Monday, August 13, 2012

Solving the Problem of Evil

Introduction

A couple weeks ago a commenter asked a short series of questions about evil that I think deserve more than just a comment. The questions were posed on my article "Pain, Suffering, and Purpose". I was already in a conversation with another commenter about leaving a legacy from the Christian and the atheistic worldviews, and it seems that these questions tie right into that conversation. Here they are:
  1. Are we (humans-Christians or non-christians) created to solve the problem evil?
  2. Can we make this world a better place?
  3. Can our legacy be to make it better than we found it?
Given the series of questions, this appears to be a question not about the logical problem of evil or even the emotional problem of evil, but the eradication of evil- was man created to remove evil? The logical problem of evil merely poses the challenge of the idea that an all-loving and all-powerful God is incompatible with the existence of evil. It assumes that evil exists. The emotional problem of evil focuses on the psychological effects that we experience from seeing the evil in the world. It is used to fertilize the ground for planting the logical problem of evil. This, too, assumes the existence of evil in the world. But neither of these really appear to be the commenter's concern. Rather "what are we going to do about it?".

Are we (humans-Christians or non-christians) created to solve the problem evil?

The first question assumes that there is an ultimate purpose for humanity's creation. The parenthetical phrase brings in the reality that there are people who are Christian and those who are not. One thing that I do want to get out of the way: If Christianity is not true, then there is no evil to eliminate. We can change behaviors over time, but we must not deceive ourselves into thinking that we are being "progressive" towards a goal, because the goal "no evil" has already been achieved (in fact, there was never a time when the goal of "no evil" was not reached). Further, there is no goal of "good" to be reached. This will come back up later when I address the third question.

The shortest answer to the question, though is simply "no". But there are several asterisks that clarify why when we consider the limitations of humanity:

  • Humanity is not all knowing- knowledge of all present actions and future actions would need to be known to prevent evil.
  • Humanity is not all powerful- he would have to be able to act on the above knowledge on every person and act of nature
  • Humanity is not omni-present- he would have to be able to be everywhere simultaneously to act upon the knowledge of the present and future action of every human being
  • Humanity must perpetually violate free will of every other human being- to bring about his will. If he were to lift his hand, then evil would continue because that is the state of man's heart. Either the free will of humanity must be violated forever, or the heart of man must be changed. Man does not have the ability to do either.
  • Humanity must be morally perfect, otherwise his own evil heart will corrupt his decisions of how to use his abilities. The problem of evil will become worse than it already is.

All those points make it very clear that even if man's purpose is to remove evil from the world, it cannot be done- man simply does not have the resources to do so- the last two points explain why this was a wise decision by man's Creator. When we consider that Christianity is the true worldview, we understand that if God creates something with a purpose, He provides the resources to accomplish that purpose. Since God did not give man the resources to eliminate evil from the universe, it is safe to conclude that eliminating evil from the world is not man's purpose.

However, evil does exist and it does need to be removed. But how and by whom? God's purpose is to overcome the problem of evil: only He is all-knowing, all-powerful, omni-present, and can change the heart of man. It is through Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross and His bodily resurrection that we know that God has the power to do what He says He will do- overcome evil.

Can we make this world a better place?

Now, this does absolve man from the responsibility of trying to eradicate evil from the scene, but it does not relieve him from the duty to reactively alleviate suffering in the world and proactively work against the commission of evil. But, why bother fighting a fight that we know we are not resourced to win? To answer that, we must realize that the elimination of evil in the world is not God's only purpose. He created us, and He has a purpose for everything that He creates. Therefore, we do have a purpose...its just not to eliminate evil.

In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren names one of the purposes of every person- to get to know God intimately. Many times it is through our suffering that we discover the fact that we need God, that there is something better than this world of evil, and that we are not capable of saving ourselves from this world. But how do we get to what is better? That is where our duty as Christians and the ultimate purpose for the suffering and evil in the world comes in. As Christians we have been told to go and tell the nations about the Gospel. Simply put, the Gospel is that humanity's purpose is to be in eternal fellowship with God, but that cannot happen if we are not morally perfect (we are sinful). Jesus' death on the Cross paid the penalty of our immorality (sinfulness) and gives us the forgiveness of our sinfulness to enter into an eternal relationship with God. Jesus' bodily resurrection provides us with the assurance that this promise is true, we just have to be willing to accept it.

But being willing to accept it, many times, requires a time of weakness. As long as we are strong and we are not suffering, we believe that we can do "it" ourselves. But when we are in pain, we realize our lack of the ability to perpetuate our comfort and control in our lives- our pride is bruised, and we realize that no matter how much we try to be in complete control, we simply are not. It takes a lot to recognize that we are not morally perfect, suffering is the quickest way to realize this. But as mentioned above, sometimes it takes someone else to point this out. That "someone else" is the Christian who is treating the physical wounds and comforting the emotional scars.

Without suffering, Christians would not be able to appeal to something in life to contrast what eternal life in the presence of our Creator might be like, and we would not have an avenue for the acceptance of our imperfection. As Christians are out helping people in crisis or just in a low time in their lives, they have the opportunity to share the truth of eternity with the victim of evil. Christians don't have to worry about eliminating evil- God will take care of that. All we have to do is what God told us- "Go and tell". As we do that, we will be addressing the existence and problem of evil (logical and emotional) and alleviating suffering everywhere that God leads us. There is no reason to think that we can single-handedly or even as a group overcome the existence of evil, but we can make an eternal difference for those affected by it.

As the recipient of suffering in my past and, I'm sure, plenty in the future, I realize that there is ultimate purpose to my suffering- to bring me closer to God. But it also prepares me to understand the suffering of others around me who have gone through the same circumstances, but have not accepted the Gospel. Even though, I have accepted God's gift, that does not mean that my suffering ends. I must constantly be reminded of what those who are not saved are dealing with, and I must be able to experience the same pain in order to connect with them in the personal way that opens hearts to communicate honestly with one another.

Legacy

Now, on to our legacy. Given everything that I've mentioned here, I need to nuance what the Christian view of "legacy" is. The traditional view of "legacy" is something that a person leaves behind that affects many people in ways that they would not have been affected had the person not left that "something". Examples of "legacies" would be philosophies, actions, creative compositions (music, art, movies, etc.). Legacies only have the potential to exist as long as the human race exists, and could be forgotten long before the human race ends.

Typically something that is "left behind" refers to the person having passed away and their "something" is what we remember them by. Also, a legacy tends to be exclusive to that particular person. Legacies influence people, who leave their own legacies for us to remember them by and be influenced. Legacy breeds legacy until humans become extinct and all legacy disappears- there is no one left to hear and be heard or influence and be influenced- no one to leave or receive a legacy.

The idea that we can leave a legacy in this sense is a prime target for our pride (part of our sin nature). The legacy is focused on us and what we have done. However, if Christianity is true, then this life is not about us; it is about God. We should not be concerned with leaving a legacy in this sense. We need to recognize that any legacy that we leave is purely by the grace of God.

The desire to eliminate evil comes from our recognition of the effects that it has on those we care about (the emotional problem of evil). We should never lose sight of that, lest we become cold to the suffering of others and shut the door to the hearts of those who need God. It also comes from the desire to leave a legacy. Something that people will remember us by. But as much as we wish that we could single-handedly remove evil, we have to constantly remind ourselves that this life is not about us. The sin nature that is present in us until we die or Christ returns will keep telling us that this life is about us. If this life is about us, then our suffering (even for the sake of removing suffering) makes no sense. But if it is about God, then it all makes sense (including our [and Jesus'] suffering to remove suffering).

Our concern is to go to those suffering, tend to their needs and use that suffering to show them who God is and what He has done for them. There are many great people who God has worked tremendously through. He has allowed them to "leave" a legacy, an example that we may follow. But notice the quotes around "leave". That brings up one final point that I want to make.

There is something inherent within a legacy that is absent from reality if Christianity is true: non-existence. A legacy is something that is remembered and has impact. Let's not forget that if Christianity is true, then the person lives eternally. They will not be "gone"; we won't have to "remember" them- they will be there. And evil will have been overcome. There is no need for legacy in eternity. Legacies have temporary purposes if Christianity is true. So, let's not focus on leaving a legacy but on telling others of the good news of Jesus Christ, so that they may eternally experience His presence and be free from the worldly and self-focused demand that they must leave a legacy in this world to be of value to future generations.

Conclusion

The concerns voiced in the initial questions are extremely important and must not be ignored. They hit hard on two very real desires of humanity- to overcome evil and to leave a legacy to be remembered by. If Christians realize that the purposes they were created for are to tell others about their Creator and how to spend eternity with Him, and get to know their Creator better, themselves; the other concerns will fall into place. We will be relieving people of suffering, and we will be leaving a legacy (if even for a single person). In eternity we will be able to look back on all that we, as Christians, had suffered together for each other's relationship with God, ultimately for the cause of Christ. The satisfaction experienced will be far beyond what all the super-heroes combined could do while alive or dead regarding evil and leaving a legacy.

This past week on Just Thinking, Ravi Zacharias spoke about God's call to Ezekiel. Talking about the burden that a person feels to reach the world, Zacharias speaks to this very issue. And this quote is what I will end this post with:
"The heart of a called person understands this: that is something that God has planted imperishably within you. And it is that burden that cannot reach a whole world, but God has narrowed it down enough so that you can take it piecemeal and take it with a bearable sense. So that He does not expect you and me to try and do what is beyond one person's capacity, but He breaks them down to bearable portions, and yours is the portion He has in mind. Are you bearing that today?"*
*That comes from the Dr. Zacharias' talk entitled "Preparation and Portrait of a Prophet". It will be available in the Just Thinking podcast feed in four parts for a week or so. 

Recommended Further Reading:


1 comment:

  1. This post speaks to me as though God himself said it my friend. I struggle with an internal desire to "right" the world and find myself frustrated quite often. Intellectually I know that I should focus on my "piece of the pie" but I continue to be drawn into to all the evil going on around me. I plan to bookmark this post and read it often!

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