Well, the clear-thinking Christian is back! After almost a year off, I’m back to blogging with a great deal to share. In short form, I’m now retired…after 24 years of Active Duty in the Air Force, I’m moving on to other things, one of which I hope to be blogging more regularly.
Shortly after my announced retirement from the Air Force, I was invited to White Sulphur Springs — a Christian retreat center in Pennsylvania — to give eight talks in six days on this extremely difficult topic. I have an interesting perspective here, since I can speak to the topic both as a theologian, and a brain cancer survivor who has known more suffering than most. For those who attended that retreat, this blog is for you — essentially the written form of the first lesson or two I taught during the plenary sessions.
So if there is a God, at least the Christian concept of Him, why do we suffer? Why is there so much evil in the world? This is classically known as “The Problem of Evil,” and an attempt to answer it is formally called a “theodicy.” If God is loving as we claim, then He would want to prevent all evil and suffering. If God is omnipotent as we claim, then He would be able to prevent all evil and suffering. Yet, it exists in abundance — so which is it? Does it exist and He allowed it, so he is not loving? Or does it exist and He couldn’t prevent it, so He is not powerful? This is traditionally presented in this form as the “logical” problem of evil, often offered by atheists or critics of Christianity as a potential inconsistency or even a contradiction in the Christian concept of God.
But is there a contradiction or inconsistency here? As Christians, we cannot deny either His sovereignty and omnipotence or His goodness. Scripture is clear with regard to both.
- God is loving. We know from Scripture that our God is a loving God. We can read in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love,” and we can read in 1 Corinthians 13 how He defines love. That means we can take the description of love in Corinthians and actually apply those as attributes of God. This means God is patient, kind, does not delight in evil, always protects us, hopes, and perseveres. His love never fails. Of course, the greatest expression of His love is found in John 3:16 and Romans 5:8, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us — and greater love has no man than this. Why did He do that? Because He loves us. Ephesians 3:18 tells us that even the saints of God struggle to comprehend the width, length, height, and depth of the love of God. There can be no question that God loves us beyond comprehension.
- God is powerful. This is hardly in dispute, but Scripture is equally clear here. This is evident from the very first chapter of Genesis — as the One who has created the universe — all space, matter, and time — He is spaceless, timeless, and immaterial, and immensely powerful. Job tells us in Chapter 42 that “…you can do all things [this is omnipotence], no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Who can thwart God’s plans? No one. He is too powerful.
- Evil exists. This is likely the least disputable of the three points normally offered in the “problem of evil” critique of Christianity. Worthy of its own blog, evil is generally categorized into two “camps” — moral evil (man’s inhumanity to man), and natural evil (natural disaster, disease, etc). In his book The Many Faces of Evil, John Feinberg documents the true extent of man’s inhumanity. Dr. Clay Jones, my professor on this topic at Biola University, also wrote an article several years ago on human evil. The facts are chilling. In the 20th Century alone, communism has killed between 20 and 26 million, most in horrible fashion — such as the forced starvation of 6 million Ukrainians. Under Mao, it is another 30 million, and Mao at one point bragged that he had buried alive 46,000 scholars who disagreed with him. Read the Rape of Nanking — and we haven’t even mentioned the Holocaust yet, with its 17,000,000 dead. This only scratches the surface — the human capacity for evil is unimaginable. Natural evil is often more inexplicable, from the Asian tsunami in December 2004 to the Haitian earthquake a few months later, even cancer…if God is good and powerful, how are these things possible?
This is the “Problem of Evil,” classically presented. The world is full of evil, both moral (human) evil and natural evil. As a five-time cancer survivor, I have seen it and felt it first-hand. In the next blog, we will work to present a basic theodicy — that is, a basic explanation of how the three facts presented above are not contradictory. God is good. God is powerful. Evil exists. This is not a contradiction.
(Note: You can listen to audio from this presentation here:
Part 1: Introduction and the Logical Problem of Evil
Part 2: Can God be Both Good and Sovereign, Given Evil?
Part 3: The Kinds of Evil, Mankind’s Capacity for Evil
Part 4: God’s Sovereign Will, Why God Allows Suffering
Part 5: Sermonette: God, Evil, and Suffering