Monday, July 23

The Problem of Evil: An Introduction

I have always been unsatisfied with Christian responses to the problem of evil. One of the absurdities of our religion is that we have an all-powerful God that loves and cares for each person, but will not stop or restrict acts of evil within the world. In a world filled with temptation, suffering, and evil, having a God that is both all powerful and benevolent seems contradictory.

The most common response to the problem of evil, the free will defence, is the most objectionable. A post that is on the website (see: http://www.existentialchristianity.net/problemofevil.html), covers most of the reasons why I believe it is inadequate.

Another common response, the soul making thesis, is marginally better. Essentially, pain and suffering is necessary in a world where every person can develop character, grow in strength and endurance, and perhaps become as loving and self-sacrificing as Jesus was. To a certain extent this is true, as pain and suffering does bring growth in character, and teaches us many life lessons. Also, moral strength can only really be proved and nurtured through the resistance of temptation. Nevertheless, I think most people can come up with a number of examples where instances of evil that has occurred resulted in no soul-making, just needless suffering (i.e. a large tidal wave destroying an island). Both this and the free will defence cannot adequately explain all varieties of unhindered evil.

No one really has a solution, and yet millions of Christians have demonstrated an ability to not let it interfere in their belief in God. The last common response to the problem of evil, that flows from giving up in trying to find a solution, is that since God’s logic, judgement, and knowledge far exceeds anything humanity is capable of, it is ok that we will never understand why the world has copious amounts of evil present. Therefore, we should have faith that God knows what he is doing, and that due to our limitation as humans, we will never be able to understand the reason why he cannot intervene in the world to at least ease some suffering.

While I sympathise with the sentiment behind a faith that goes beyond reason, and a belief in the limitation of human reason, it is not acceptable here. Using as an example the question of whether God exists, the limitations of reason are far more profound, and subjective experience tends to trump philosophical arguments either way anyhow. With the problem of evil, however, all subjective experience leads to the conclusion that evil is indeed a problem for a benevolent God. Life has a tendency to give everyone subjective feelings about how hopelessly absurd the world is, how needlessly violent, and how incapable of moral change societies are. Without subjective conviction or philosophical arguments to fully satisfy the problem of evil, ignoring the question out of God’s higher reason is akin to throwing your head in the sand.

As like everyone else, I do not have a new solution, but it is always a good thing to put this issue into the centre of Christian debate. Our existence within the world is often marked with loss, pain, suffering, and temptation. Reconciling pain’s existence with religious belief is one of the most important existential concerns.

13 Comments:

Blogger Jay said...

Though I know of the limitations of it, I tend to fall back on the free will argument--thereby leaving natural "evil" and disasters unexplained. I strongly hesitate on the soul-making idea since 1) it can be used to justify all kinds of evil--genocide, rape, abuse, natural disasters. And, in fact, a Christian would be able to refrain from intervention because it would interfere with the soul-making process. If fact, refraining from halting evil might be the Christian thing to do. 2) plus it seems a little Hegelian (though the soul-making idea started with Irenaeus) and that just doesn't jive with me. It smooths over the radical incongruity and absurdity of our existence.

Like everyone else, I'm at a loss for adequate explanations. Though there are thoughts out there i.e. weak theology, or process theology that propose ideas such as God as not [yet] all-powerful, but coming into existence and omnipotence.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the soul making defense jay, very insighftul. I pretty much agree; if it is applied to any high-level evil it becomes quite sadistic.

9:06 PM  
Anonymous Isaiah said...

I'm beginning to think we have made God into a force in the universe rather than a massively powerful creator that he really is.
When I think of evil I always return to the prophets of the old testament, when God speaks through these people he swears a destruction against them because of their evil and injustice. I believe to often we put God in a box. God does retribution or he does grace, not anywhere inbetween or both, yet the bible does not show God this way. Our mighty creator is certainly Good but angers at injustice and is so merciful he does not wipe people out, though he says he should. This God is far above any comprehension or human guessing, so far beyong any of our ideals or our answers. This God is real, he is not a law of the universe but the law maker. He wants to save us from the hell we are living in, for what else is it? I don't agree with Sartre about everything but when in No Exit he wrote "Hell is other People" I agreed. We are in hell, God is reaching out to us in it but we, like Adam in Michealangelo's painting, do not try that hard to reach back.

4:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that God has intervened in the affairs of human beings and will bring evil to a full end. He has done so by sending His son to die for our sins that set evil on its course within the Creation. God's time is not like ours. Actually, God is outside of time, eternal, with no beginning or end. We are so temporal that we usually can see no further than the end of our nose and judge all things by our own self-centered experience. Only God sees the big picture and the full extent of the evil that the sin of man produced and what needs to be done to erradicate it.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God is indeed, even now restraining the full evil that lies in mankind. Were He not the entire population would be as degenerate and wicked as Hitler, Manson, and Dahlmer.

Evil and Sin came into creation because allowed such as a neccesary development of His plan. A plan by which He has, does, and will GLORIFY Himself by demonstration of His Love, Patience, Justice, and Holiness.

God has made sufficient remedy for evil and sin by the sacrifce of His Son Jesus Christ, who, by His blood has purchased forgiveness adequite for all who will beleive and repent.

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