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?