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I. The Problem of Evil
Even though it happened over 10 years ago, I can still clearly remember a conversation with a friend who offered me his unsolicited reason for why he rejects the God of the Scriptures. We were fishing together, which as those of you who have been fishing with me know, is not the time to be talking theology with me. But somehow we got into a discussion about religion and faith and he felt obliged to tell me that he didn't believe in God. He believed that there was some sort of 'higher power' out there, but not the personal God of the Bible. 'Why,' I asked. 'Because of all the evil in the world. How could a God who supposed to be good and loving allow so much evil in the world'?
That was the first time I had heard that 'reason for rejection.' But since then I've heard it several more times. And I suspect you have too. But interestingly, it's not just from unbelievers that I've heard this from. Even those who live by faith, have from time to time been perplexed by this question, 'if God is good, why is there so much evil'?
I wonder how many people reject the God of the Scriptures not because of the irreconcilable claims of science and the scriptures, or because of the appeal of another religion, but because of the state of the world.
The Bible describes God as 'almighty.' The Bible also says that God is love. When you put those two together it means that God uses His almighty power, not for evil but for good, not to harm us but to help us, even save us.
So how can a God Who desires only what is good for us and who has the power to eliminate all evil, allow evil to continue, knowing that evil is definitely bad for us? Is He sleeping? Or since He is male, does it mean He can only do one thing at a time and while He's taking care of one side of the planet, evil runs ramped on the other side of the planet? Or could it mean that there really is no such God as the Bible says there is?
Needless to say, this is enough to ruin a good fishing trip.
II. Philosopher's Response
So, how do we respond to this reason for rejection? St. Peter says that we should 'be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.' (1Peter 3:15). How do we respond to those who have lost hope in an 'almighty and loving God,' or who are struggling to hold onto their hope in the God of the Scriptures, in a world where evil is so real and present?
Let me summarize the philosopher's response to the question of evil and suggest why all of them ultimately fail.
1. Some say that evil is really good in disguise. What we call evil, God calls good. We just don't see the good in it. We call diseases, mass destruction, natural disasters that wipe out thousands of people at a time evil, but these are really God's method of population control and therefore are actually good.
2. Some say that there are really two, equally opposing forces in the universe, one all good and the other all evil. If there is a 'higher power' then there must also be a 'lower power.' Neither one is a able to overcome the other because neither one is 'omnipotent' or 'almighty.' It may seem like It's the constant struggle between these two forces that makes the world go round.
3. Some say that a certain amount of evil is necessary so that we can appreciate the good. To appreciate health, you have to experience sickness. There has to be war in order to appreciate peace.
4. Another way that philosophers deal with the question of evil is to simply deny that it exists. Categories like 'good' and 'evil' are things that we humans have invented on our own for our own convenience. Abortion and euthanasia are only 'evil' because we have decided to call them that.
That reminds me of an account of a debate between two famous philosophers over the question of evil. Bertrand Russell, an atheist, claimed that the distinction between good and evil was based solely on cultural histories and personal feelings, but that 'evil' had no objective reality. Frederick Copleston, a Christian philosopher replied, that in some cultures, they honor outsiders by preparing a meal for them, and in other cultures they honor to outsiders my making a meal of them; both on the basis of feelings and cultural histories. Did Mr. Russell have a personal preference?
What each of these attempts at answering the question of evil have in common with each is that each is an attempt at explaining evil by denying the power and love of God. Underlying all of these is this logical sequence. Fact A: The Bible says that God is good. Fact B: The bible says that God is almighty. Assumption A: If God were really good and almighty, He would use His power to overcome all evil in the world. Fact C: Evil is in the world and seems to go unchecked. Conclusion: God is either not good, or God is not almighty, or God does not exist.
Obviously, none of the above answers are at all satisfying or satisfactory for the believer. So, how does the person of faith answer this reason for rejection?
III. The Response of Faith
A. Defending God.
First of all, let me just say that we believers, with all good intentions, sometimes do more harm than good because we try too hard. We want to defend God from every attack against His being. And in our zeal to defend the honor of God, we give answers to questions frankly, the Bible doesn't always give answers to. Listen, don't worry about defending God. He can defend Himself just fine.
I'm afraid that God spends far more time and effort than He should have to, repairing the damage that His beloved Christians do when they try to defend Him without the wisdom and love that comes from above.
What I mean is this. There are some who present this reason for rejecting the God of the Scriptures because its just one more reason to avoid any confrontation with the claim of the Gospel as presented by the Scriptures.
But for others, this is a question that they wrestle with because evil has come close to them and they have personally felt effects evil in their life. To answer the person who has been wounded by evil as though this were a debate to win wrong even if everything you say is all right.
B. Answer is in the cross.
When my friend told me that he disbelieved in God because there was too much evil in the world, I replied by saying, 'Friend, I'm not at all sure how to give an answer to that. All I know is that somehow, the answer is hidden in the cross of Jesus Christ. As strange as it sounds, God brought all of the evil in the world onto His own Son, and out of it He accomplished the greatest good in the greatest act of love the world has ever known.' That was years ago. And frankly, it's one of the few responses to any kind of issue of faith that I've given that I'm still content with to this day.
It is okay to say 'I don't know why God allows evil,' because frankly, we don't know. The bible doesn't tell us why? What the bible tells us is that we don't know and can't know. 'Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out!' (Romans 11:33 – NIV)
C. Where evil comes from.
But we certainly don't stop there. To simply say, 'we don't know why God allows evil in the world' as though ignorance is bliss is no answer for the hope we have. Truth is, God has revealed a lot about the question of evil in the world.
The bible tells us where it came from, and it didn't come from God. The account of creation tells us that God purposefully, intentionally, created a world in which everything was very good. 'God saw ALL THAT HE MADE and it was very good' ' Genesis 1:31.
But when we come to Genesis, chapter 3, we notice that there is a creature in the Garden of Eden that is 'evil.' Sometime after God created the world and everything in it, one of His 'good' creatures turned 'bad.' In the book of Revelation, chapter 12, we read about a war between Michael and his angels and a 'dragon' and his angels. That battle must have taken place right between Genesis 2 and 3. Jesus supplies a critical piece of information when He tells His disciples in the 10th chapter of Luke, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.' (Luke 10:18). Jesus can say this with a straight face because, as the divine Son of God, 'He was with God in the beginning.' (John 1:2) The 'EVIL ONE' fell from heaven. He was cast down to earth. And there he is, in the Garden of Eden chatting with Adam and Eve.
And when Adam and Eve were confronted with evil, the embodiment of evil, isn't it strange that instead of rejecting it they accepted it. They accepted the evil and rejected the good. And from that point on, they became the agents of the 'evil one.'
So, although we cannot say 'why' God allows evil in this world, we can say where the evil in this world comes from. There is an 'evil one' in the world and men and women are his agents. It may not always be evil on the grand scale that took place in Norway or on September 11th in this country. But in big and little ways, we are all guilty. We are all 'evildoers.' We choose the evil over the good daily.
And so the question, 'why does God allow evil in the world' gets very, very personal. It's a question that turns against us. 'Why does God allow evil in the world' quickly becomes 'why does God allow me to do the evil that I do'?
D. Back to the cross.
And so after chasing this 'reason for rejection' this far down the road in search of an answer, we still come to a dead end. But now we suddenly realize that if God were to eliminate all evil and all the evildoers in the world as we except that He should do, that would mean the end of us.
And that's not bad because it brings us right back to the one reason for the hope that is in us. 'I don't know why God allows evil in the world. All I know is that somehow, the answer is hidden in the cross of Jesus Christ. As strange as it sounds, God brought all of the evil in the world, including all of my evil, onto His own Son, and out of it He accomplished the greatest good in the greatest act of love the world has ever known.
When Jesus' disciples asked Jesus to teach them what they should pray for, Jesus said, 'when you pray, say, 'Our Father who art in heaven, deliver us from evil.' And in the original language of the New Testament, that can be translated just as accurately, 'deliver us from the evil one.'
Indeed, God has delivered us from the evil one and all the evil in the world. By the blood of Christ, God has redeemed His 'very good' creation so that just as there was no evil in the beginning, there will be no evil in the end. By His resurrection from the dead, Jesus has crushed the head of the evil one. Easter Sunday is the reason for the hope that is in us.
God has brought us into this victory through holy baptism and the victory of the cross is our victory. By His almighty power and perfect love, He has converted us from agents of the evil one to agents of the Holy Spirit. Now we daily take up the fight against evil, both the evil in ourselves and the evil in this world knowing, that the outcome has already been settled.
'If God is good, why is there evil in the world'?
G.K. Chesterton once wrote about responding to things that God has not given us His reason for. Chesterton wrote, 'When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from Him; but for heaven's sake, to what'?
We turn to God, Our Father and pray, 'deliver us from evil.'