Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Problem of Evil

You are never too old for one of those AHA! moments when something finally clicks.

I have read over Timothy Keller's The Reason for God numerous times since I purchased it.  There is a whole lot of stuff in there which requires time for it to sink in and become a part of one's knowledge and understanding.

This past week some of Keller's commentary regarding the problem of evil clicked, and I understood it only too well.  Unfortunately, it was the events in Newtown, CT which made the thoughts come together.

One of the major problems people of faith run into is the problem of evil and perceived meaningless suffering.  When exposed to such things, people wonder how it is a God who is proclaimed to be all-powerful and all-good could allow such atrocities.  The logic goes: if God is all powerful, He would prevent evil from happening.  If He does not prevent evil, He must not be all good.  And if He cannot prevent evil, then He isn't all powerful.

The argument makes a few assumptions to get to its final conclusions, and those assumptions can be called into question; however, I will not go into those assumptions in this post.  Instead, I will unequivocally say that believers have not come up with a good answer to solve this dilemma.  Those who are most honest say, "We do not have a good answer.  We just don't know."

In reality, that is the best answer we can come up with at this point.  Centuries of human thought have gone into trying to come up with a good explanation for the problem of evil, and no one has fully succeeded.  Because of this, some people even confess to cease believing in God.  This is their choice, and I respect their decision to make that choice; however, I, through reading Keller and having it click when I thought about the desperation of those parents who lost children, believe coming to such a conclusion poses even more of a problem.

How so?

First, let's talk a little bit about what Christianity poses as a solution to the problem of evil.  As I said earlier, it does not offer an explanation as to whether or not God allows it, causes it, or how the all-good/all-powerful thing gets resolved.  What it does do is quite striking:

1. It proclaims a God who unequivocally knows suffering.  How does God know such suffering?  Christianity proclaims that God took on human flesh--became just like us--, was unjustly condemned, suffered torture, and then killed in humiliation.  The crucifixion of the fully divine/fully human Jesus shows that God doesn't even let Himself off the hook when it comes to suffering.  The God of Christianity is a God who suffers with humanity.

But that's not all. 

2. Christianity proclaims resurrection, and the promise of said resurrection is that all the wrongs will be made right; all the evil will be overcome; all the bad that happened will be unmade.  Justice will be served.  Those who have died too soon will be reunited with those whom they love.  The resurrection offers a profound hope that everything that seems senseless now will be made clear at some point and that senseless suffering is not the end.  There will be more to the story, and the promised ending is very, very good.

For the parents in Newtown, CT, a Christian can firmly say, "God knows your pain.  He knows what it means to lose a child.  God sheds tears with you and suffers with you.  And God's promise is that you will see your child again.  God's promise is that this is not the end.  This senseless tragedy will one day be unmade."  It doesn't take away the pain.  It doesn't solve the fact that the tragedy took place, but it offers the promise of justice and the promise of hope.

To what then can a non-believer say of such an event?

To what can a non-believer point to when it comes to justice?

To what can a non-believer point to when it comes to the death of innocent children?

To what can a non-believer point to so that hope has the last word?

Is justice the fact that Adam Lanza took his own life?  (Not in my estimation because Lanza was mentally ill and in need of God's restoration himself.)  Does hope come by somehow making sure such a thing will never ever happen again?  (Not in my estimation because the nature of humankind is such that senseless killings will occur no matter what we try to do.  We haven't been able to eradicate them since we came into existence.) 

Without God, there is no restoration.  There is no justice.  Death, suffering, evil--that's the end.  There is no final word.

The problem of evil is solved by neither party, but the ending results are quite different.  One offers justice and hope; the other, not so much.

People often choose to believe what they believe for all sorts of reasons.  As the light bulb clicked for me on this issue, I came to realize how deeply ingrained my need for justice and need for hope is.  Without the promise of either of these two things, I don't think I could function in doing what I do. 

Christianity may not offer the perfect answer for why evil happens, but it offers a pretty good vision of what will happen when God exerts the last word.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

In my view, Christianity offers us a somewhat limited explanation for evil in the world -- as compared with Judaism and Kabbalah. I think it is necessary to study both religions to understand evil. Judaism has he concept of Tikkun -- restoration -- and offers a very complete explanation of the creation including how and why evil entered it. One of the reasons for so much error in our theology is that we have not studied this.

Restoration and Reconciliation: this is how God operates.