THE PROBLEM OF EVIL AND SUFFERING, PART 1
The reality of evil and suffering confronts us on a daily basis; we read about it in the news and sometimes we experience it firsthand. This reality won’t go away, and many have found it to be a stumbling block to belief in a loving God.
There are two fundamental types of evil:
(1) Moral evil: evil attributed to human beings; and
(2) Natural evil: the problem of pain coming from the universe, for example tumors and tsunamis.
Likewise, there are two fundamental perspectives on evil:
(1) That of the sufferer; and
(2) That of the observer.
Someone who is suffering evil needs more than theological or philosophical answers; they need the comfort of friends and family – the ministry of presence. On the other hand the observer of suffering will often have many questions, for example:
Why must this person suffer?
Where was God when this tragedy happened?
Why doesn’t God stop the suffering?
How are we to deal with questions such as these? There are no easy answers, but we should understand that using evil as a reason to reject the existence of God turns out to be illogical. For without God we have no basis for characterizing something as either good or evil. This is expressed by Richard Dawkins, one of the leading New Atheists, who described the ethical implications of his naturalistic worldview as follows:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
It is significant that Dawkins wrote that there is “no evil and no good”, for this underscores the fact that a naturalistic worldview provides no basis for ethics or morality. However, we know intuitively that good and evil are real; a study of human cultures from around the world and through the ages shows that we share a sense of right and wrong. This speaks to a “law is written on (the) hearts” of all people, as Paul wrote. We are moral beings, and this is powerful evidence of a just God who made us in His image.
Some may contend that the existence of evil is proof that a good and just God does not exist. While rejection of God may solve an ‘intellectual problem’ for them, it also removes any basis for hope. As Dawkins wrote, “there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose…” ,surely a recipe for hopelessness.
The book of Job describes the suffering of a man who experienced both natural and moral evil on the same day: violent weather resulted in the death of all his children, as well as the death of his sheep and shepherds, while marauders stole the rest of his livestock and murdered his servants. He was subsequently afflicted with painful sores. The account makes it clear that God did not originate either the moral or natural evil that Job experienced. Rather, it was Satan who asked for and received permission to originate this evil for the purpose of testing Job’s faith in God.
This explanation, however, leads to several other questions, perhaps the most pressing being: Why did God create a universe that would allow evil? Surely He could have made beings incapable of evil. Of course, even we can do that – we call them robots! Wishing for beings incapable of evil is essentially wishing ourselves out of existence. God took the risk of creating beings with freedom of choice. This is similar to the risk that every parent takes when bringing a child into the world: the risk that their child would one day reject them. Aren’t we glad that our parents took that risk!
Although Job cried out to God for an explanation of his suffering, instead of receiving a direct answer, he was challenged to focus on God rather than on his problems. This gives us a clue that instead of asking “Why” when we see evil, we should take a different perspective: look at God’s power and justice and remember that He is sovereign. Once Job did this, he realized: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job recognized God’s sovereignty, and that through his suffering he had been drawn closer to Him.
We have a major advantage over Job: we can see God’s nature clearly in Jesus Christ. In the next Apologetic Minute we will look at what Jesus had to say about the problem of evil, and how we know that God cares deeply about human suffering.
Is God Good? (2-minute video, very good)
Walking with God through Pain & Suffering by Tim Keller
(10 copies of this excellent book are in the Lending Library)
Did God Create Evil?
 Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 133, quoted in John C. Lennox, Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2011), 135.
 Romans 2:15 ESV
 Job 42:2, 5- 6 ESV