The problem of evil is perhaps the most significant and universal moral and philosophical puzzle there is. The world’s great minds and the world’s great religions have all attempted to grapple with it. In the first part of this article I discussed several points which can be offered on this topic by those coming from the Judeo-Christian worldview.
I noted how one correspondent raised this issue with me. So let me go back to the original syllogism concerning the deductive (logical) problem of evil. While appearing in many forms, the basic (atheistic) formulation usually goes something like this:
1 God is all-loving.
2 God is all-powerful.
3 Suffering exists.
4 If God is all powerful he could stop suffering.
5 If he is all loving he wouldn’t allow suffering.
6 So God is either not all powerful or not all loving or both.
But other important premises, dealing with such things as timing, can and should be factored into all this. Thus a more sensible and accurate syllogism might be this:
1 Since God is all-good, He has the will to defeat evil.
2 Since God is all powerful, He has the power to defeat evil.
3 Evil is not yet defeated.
4 Therefore, evil will one day be defeated.
That is certainly the biblical view. God dealt decisively with the problem of evil and suffering at Calvary 2000 years ago. He broke the power of sin and death, and those who come to him can experience newness of life, and a radical transformation. And when Christ comes again all evil will finally be judged and dealt with.
So the reality of evil today does not entail that God is either lacking in power or lacking in love. And most people do not mind so much what might be called deserved evil. Hitler deserved any punishment he might have gotten. And folks who smoke three packs a day will likely get lung cancer. Thus much suffering is cause and effect orientated: if we do bad or harmful things, there will be consequences, and we will have to pay the price.
But what worries most people is gratuitous or seemingly meaningless suffering. But the theist here would reply by saying that we simply do not have enough information to know that all – or in fact any – evil is completely gratuitous. If there is an all-wise and all-loving God, he may have very good reasons why he allows various cases of suffering.
Any parent who loves his or her children knows this. Sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do appears to the child as cruel and meaningless. Removing a splinter from a toddler is the most loving thing a parent can do, while the toddler may think it is a form of torture and cruelty. So in terms of another syllogism, the atheist might put it this way:
1 If God exists, he wouldn’t allow pointless evil
2 Pointless evil exists
3 Therefore God does not exist
But the theist could turn it around and put it this way
1 If God exists, he wouldn’t allow pointless evil
2 God exists
3 Therefore, pointless evil doesn’t exist
We may not have all the answers for any given particular case of evil or suffering, but God may well have sufficient and suitable reasons. So if he is indeed a good God, a wise God, and a loving God, we can entrust some of these questions and mysteries to him. He is too loving to be unkind, and too wise to make a mistake.
As to the deductive argument of evil, the consensus in philosophical circles today is that there is no strong compelling argument to suggest that the presence of evil in the world is sufficient to question the existence of a good and loving God. The two can indeed be compatible.
Yet people will still ask, why do the innocent suffer? Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book in 1981 called When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Christians believe he got the title wrong; it should have been: When Good Things Happen to Bad People. We are all bad, evil, selfish and tainted with sin.
The wonder is why God blesses us and is good to us anyway. The truth is, no one is innocent. We are all sinners, fixated on self, and deserving of our fate. But the only truly innocent person, Jesus Christ, did not remain aloof from our suffering, but in fact embraced it fully. By dying a cruel death on a cross as our substitute, taking upon himself the penalty we deserve, he has not only dealt with the sin and suffering question, but makes a way for us to overcome.
So even though I, or you, or anyone, may not have specific answers as to why this or that particular tragedy happened, we do, at least as believers, have a much bigger and more helpful set of answers. God is not immune or unconcerned about our suffering.
He was so concerned about it that he gave up the comforts of heaven, entered into our world, and took our place in a horrific death, that the problems of evil and suffering could finally be overcome. The first instalment of this took place when he walked the earth long ago, and the final instalment comes when he returns a second time to put all things right, judge all evil, and acknowledge all good.
So the first and most important thing any person can do who is concerned about evil and suffering is to agree with God about our predicament, and join with him as he seeks to bring resolution and closure to it. First we need to let him deal with the resident evil in each human heart. Then we can seek to be a force for good in the world, dealing with suffering in its various forms.
And over the centuries the Christian church has been just that – a tremendous force for good in the world, as Christians immersed themselves in human suffering, setting up hospitals, building schools, working with AIDS patients, fighting injustice, challenging slavery, helping women and children, and so on.
In closing it of course needs to be pointed out that I have not even begun to scratch the surface of what are amongst the most complex, intractable and difficult questions we can ask about human existence. But my commentator asked me a pointed question, so I have endeavoured to produce at least a start to the Christian response.
If the question was indeed an honest question, I have attempted an honest answer. But given the millions of gallons of ink already spilled on this topic over the centuries, a short article here can hardly do the topic proper justice. But what I present here is part of the answer someone from the Judeo-Christian worldview would offer.
Much more needs to be said, and I am happy to take this further for those with honest queries looking for some answers and direction here. If nothing else, I may list some helpful books on this topic. Maybe another article will provide such a list. But for now I hope this two-part article at least offers some possible solutions and answers, as partial and imperfect as they may be.
Part One of this article is here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/09/21/why-doesn%E2%80%99t-god-do-something-part-one/