1. Questions addressing suffering and the classic “Problem of Evil.”
The various questions asked about/concerning this topic were, in so many words: “How can a loving God exist alongside so much evil?... Why does allow so much needless suffering?… Why does God allow evil?, etc.”
Our responses will range from philosophical in style to “rubber meets the road.”
First, it simply doesn’t follow logically that an all-loving and all-powerful God cannot be if evil also exists. This of course leads inextricably to the next question: “why does this God allow evil!?” Hopefully what follows will provide some help in answering a question that, admittedly, will never be fully answered with complete satisfaction until we are in God’s presence in eternity. For just as a toddler does not understand why his/her parent does or doesn’t do certain things, so we too, in this life “...see only a reflection as in a mirror; then [eternity] we shall see face to face. Now [we] know in part; then [we] shall know fully…” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Second, we “thing-ify” evil, thinking of it as a thing that actually exists, like it has mass, shape and location like other substances so that we would have to ask who made it. Augustine argued that evil isn’t a thing in and of itself but more like a perversion or corruption of a thing; in his words, evil is “the absence of good.” God created the world good, but the entrance of evil isn’t an addition to that goodness but a subtraction or, maybe better, a bending of it. Seen in that way, we ought not conclude that God had to create evil because you don’t create bends or holes–you create whole straight things that then get holes and bends in them. Now why would they get those holes and bends? That is entirely attributable to us (or fallen angels), which need not be seen as God’s doing. He wouldn’t have to make us and the angels good and then add some new capacity to do evil in order to allow the fall; He need only make us and the angels free, which is good in itself. So, though evil is itself not good, the capacity to do evil–which is the negative side of saying that our original faith, love and obedience to God was that of real free persons rather than mere objects–is in itself good. So the first problem behind this question is thinking of evil as a “thing” that needs creating as opposed to a possibility inherent in the good creation of free subjects.
Third, continuing with the “evil isn’t a thing...” notion and adding to it, we would add another aspect of this (C.S. Lewis) thinking by saying that in order for us to complain against injustice or evil, we first have to have a good standard by which to measure and declare something evil. Without such standard, all we’re left with is one preference versus another; in such world, whether I love my neighbor as myself or eat him cannot be said to be “good” or “evil” since real morals do not exist without an Ultimate Creator & definer of morals. And it is Jesus and His Book that provide us with the finest standard of good! Our legitimate angst at a world gone bad is actually a good thing—it reveals that our hearts resonate with Jesus’ own standards and heartache over evil.
Fourth, a perhaps best of all, God didn’t simply sit back when evil took root and spread like a “sin bomb” with “fallout” upon us all. He not only sought a remedy, He entered into the solution personally with His sacrifice on the Cross! That incredible! It’s one thing to offer medicine...it’s quite another to become the medicine Oneself and at such great personal cost!
Fifth, it is helpful to realize that the “problem of evil” is a problem for all world views (except, we suppose, for one who simply says “I don’t care,” but that won’t help us since it offers nothing); it’s not just Christianity’s problem. In other words, every serious religion and/or world view has to deal with the problem of evil, even atheistic naturalists. For eastern religions, it’s either work for bliss, deny evil even exists, accept it as bad karma, or seek to escape/non-existence. For the Muslim, he/she must accept that “all comes from God,” even evil consequences from men’s deeds or natural causes. For the evolutionist /natural-world-is-all-there-is-advocate, the response is as hopeless as it gets: try to get excited about here and now causes but realize in the end that we’re all destined for non-existence. In radical contradistinction, Christianity—by far—offers the most satisfying answer. Humans with free will have chosen evil, but, in the end, Jesus promises justice, redemption, hope & restoration! From a here-and-now perspective, such a truth can be less than satisfying, and for those who have suffered greatly, even useless pie in the sky mockery. But, with an eternal perspective, every last earthly experience and circumstance can and will find a place in all that is rational, just, and meaningful in the end!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, though saying this may sound like something of a rebuke (not intended), saying that God must have created evil is to remove ourselves from our implication in the depravity of our world. In other words, the evil of this world is our evil, a fault we share in. Speaking of it as God’s doing is the evasion tactic Adam used in the garden–“the woman you put here with me made me do it, so it’s her fault and it’s your fault–it’s everybody’s but my fault!” The whole discussion is merely a furtherance of sin. The question of evil, sin, injustice, deceit, vanity, suffering, slavery, oppression, and death in our world, the world that God created good, is not an abstract philosophical question but an intensely personal one. It’s the question of the rightness of our lives before God, whether we are fit to receive life from Him–and yet we turn the question around and make it about the rightness of His life before us, His fitness to be the one that gives life to us. That is exactly what we need saving from. We can’t talk about evil as if it’s a math problem. That’s like a drowning man expending his dying energy on the question of why God didn’t make his lungs to breath water, in the meantime ignoring the rescue tube thrown to him–we’re not in a position to have evil make sense to us because we are in the midst of committing it and seeking to justify ourselves from it; what we need is to let Christ save us from our sin and our evasion from the guilt it brings on us. To do that we need to relinquish our position as judge and let God be God. We need to be okay with loving and serving God while he continues to baffle us; we need to let it be okay that he not make sense to us because a god that made sense to us couldn’t save us. While at the same time, though God may not make sense to us, we need to cling with absolute certainty to the reality that God is absolutely just, that He is light and there is no darkness in him. We certainly can’t look to ourselves for that perfect justice, yet to speak of God as the author of evil is precisely to assert our own justice and judgement above His. This may seem rather harsh, and, we realize that some are not asking this question arrogantly but from a real desire to understand. But it is in our own asking of this question that we will find the answer--that we have been leaving out our own sin from the equation and once we factored that in, the question lost its force.
More answers to other questions coming soon.