Christianity from an Existential Perspective..

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. 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