Monday, December 17, 2012

the problem of evil

One of the biggest questions we come up against, when we're talking with friends about faith, is the problem of evil in our world.  This is fresh in my mind, of course, because of all the violence that we've seen in the last week.  Only today there was another murder-suicide right down the road from me.  How on earth can we even hope to answer people's questions about this?

The first thing I think we have to understand is that there are different kinds of questions.  The first type is a more rational or intellectual question - can a good God allow evil?  Does God create evil?  If evil exists, does that logically mean that God must have intended for it to be here?  And these questions could use a logical response.  I could give someone information, point him to an apologist, talk for hours about the philosophical options we have to understand evil.

But there are other questions.  There are questions that come more from our emotional response to the evil and pain in the world.  How could such horrible things happen?  How could God let them happen?  How can I trust a God would would allow them to happen?  How could I love a God who would allow them to happen?  And these require entirely different responses.  An intellectual or logical response is never going to be enough.  But this is often how we handle it.  In the wake of the most recent school shooting, I've seen lots of theological responses.  I've seen people giving a whole history of sin and calling this evil a natural consequence.  But those responses don't go to the heart of the matter.  They don't really reach the heart at all.

And at the heart of the emotional question are 2 really important questions.  The first is who is this God you're talking about, really?  What kind of God is he?  What is his character?  What are his values?  Is he worth knowing?  The second is related to my own ability to trust that God.  Can I personally choose to trust him?  Would I even want to?  And Christians definitely have a role to play in helping people find answers to these questions.

Once I have taken the time to listen to someone's heart and their questions, then I have opportunities going forward.  I can share with them my struggle with those same questions about God, and how I made my way through them.  I can challenge their perceptions of God by sharing who I know God to be, and share lots of examples of why I think God is actually not that way.  I can introduce them to Jesus, and invite them (and model for them) how to take those questions to God.  I always want to be encouraging or inviting people into relationship with God.  Even if that relationship is based on questions and frustrations, that's better than leaving the questions in the abstract.  A question of trust or of character can only really be addressed within a relationship.

Have you or your friends had these types of questions this week?  Were they primarily intellectual questions, or emotional questions?  How did you dialogue about them?  If someone were to ask you a question about evil in the world, how would you respond?


  1. My 7 year old son has had many questions about evil over the last months. They pop up randomly, "Why did God make satan?"...days weeks later, "Why didn't God destroy satan right away when he went away from God?"

    I don't have a perfect answer for him. But we discussed what God is like and we talked about trusting in God even when we cannot understand something.

    God's Spirit will help my son and me to realize the truth of who He is.

    Recently on a Saturday morning, my husband began his SMP (Sat. morning philosophy class). The topic was the miracle of life. He shared it in response the the attitude of "Why God did you do/allow _____" that emerged after recent evil events. He spent an hour... maybe two articulating how each moment of our life is a gift, a miracle. He drew a timeline of our lives. And drew arrow after arrow pointing down to that timeline. "Miracle. Miracle. Miracle." He drove home that each breath, each day, each morning is a miracle of life.

    So when we finally reach a point that a life is ended, we can look at that day and question God. Or, we can look at that life and be amazed at the miracle of God's sustaining love and power in that life, moment by moment for so very long.

    And in that moment we are also free to talk to God about that evil that may have taken that life.

    Thanks for posting.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing, Cheryl! So much of life is about how we perceive things. I've been working hard this past year to learn to be thankful, for example, rather than focusing on my difficulties. I think you hit on the need for a relational approach - bringing our questions about evil to God instead of just talking about it to others.