Christianity 201

January 15, 2013

The Ever-Present Problem of Evil

Evil is inherent in the risky gift of free will.
~J.B. Phillips as cited in today’s reading.

Issues dealing with the Bible’s view of issues involving gender and sexuality are on the top of the list of issues the uncommitted have with Christianity, and also up there among their objections is the problem of why there is suffering and evil in the world. In his classic work, Know Why You Believe, the late Paul E. Little discusses this.

…We must also recognize that God could stamp out evil if he chose. Jeremiah reminds us, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not. (Lamentations 3:22 KJ) A time is coming when he will stamp out evil in the world. In the meantime, God’s love and grace prevail and his offer of mercy and pardon is still open.

If God were to stamp out evil today, he would do a complete job. His action would have to include our lies and personal impurities, our lack of love and our failure to do good. Suppose God were to decree that at midnight tonight all evil would be removed from the universe — who of us would still be here after midnight?

…To speculate about the origin of evil is endless. No one has the full answer.  It belongs in the category of “the secret things [that] belong to the Lord our God” (Deut 29:29)…

…[quoting Hugh Evans Hopkins] “The problem arises largely from the belief that a ‘good’ God would reward each man according to his deserts and that an ‘almighty’ God would have no difficulty in carrying this out. The fact that rewards and punishments, in the way of happiness and discomfort, appear to be haphazardly distributed in this life drives many to question either the goodness of God or his power.”

But would God be good if he were to deal with each person exactly according to his behavior? Consider what this would mean in your own life! The whole of the gospel as previewed in the Old and New Testaments is that God’s goodness consists not only in his justice, but also in his love, mercy and kindness. How thankful all men should be that “He does not deal with us according to our sins, or requite us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him” (Ps. 103:10, 11).

The concept of the goodness of God in which he deals with a person on the basis of “just deserts” is also based on the faulty assumption that happiness is the greatest good in life… Sometimes in his infinite wisdom, God knows there are things to be accomplished in our character that can be brought only through suffering. To shield us from this suffering would be to rob us of a greater good. Peter refers to this when he says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish and strengthen you” (I Pet. 5:10).

…That there may be a connection between suffering and sin is evident, but that it is not always so is abundantly clear. There is the unambiguous word of Jesus himself on the subject. The disciples apparently adhered to the direct retribution theory of suffering. One day when they say a man who had been blind from birth, they wanted to know who had sinned to cause this blindness — the man or his parents. Jesus made it clear that neither was responsible for his condition, “but that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (John 9: 1-3).

…[O]ne of the profound truths of the whole of scripture is that the judgment of God is preceded by warning. Throughout the Old Testament we have the repeated pleading of God and warning of judgment. Only after warning is persistently ignored and rejected does judgment come. God’s poignant words are an example: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked… turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel” (Ez 33:11).

From there, Little goes on to discuss the issue of judgment, justice and God’s wrath in general, and the issue of hell in particular. With over a million copies in print, this book continues to be helpful to many, and I would recommend making a print copy part of your library.

I want to end with the first two scriptures in updated translations:

AMP – Lam. 3:22 It is because of the Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His [tender] compassions fail not.

CEB – Lam. 3:22 Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through!

NLT – Deut. 29:29 “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.

MSG – Deut. 29:29 God, our God, will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business. It’s up to us and our children to attend to all the terms in this Revelation.

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