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
The most common response to the problem of evil, the free will defence,
is the most objectionable. Another article on this website 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.
-- By Timothy Neal