Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The problem of evil

Written by Cheryl Odden

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s....”

Admit it. We love superheroes. Their superhuman powers enable them to scale tall buildings in a single bound, capture criminals with a golden lasso, and drive cool cars that turn into jet planes at the push of a button. Every superhero has an evil nemesis. At the end of every story, the villain is caught. Justice prevails.

But in the real world, we know superheroes do not exist. However, their ability to conquer evil strikes at the heart of the justice we all long for.

One only has to turn on the nightly news or scan the front page of a newspaper to see that evil is rampant. Open the Bible. From Genesis beginning with the Fall of man and slaying of Abel to the plight of Job, the problem of evil is addressed. But, explaining the problem of evil is not as simple as blaming it on sin. Theologians would know. They have been wrestling with this issue for centuries.

The theological term that addresses the problem of evil is called “theodicy,” which comes from the Greek word “Theos,” meaning God, and “dikē,” meaning justice. Theodicy is defined as justifying the ways of God to man, specifically in relation to evil.

Now regarding evil, there are two primary types:
  • Natural evil: acts of nature that are not controlled by man such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • Moral evil: man’s wilful actions against fellow man.
We know the Bible says that God works all things together for good and that we will experience trouble, so why do we care about explaining the problem of evil? There are two reasons:
  • Apologetical: For the atheist, the issue is, “If God exists, why does He allow evil?”
  • Religious: For the Christian, many grapple with questions like, “Why did my child have to die?”
Theologians consider these questions when formulating a theodicy.

Explanations of evil have been approached from different angles: however, they fall short, as they typically bring into question God as all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient) and good. For example, God allowing evil affects His goodness; likewise, God not knowing about evil acts affects His omniscience but gets Him off the hook for allowing the evil.

So you see: explaining evil is a problem. Some have admitted that the problem of evil will never be answered for the atheist. And for theologians, Millard Erickson has said that the problem is possibly the biggest intellectual challenge.

God is not a cosmic superhero who swoops in and saves people from evil. We read through Scripture that sometimes He did save them; other times He didn’t. As we deal with evil in the world, I would encourage you to spend time in God’s Word reading the accounts of those who faced evil, like Joseph in Genesis and definitely Job. Also, read about those who faced death, like Stephen, and death threats, like Paul. Pay close attention to those Scriptures about what happened after their suffering. Finally, read the stories we publish in The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter, and note how these Christians are responding to evil as they are persecuted for Christ’s sake.

Regarding the problem of evil, there is one thing we do know: It will be dealt with once and for all. And it won’t need a superhero, either. It will be the One called “Faithful and True” who will ride in on His white horse and cast the Evil One into the lake of fire (Revelation 19-20). Until then, may the stories of today’s persecuted Church inspire you to do good when faced with evil.

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