The Problem of Evil

Can God be Good when Life is Bad? It's a valid question and one that has plagued the minds of philosophers and theologians for centuries. St. Augustine struggled with the question over pages and pages of his writings. For that matter, the book of Job - the earliest writing in the Bible - is a prime example of a man's struggle with the Problem of Evil.
In 1999, I set out to settle the issue for myself. I had declared myself an atheist just a couple of years earlier, but I thought that maybe - just maybe - if I discovered the answer to the Problem of Evil, my faith could be restored. At the time, I was pursuing a degree in Biblical Studies alongside my Chemistry degree. In my last semester of college, I chose to do a conference course on the Problem of Evil.
Then my world fell apart. During the third week of the semester, I got the flu. It wasn't just any flu... it was a BIG flu. My body was wrecked. I had pain everywhere, I could hardly breathe, my head was pounding, my fever raged. This flu wiped me out for two weeks, and it was at least four weeks before I was fully functional. My semester was in ruins. The make-up work piled higher and higher, and I feared that I would be unable to graduate. In fact, I did end up postponing my graduation from May to August. What's worse is that I suspect that that flu was the catalyst that kicked my chronic pain disorder into high gear, so in a sense, I've never fully recovered.
Just as I was beginning to see the light at the end of the semester, coming unburied from the make-up work overload, the Columbine shooting happened. Columbine is hundreds of miles from here, but the shooting hit home. At the time, my siblings were all in middle or high school. I couldn't stop crying. That settled it for me. Evil and suffering were just too real for me to forgive God for allowing it all.
It's interesting to note that many people who become atheists do it for the very same reason. See, the Problem of Evil says, "If God knows about my suffering, He has the power to stop it, and He's supposedly good, then I shouldn't suffer. Yet I suffer still. Therefore, I'm mad at God. To pay Him back, I'll stop believing in Him." I've known a lot of atheists and agnostics, and I'd say most are mad at this God they don't believe in.
When God drew me back to Himself twelve years later, the call was personal and filled with love and compassion. When it came to my questions about suffering, He started with, "See Jesus? I've suffered too. See Paul? He suffered too. But you don't have to suffer alone; I know suffering. I feel your pain. Here, lean on my arm; I'll support you. Talk to me. Tell me your fears and hopes and hurts. Nobody understands like I do." From that place of intimacy, I began to understand the Problem of Evil very differently. Several passages of scripture helped me along in this journey, but consider this passage in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NIV):
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
See, the Problem of Evil rejects God because our definition of Him makes no logical sense. Scholars - the "philosophers of this world" - tend to value logic above all else. There's a great book by Alvin Plantinga called God, Freedom, and Evil, where he shows that there are built-in logical fallacies in the Problem of Evil argument. Ultimately, he comes down on the side of the "free will defense," which is the argument Jurie gave us on Sunday morning (and the idea that St. Augustine ultimately decided on as well). It says, "God is love. He created us to love and be loved. Love is not love if it's not chosen, so God gave us free will. Some choose not to participate in the love of God, and that's where evil comes from."
Think about the last time you fell madly in love. Did you set up a whole series of logical arguments for why that person was right for you? Or did you just get to know them and almost literally fall into love? Love isn't entirely logical. From a survival standpoint, love can even be detrimental - it calls you to do things for the other person that could jeopardize your survival in favor of theirs.
That's the kind of love God has for us. He died because He loved us so much. The passage I showed you from 1 Corinthians tells us that God's love is totally illogical to those who have not experienced it. To understand it, you have to participate in it. The problem with my analysis of the Problem of Evil in college is that I was trying to understand God from the outside. I didn't understand the "falling in love" aspect of faith. From inside God's love, I've learned that some of my most close and powerful times of reliance of God... some of my greatest experiences of God's love... have been in times of suffering. I've learned more about Him and His provision through suffering. I'd be thrilled if God took the suffering away immediately, but I can persevere through it because God loves me, and maybe that's better in the long run.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take [suffering] away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NIV).


JP Roos - September 3rd, 2020 at 7:25am

Tha k you for sharing this SarahJo. beautifully written.

Joyce Martin - September 3rd, 2020 at 9:24pm

Great article SJ!