The Problem of Evil

I am profoundly disturbed about the problem of evil. Indeed, it would be the one single factor that would cause me to question the existence of a loving God. I often wonder why there is such pain and suffering in the world. To be perfectly honest, I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to this problem that plagues the human race.

We do not have to look far to see evidence of evil. Any list, be it every so lengthy, would still be incomplete. Nevertheless, please allow me to provide you with some examples of the evil that surrounds us every moment of every day. A cursory glance at any daily newspaper would result in multiplied examples of human suffering.

Why do individuals suffer unbearable pain? Why are children born with birth defects? Why are people daily diagnosed with cancer and other diseases? Why are there droughts that lead to the starvation of innocent millions? Why do tornados, hurricanes and other natural disasters strike, leaving carnage in their wake? Why are there nuclear threats? Why are there suicide bombings, often in the name of God? Why do sadistic tyrants attack and destroy entire villages, and even countries? Why is there rape, mutilation, torture, dismemberment and murder? Why does much of the world still live in grinding poverty? Why are children killed in car accidents? Abused by those in positions of authority? Senselessly taken by leukemia and other diseases? Flu epidemics, Alzheimer’s disease, genocide, racism, sexism, Rwanda, civil war in Iraq, malaria. Why are animals abused? Why is there divorce and broken families? Why do individuals suffer the pain of lost jobs, lost income, failed prospects? Before long, you will lay aside the newspaper. The examples of evil in our world are too many and varied to barely contemplate.

In short, where is God in all of this evil and then some?

There was a time when I felt I knew all the answers to life’s most thorny problems. But that was when I was much younger and immature. I look back with shame and embarrassment when I recall the times I analyzed the problem of pain and offered answers that today I would regard as pat and inadequate. With age and experience, though, I now have fewer answers and more questions.

Admittedly, there are those who are not bothered by the problem of evil. I envy those individuals their confidence. At times, I wish I could put aside my questions and accept unquestionably the pet pious platitudes I would have dished out in the early days of my ministerial career.

In wondering about the problem of evil again in recent days, I turned my attention to reading the book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman. He takes the reader on a tour of the Bible, pointing out all of the answers given therein to the problem of evil. There is not, he suggests, one definitive answer to this problem. Instead, it offers several answers. And, in his opinion, none of them are adequate to explain suffering.

There is a logical problem that needs to be solved to explain the suffering in the world. This problem is made up of three assertions that appear to be true. However, if they are true, they appear to contradict one another.

First, God is all powerful.

Second, God is all loving.

Third, there is suffering.

Of course, the question naturally arises: How can all three be true at the same time? If God is all powerful, then he is naturally able to do whatever he pleases. Which means, of course, that he is able to remove suffering. If God is all loving, then we can assume he wants what is best for people. Which means, of course, that he does not want them to suffer. But the harsh reality is that people do suffer. How can this assertion be reconciled with the first two assertions?

The classical view of suffering is that God is punishing people for their sins.

A second biblical view is that some suffering is caused because people have the free will to hurt, maim, torture and kill others.

A third view is that God can bring good out of suffering.

A fourth view is that suffering is caused by forces opposed to God.

A fifth view is that suffering comes as a test of faith.

A sixth view is that suffering is simply the way things are, so just accept it and move on.

A seventh view is that God will eventually make right whatever is presently wrong with the world.

One problem–many answers. Perhaps there are many answers simply because any one answer fails to adequately answer the question of suffering.

While I am fairly confident about many aspects of Christianity, I must remain what Leslie D. Weatherhead called a “Christian agonstic” when it comes to the problem of evil in the world. Actually, one could be a lot worst than agnostic about certain aspects of one’s faith. I have made a conscious decision to leave the problem of evil in a mental box labeled “Awaiting further light.” In all likelihood, I may never come to a rationale for the problem of evil that will answer the question to my satisfaction. So much in the world is unintelligible, and the problem of evil is, in the end, insoluble.

Meanwhile, one question of great importance remains: How do I, as one who lives in a world where evil is endemic, work to alleviate suffering and bring hope to individuals devoid of hope? How can I do more to deal with the problems people experience in our world? Am I working to my utmost to make the world a better place, not just for myself, but for others? What am I personally doing to alleviate suffering?

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4 thoughts on “The Problem of Evil

  1. Hi Mr. Janes,

    You have dealt with the generic view of evil that has plagued mankind…saint and sinner alike, that, in my estimation our pat answers offer little or no reason as to why God, in the majority of cases is silent. Our past and present pat answers to what we perceive as evil and why it exists does not cut it when it comes to what seemingly is unconcernedness on the part of a loving God. The existence of evil that you have addressed exists and is caused outside of the members of the kingdom of God on the earth but, is unquestionably eperienced by those within the kingdom of God, thus, being a member of God’s kingdom does not exempt one from the generic force of evil that you have addressed, and like you, I think it is beyond our understanding and a full proof explanination will escape us humanoids.

    Some of the perceived evil you have addressed according to the Bible has been commited by God and some members of God’s kingdom still accuse God as the source of such evil.

    I would like to pose a question that if you care to address, I would be grearful…Does God commit evil? What is evil in the sight of God? Is evil in His sight acts of people you have addressed in your post? If it is, or is not, is there evil committed in His kingdom by saints that is considered to be the truth and is godly and is not considered evil or wrong by saints? What did Jesus consider evil during His earth journey? Is evil a sin of saints that is different than the generic evil of sinners?

    I would welcome your thoughts as to your acceptance or rejection of such a premise.

    God bless.

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  2. My mother always said that God only gave us what we could bear. But that poses the question “Why?”.
    I don’t believe we will ever have a definitive answer to that question, only theories. I do believe in the bible, but it was written by man and can be interpreted in many ways. I believe God gave us the intelligence to choose right or wrong. However, our culture and surroundings can skew our beliefs one way or the other. Also there is mental illness, abuse, and so many contributors to our actions. We can try to make the world better by following the golden rule, but there is obviously only so much an individual can do. I suppose I could also be called a “Christian agnostic”. As long as man exists, evil will exist. We can only do the best we can.

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  3. Hi Burton. Long time. Saw reference to your blog while browsing Facebook. I am finding that the list of things I am sure of gets shorter as i get older. Explaining the problem of evil is definitely off the list. You may wish to address, if you have not already, the degree to which God is involved in the details of our personal lives. Some believe that they have received specific answers to prayer while others find God to be silent in their suffering. Still others experience both. Or should i take the answer to this question off the list as well? 🙂 John

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