A Christian View of Evil and Suffering, Part 1: The Philosophical Problem of Evil

(This is an article written for our local paper.)

Much has been written about the philosophical problems the existence of evil poses for the Christian faith. The philosophical question is simple: how can God be both all-powerful and all-good while allowing evil and suffering?

I am not about to try to give a comprehensive explanation for how evil came to be. God created men with the ability to sin and the ability not to sin, but I cannot reason beyond that. I do not know the “how”; I just know the “is.” I know that evil exists. I know evil is present. I know evil is real.

What must exist in order for evil to be truly wrong? Does not the existence of evil itself 
require a standard of good?

Should I just accept evil as a part of the way the universe works? Should I accept a view of evil based on social convention, or the DNA encoded in my cells? These things vary from one person to the next, or one time to the next, but we do not find a definition of evil that changes greatly from person to person, place to place, or time to time. We always have a notion of the basic way things ought to be.

I want a worldview that accounts for the reality of evil and suffering. I want it to be called evil, not just the absence of happiness that is a social construct of mere men. I know that this standard of good and evil must be real.

Life makes no intuitive sense without that standard. The denial of it is impossible in view of the pain and suffering we see around us. I want cruelty to be profoundly wrong. For this, I need an absolute standard for what is right.

Christianity allows for this standard. It allows evil to be “evil.” Non-Christian views of the world do not allow for this. From Greg Bahnsen:

… it is crucial to the unbeliever's case against Christianity to be in a position to assert that there is evil in the world -- to point to something and have the right to evaluate it as an instance of evil … the problem of evil turns out to be, therefore, a problem for the unbeliever himself. In order to use the argument from evil against the Christian worldview, he must first be able to show that his judgments about the existence of evil are meaningful -- which is precisely what his unbelieving worldview is unable to do.

Knowing that evil “is,” that it exists, is enough to convince me that there is a God. We cannot define evil without defining good. Evil is in some way good’s opposite, a falling short of the good. Knowing that evil “is” leads us relentlessly to a God who is the definition of the good. Without Him, we would not know evil when we see it.

Of course, Christianity does not stop there. It also offers hope for deliverance from evil. In the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ we find ultimate deliverance from “the last enemy,” death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). In Christ, we find deliverance from the power of evil and the forces that bring it about (Colossians 2:8-15). I have found Christ to be my life and my hope in the face of real, tangible evil I find all around me.

An article like this one can be poor comfort to the person who is actually suffering.  It is intended to be one answer to problems raised in philosophy.  Our next article will be more emotionally satisfying to the person who suffers.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for tackling this subject. My guess, like the JFK assignation comments on this subject will never be exhausted. Evil like injustice never makes sense in my mind.

J. K. Jones said...

You are welcome.

As for JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. :)

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