An Introduction To The Problem Of Evil. In an earlier post, I referenced a recent Barna study that found that the number of professing atheists among Gen Zer’s was almost double that of previous generations. The study also found that the number one reason that this age group was turning away from God was because they could not reconcile the notion of a good God that would allow all the evil we see in the world today.
Where Does Evil Come From?
The problem of evil has been around since the fall of man. And the perception that God is not dealing with evil has caused many to do exactly what Gen Zer’s are doing and walking away from God all together. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell famously said, “No one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God”. This statement would come to have significance in my life when I experienced the effects of evil in the world in a very personal way.
We All Struggle With Evil
I had just been elevated to a lay leadership role in my church at the time and was asked to assist our pastor at a funeral. This was no ordinary funeral however. The funeral was for a 4-year-old young girl. Her parents had run across some hard times, so they sent their two daughters to live with their older brother. One night while the brother was at work his girlfriend became frustrated with the young girls crying. Her anger finally boiled over, and she wound up beating one of them to death. This was the funeral I was asked to help with.
The image that still haunts me to this day is the sight of the young girl in her casket surrounded by stuffed animals and a sippy cup. I always remember that sippy cup. You see, my daughter was the same age as that girl, and had a similar sippy cup. I don’t know how I made it through that service. I managed to keep my composure and do my scripture readings, prayers and the other duties required of me. At the end of the service, I promptly left the cemetery and went directly home.
As soon as I walked through the door, I embraced my wife and began to sob. I could not comprehend the evil of someone harming a little girl like that. And if I am perfectly honest, that was the angriest I have ever been with God. How could a good and loving God allow this to happen?
An Emotional Problem
As Tent Making Christians, we are often confronted with these types of situations or conversations. If we are going to engage with the culture, we are going to need to be able to answer the problem of evil. So how did I deal with the situation when I was confronted with evil? I definitely didn’t feel love for God at the time. What I did have was a knowledge that God existed (it’s hard to be mad at someone that doesn’t exist). I also had a working understanding of how to answer the problem. My understanding of how to deal with the problem of evil is what kept me grounded during this time.
The Problem Classically Stated
In the next few blog posts, I will be helping to make sense of the problem of evil. The problem is classically stated like this:
If God is all knowing, all powerful and all good, then he is able to stop evil. Should God want to stop evil but can’t, then he is not all powerful. If he can stop evil but will not, then he is not all good. Therefore, an all knowing, all loving and all good God cannot exist. This argument is powerful, but as we will come to see, there are reasonable explanations as to why God might allow evil to exist? A fancy name for this is a theodicy.
As I close out this post, I would like to return to Bertrand Russell’s quote for just a moment. “No one can sit at the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God”. I want to point out that the problem of evil doesn’t just exist for theists. It exists for atheists as well. In other words, you can’t solve the problem of evil by getting rid of God. That still leaves the problem unanswered. The statement could just as easily be made “How can someone sit at the bedside of a dying child and have no hope to offer them?”. If you remove God from the equation you haven’t solved the problem of evil. You have simply removed the hope that does solve the problem of evil.