I left off my last post saying that I believed that I was approaching the Problem of Evil with a “Biblical View.” I attempted to place emphasis on the importance of treating evil as a serious topic (not belittling it), and moving beyond a mere philosophical response. As finite beings, this is impossible to do as a whole since this very discussion is an exercise in philosophy. If you will notice, I am not very interested at this time in learning how evil came to exist.* The question of “why” is even more difficult and unhelpful in this discussion. The most important questions are, “what now?” and “what next?” This might seem odd, but I am not presenting an exercise in thought that will help for a Philosophy of Religion assignment, but rather a personal reflection, a Biblical reflection relating to the problem of evil.
No one usually approaches the topic intentionally trying to belittle someone’s suffering or issue. However, it happens quite often in theistic arguments when trying to answer the question of “why?” A popular Christian argument is the idea that God has a greater plan, and that evil is going to achieve a greater good through God’s help (Many times Rom. 8:28, Gen 50, or even the life of Christ are chosen for backup evidence). I generally agree with this, but holding this view alone reduces evil to a mere obstacle, or type of “boot camp.” This quasi-Hegelian thought process fails miserably when we arrive at an Auschwitz or tsunami. Very few people will call those two events mere bumps in the road. One could argue that the lives lost were relatively small considering the total population of planet earth’s history and future, but that would be diminishing the evil in a very unchristian way for a Christian line of argumentation. There are a couple issues with this view when it is given on it’s own. It creates a temptation that causes us to invent divine intentions for disastrous events. It is simply not our place. Also, for argumentation’s sake, there is no way an individual could satisfactorily come up with a reason for Auschwitz. An explanation could only come from God. However, my main issue with this incomplete response, is that it conflicts with the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible (the Trinitarian God: The Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit) is described as the creator and controller of the universe, and one who cares deeply about people. Any Christian attempt in answering the “why” for has to take this into consideration.
The Gospel of John has one of the most fascinating stories regarding the topic of evil and pain, the resurrection of Lazarus.* I will summarize it, but you can read it in full (John 11). Lazarus is dying and his good friend Jesus, a known miracle worker, is in another town. Word reaches him, but surprisingly Jesus does not rush to Lazarus’ aid. Instead he claims, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the Glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified in it.” (John 11:4). It is a very interesting statement considering the gravity of the situation, but the disciples believe Him and continue on. To our greater surprise, Jesus waits two more days before heading over.
Finally, Jesus starts to leave and explains to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I must go awaken him out of his sleep.” The disciples don’t seem to get it, so eventually Jesus has to clarify “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” At this point, it seems like this pain is purposeful and that I am wrong for dismissing this line of thinking two paragraphs earlier. Keep in mind that I said the explanations of “purposeful pain” are terrible when used alone. However, let us continue because we haven’t reached the interesting section.
Jesus returns to Lazarus’s family to find that he was buried and has been dead for four days. He talks with the mourning and deeply affected family for a while, sees everyone’s pain, and asks to go see Lazarus’ tomb. Then, the remarkable happens, “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35).
“How is that more remarkable than the resurrection that follows?” I’ll admit, crying at a grave site is not a very impressive or unique act contrasted with a guy returning to life. What is so strange is that Jesus wept, knowing full well what He was about to do. Sorrow was present in the midst of purpose. It would have been easy for Jesus to show no emotion and just raise Lazarus. The story would still maintain its astonishing quality and display God’s power. But, we’re shown something much more. Even if God truly does have a purpose in pain, even if He knows that His next action will thrill us, he still weeps out of compassion!
Of course, being Good Friday, we have to recognize God’s ultimate response to evil. He sent his son live amongst the poorest of the poor, suffer with the weak, get mocked with the fools, associate with the outcasts, die with criminals, and feel the Father turn his face away. This response to evil was not pain free, but wrought with it. If that is God’s ultimate response, we have to recognize what question matters to God. God does not completely answer our question of why; He gives us a victory over evil and gives us the answer to “what now?”
Victory is won, the now is taken care of. The “what next?” is the only remaining question. This is where we have to follow. Instead of explaining pain, shifting blame, or discovering an end-all theory, we need to fulfill the call to “bear one another’s burdens.” I am not saying that we must all go and find a place to get killed for a good cause. No, but we have to be on the forefront of combating, and reacting to evil. We need to come along side those in pain, fight it when we can even if we believe that there is a purpose behind it all. I will finish (sort of) with a final quote.
“One day I think we shall find out, but I believe we are incapable of understanding it at the moment, in the same way a baby in the womb would lack the categories to think about the outside world. What we are promised however, is that God will make a world in which all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well, a world in which forgiveness is one of the foundation stones and reconciliation the cement which holds everything together. And we are given this promise, not as a matter of whistling in the ark, not as something to believe even though there is no evidence, but in and through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, and in and through the Spirit through whom the achievement of Jesus becomes a reality in our world and in our lives.”*
I know that this was much more of a Sunday-school post than some of you anticipated. I guess that’s what happens when you finish writing something on Good Friday. I hesitated on posting any of this because it is such a big and sensitive topic. I know that if I read this again, I will be upset that I missed something, or excluded something obvious. I apologize for questions raised that are left unanswered. Unfortunately a blog does not provide the adequate medium for a full treatment of the topic. I pray that in some way you the reader have gained something out of my musings. I, like many of you will continue to wrestle with this issue. Have a great Friday and I hope to get a few more posts I’ve been thinking about on here.
* The Genesis narrative discusses humankind’s seduction to sin, but does not actually seek out evil’s origin. How did “the accuser” become evil enough to tempt, and how did “the accuser” make it into the Garden of Eden. Ultimately, the origin of evil is not given to us. Also, even with free will, how could an evil choice be known? Interesting topic but unfortunately not pertinent for this discussion.
* Even if one does not believe the validity of this story, it gives insight into the Christian perspective of God’s character. The loving, redeeming, savior-God is compatible with this somewhat shocking story.
*Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006. Print