriate here; compassion and empathy are by far what is more called for at this time.
But there is also an academic side to this problem as well, and that is worth considering in more quiet and stable times. Having worked through the problem in one’s mind ahead of time will give a bit of stability when the pain comes and the emotions are high. That is what I hope to offer here.
A Contradiction Without God
I cannot see any philosophical justification for the category of “evil” without God; not that God is somehow the source of evil, but that without an objective standard for good, how can we even know what evil is? Evil is not a “thing,” it’s an absence or corruption or something else. Just as a shadow cannot exist without light, evil cannot exist without good. The objection against Christianity doesn’t even make sense to me without an admission of objective moral standards, and as I pointed out previously, objective morality cannot be adequately explained without the existence of God. We cannot judge a line to be crooked unless we have some idea of what a straight line is. For these reasons, it seems to me that the problem of evil turns out to be one of the best evidences in favor of God, not against him!
But what of God’s attributes in the face of evil? Does the existence of evil mean God is not good or not powerful? Those who argue against God in this way make an assumption that all evil is gratuitous and unnecessary. But what if there is another category of evil which an all-good and all-powerful God allows to happen, both natural and moral evil, which God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting? God’s purposes in this world are not to maximize our comfort, but our character, and draw all mankind to him. Perhaps hardships are the only way some may have their attention drawn to the issues of ultimate importance in life.
A Problem for Everyone
As I see it, the problem of evil is a problem for everyone, not just Christians. We all have to live with evil, and cutting God out of the picture doesn’t explain it, it only removes any hope to relieve it. We can resign ourselves to purposeless evil with no justice and no comfort, and so we should, if there is no God. But if there is good reason to believe God is real and better explains the problem of evil than does alternate explanations, there is justice and comfort from a transcendent God who also took on humanity and experienced very real pain and suffering. In God we have someone able to offer ultimate justice for the evil and comfort for the victims, one who not only understands, not only sympathizes, but empathizes with our hurts.
Comments, questions, challenges? Email me through the form on my “about” page, we’ll discuss, and your comments may inspire a follow-up post!