In a recent post, I presented three questions I’ve heard young people ask–people who think highly of Jesus and even seem to want to become Christians and follow Him, but worry they can’t without sacrificing their rationality, their decency, or both. I addressed the first and second questions in my last three posts. Here is the third question:
Question 3: Why would a loving God let so many bad things happen?
This is the problem of evil, a problem as important as it is ancient. Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy memorably compared this problem to a Hydra: Every time one version of it is dealt with, two more versions sprout up in its place.
I suspect that the biggest problem with evil is not that it is very hard to find answers to this question; answers are easy to find. The biggest problem is that evil hurts, and having a few answers doesn’t automatically make it stop hurting.
But, as Boethius says, there is still a big problem with finding answers: While it is easy to find some, finding them all is a never-ending affair. So is articulating all the old answers perfectly. These are two reasons I will not pretend to answer Question 3 here, in a single blog post.
Boethius and Lady Philosophy discuss the problem of evil.
Instead, I will do something better. I will point you to some places where some of the best answers are articulated. As God says in Time Bandits
, “I think it has something to do with free will,” but that’s not all there is to it.
- Try Augustine‘s On the Free Choice of the Will or Confessions for the classic free will response to the problem of evil as well as Augustine’s wonderful idea that evil does not exist (evil is, strictly speaking, a lack of good, not a thing that exists in itself).
- Try Boethius‘ The Consolation of Philosophy for a very personal response to a very personal experience with evil. Boethius tackles the problem from several angles. (I made this short cartoon version of the story).
- Try C. S. Lewis‘ The Problem of Pain. Pain is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Also included in this edition: Lewis’ own experience with suffering in A Grief Observed.
- If you dare tackle recent analytic philosophy, Alvin Plantinga‘s God, Freedom, and Evil is a classic in the area.
- You could also try Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God by Marilyn McCord Adams, a Christian look at the really, really, really, really evil evils.
To sum up
: There are good answers to this question, starting with free will. But you will have to do some studying if you really want to understand this issue.
To sum up my last four posts
There are three big questions that keep people away from Christianity.
Question 1 is: Can I be a Christian and still believe in evolution? And the answer is: Yes. (But you don’t have to.)
Question 2 is: Why would God send people to hell just because they haven’t heard about Jesus? Maybe the best answer to this is another question: Who says God does?
Question 3 is: Why would a loving God let so many bad things happen? And the answer is: There are reasons. Maybe you can’t understand all of them perfectly, but you can understand a little bit. If you really want to understand it all, you will have do some studying.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)