11/25/2013

A Christian View of Evil and Suffering, Part 2: The Personal Problem of Evil

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

Our last article explored certain philosophical problems with the existence of evil.  I wanted to explore the personal side of evil’s presence it in this article.

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).

In my own life, many things have not worked out the way I had hoped. I have been quite disappointed at times. I have experienced childhood illness, watched my grandmother die of colon cancer when I was about 13, been through a divorce, endured a devastating car wreck that has left me permanently injured, watched my mother die a long and painful death, and wrestled with personal illness in adulthood. Above all, I have faced my own sins and failures with the pain that comes from regret and remorse.

Should my response to personal pain be hatred towards God? How could I possibly hate the only Being that anyone has ever conceptualized who could give meaning to all of this (Ephesians 1:3-10)? How could I hate the One who has a reason for all of the pain, even if He does not reveal that reason (Romans 8:28)?

But my suffering has not been particularly great compared to some, and for that I am thankful.

I have found the Christian faith to be a great comfort to me. The following quote from Steve Brown illustrates why.

In response to the problem of evil and pain, the Christian must always start with Jesus and the incarnation. Everything else is a dead end road. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). No other religious or philosophical system deals with the problem of pain in the unique way with which the Christian faith deals with it.

God enters time and space, and suffers with his people.

The infinite God says to us in our finiteness: If you could understand it, I would explain, but you can’t understand it. Instead, I will come to suffer and die, not to keep you from suffering but to suffer as you suffer … not to keep you from your loneliness but to be lonely as you are lonely … not to keep you from asking your questions, but to have mine, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus Christ has been there … and sometimes that is enough. He knows how much it hurts.

[“How Could He?” by Steve Brown, an article in “Key Life,” published by Key Life Network, Inc. Easter / Spring 2009, Volume 24, #1, p. 2-3, 8.]


God comes to earth as a man in the Person of Jesus Christ. He suffers with us and for us.

His pain brings forgiveness of sins to His people, a people bought with a price. A people purchased as His reward.

This reward for His suffering gives us hope that there will be reward for ours. He suffered for a purpose, and we can know there is a reason and purpose for our suffering, even when we can’t see it.

He rose from the grave as a victor over all of the sin and death and misery that infect the world. He won a battle with all of the dark forces that would torment us. He gave us hope for a glorious future, free from our sins and struggles.


Taking the message at face value, I can respect the God of the Christian faith.  He lays aside His privileged position to walk as one despised and rejected. He left behind His riches to become poor.  He enters the fray against the mightiest foes. He fights and wins. He brings hope and inspires strength.  He rescues us from the fate that we all so richly deserve, and gives us gratitude as a gift to help us persevere.  “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? Says the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25). To whom indeed.

11/18/2013

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.

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