The Problem of Evil – After Paris!

An edited version of a letter sent to all members of a worldwide non-denominational church by the leader of that church:

Although evil is ever present in our world we have hope knowing that the day is coming when Jesus will have put down all remnants of evil, and I pray that day comes soon, as I’m sure you do too. I also thank God that none of our members were harmed.

When terrible things like this happen I remind myself that we are blessed to experience God’s kingdom now in our relationship with Christ, but I’m also aware that we live as aliens in a tainted world where the kingdom’s fullness is not yet seen.

We are encouraged knowing that events like Paris are not outside God’s love for us – we have faith and hope knowing God is fully present and is suffering with us – because he proved his willingness to suffer from evil and bear its pain on our behalf. Yes, we grieve (and we pray), but not as those who are without hope.

Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the problem of evil for centuries. Buddhists say evil isn’t something that exists; it’s an illusion. Some atheists say evil is the natural result of a universe without design or a designer. The Stoics taught that evil is the corruption of reason and should simply be endured. They advocated indifference to pain, pleasure, grief and joy. Ignoring evil is not a way of recognising the evil of evil. In The Problem of Pain C S Lewis wrote, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself”.

Evil exists because God permits and gives humanity the possibility of choice . . . some misuse their wills in striving for evil. Fortunately, we know God in Jesus, who is absolute good, and who conquered evil absolutely so that evil has no future.

Despite this understanding we still ask, “Why doesn’t God stop all evil now?” Many philosophers and theologians have answered this way, “Try to imagine a world where God intervened to prevent carelessness and irresponsible behaviour . . . such a world would eliminate human choice and will, and we would become like animals or robots.

A common Christian reaction is that of combat and conquer it ourselves with whatever means are at hand. But fighting fire with fire poses a major problem – it can be a stumbling block to belief in God. We are told to overcome evil with good.

It is not uncommon for those struck by tragedy to question their faith, or even abandon it when facing the pain that evil brings. In those situations it can seem that evil is as real or more real than God and his goodness. If we attempt to combat evil and conquer it simply by sheer force of our own strength, “fighting fire with fire”, we get lost in our own efforts and can quickly spiral down a path of unbelief – believing that evil has the same or greater status as good. We can also be tempted to believe that good cannot overcome evil, not even God’s good! Conversely when we focus on God’s sovereignty as displayed in Jesus Christ during a time of evil – in the midst of pain and grief – we can experience his comfort in the truth that he is with us in the midst of our suffering, and that evil has no future.

Of course, when we face suffering as the result of evil, it can seem to us that God is at a distance, standing back from the evil that confronts us, or otherwise is uninvolved in our situation. But the opposite is true – God is always with us. “All feelings of disappointment with God trace back to a breakdown in that relationship”.That breakdown always occurs on the human side as we are challenged to have faith in God – to trust that he is good and can and has overcome evil. That trust in God gives us hope and in hope we can act here and now on the basis of the truth concerning the ever-present God who accompanies us in our suffering.

To show his willingness to join us in our suffering, the eternal Son of God came in the flesh as Jesus and made his dwelling with us. And though he was rejected by many, Jesus made atonement for all through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. What Jesus has done for us shows clearly that God does care for us and is with us now in our suffering, and one day, in triumph, will bring in the fullness of his kingdom where there will be no more evil and the suffering that it causes. God’s desire is to be in a loving relationship with each one of us – living in us, experiencing our suffering and our joys with us, all the while changing us from the inside out. We can meet and know Jesus in suffering and in hope.

Along with his mission to change us from the inside out, Jesus works to turn the world inside out. Yes, there is evil in the present age, but we live here not in fear and despair but with hope and confidence knowing that “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”. Most assuredly, one article like this cannot answer everything about evil and suffering. But I hope it brings you some comfort as we are reminded that, on a day and in an hour that no human knows, Jesus will bring an end to the actual nonsense that ought not be.

As we await that blessed hope, let’s join together in praying for the time when there will be no more terrorism, no more cancer victims, no more drive-by shootings, no more tears and sorrow. Right now life is not fair, but God is, as we clearly see in the whole life of Jesus. He does not allow anything he cannot redeem. Fair and loving, he has made just and fair provision for all through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. In Jesus we see that God takes no pleasure in our suffering and has acted decisively to bring it to an end. We may not yet see this end clearly now, but we most certainly will see it and experience it fully in eternity.

In the same week an article was published by the same leader entitled, “Jesus, Merely a Myth?”