let’s poke it again (Problem of Evil)

To continue a point I was working on a few days ago:

1. God is good.
2. God is all-powerful
3. Evil exists.

Every religion must wrestle with “the problem of evil.:” Trying to affirm more than two of these truths at any one time shoves a person into logical impossibility. For Christians, knowing the promises of God doesn’t make the Problem of Evil any less knotty.

Many folks, unwilling to live on the precarious fault between faith and oblivion, solve the dilemma by weakening (or denying) one of the three core truths that cause the problem. Rabbi Neusner’s famous book When Bad Things Happen to Good People claims that God means well but doesn’t really have the power to do anything about the evil in this world.  Open theists suggest that God doesn’t have full knowledge of the future (again, diminishing His omnipotence) — a handy way to allow evil to exist without blaming God for it (as well as a neat way to explain the paradox between free will and sovereignty). Atheists and agnostics just deny both of the first two propositions, and there you go.

Conservative Christians are too well-versed in Scripture to let go of either the idea that God is good or that He is in control (though most of us will admit to doubting one or both when the going gets hard). Instead, I have noticed that “we” are tempted to diminish the full reality and horribleness of tragedy and evil which touch our lives from time to time.

Romans 8:28 has become a BandAid which Christians try to slap onto the gaping wounds caused by real pain or tragedy. I hear people glibly quote promises, Bible verses, or sermon snippets as if simple answers will take care of everything.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not taking aim at people who have hacked their way through the deep undergrowth of life’s trials and come out with a much deeper and stronger faith, one that allows them to minister comfort and assurance to their fellow, struggling siblings in the household of Faith. (See 1 Cor. 1)

But I think that Reformed theology (especially) with its emphasis on logical doctrine and precise systematization of theology pushes folks toward that which is glib. Evil is no longer evil … not really.  Because God *does* work much good out of (or in spite of) the tragedy of life, some people assume therefore that the evil itself is not really all that bad. “It’s just a flesh wound!” they cry to the person whose heart has been ripped to pieces by sorrow and loss.  “Cheer up! Be thankful! Your life could be much worse!” echoes at the miserable soul who finds itself trapped in the dark corridors of the mind and emotions.   We rush so fast to defend God’s honor that we try to soften the blow of reality.

I love the Psalms for many reasons. A few years ago I stumbled across this truth:  The Psalmist almost always ends up at the place of faith and soul-healing, but often after passing through dark and troubled waters. He doesn’t mince words, reduce true evil to an illusion of evil which the knowledge of sovereignty magically wipes away. Many of the Psalms are gritty and honest as the writer lays out his grief before the Lord.

My point?

Simply this:  Think before you speak.  Romans 12 says we should “weep with those who weep” in addition to rejoicing with the joyful.

When you find yourself in a position to minister to someone in trouble, first listen and mourn.

Don’t rush to admonish — the time for your exhortation will eventually come. [I’ve rarely met a conservative evangelical who needed help on that score. *grins*]

Real Grace floods into situations that are full of real Evil. 

We don’t have to play the game on “easy” because we’re afraid Grace will lose. 

poking the Problem of Evil

Just some thoughts I’m thinking…

*****
I think Christians gloss over the “problem of evil” far too quickly.  Consider these typical quick answers to the very difficult question of why an omnipotent, loving God allows evil in His world:

We wouldn’t understand God’s goodness if it weren’t for evil.
Bull-hockey. If God needs evil around in order to display His goodness, He’s not all that grand.  Even if I were amazed by His ability to bring good out of evil, I would always know in the back of my mind that God was incomplete apart from the existence of evil … which diminishes His goodness.

Because God works all things together for good, the bad things that happen aren’t really all that bad.
What an insult to the person who is hurting!
Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, even knowing He would be raising Lazarus from the dead. Life sucks sometimes … for real. And it’s not “whining” to admit it.  Death is a curse, not a blessing. Sickness is the result of the fall. Broken relationships are evidence of sin, not healing. Just because God does work good doesn’t mean that we’re somehow supposed to convince ourselves of a dreamworld where evil isn’t really all that bad.
In fact, I *hate* stories where the bad guy is all cleaned up and sympathetic and wishy washy.
Solomon says in Ecclesiastes that wise men live with the curse of understanding how bad things really are.

Because God is in control, whatever happens is the best possible alternative. 
I’ve got mixed emotions on this one. I understand the massive gravitational pull of the doctrine of sovereignty (especially in Reformed theology) toward this current universe being the best one because God wouldn’t let anything happen that shouldn’t.
But Voltaire was right to rip Leibnitz’s “this is the best of all possible universes” theory to shreds. Stupid idea.

I think many people run around saying nice-sounding things to hurting people because it makes the counselor feel better.  None of us really wants to live life in the dangerous fault line between faith and uncertainty, wondering whether the next earthquake will shake our foundations to the core.  But I think the issue of evil doesn’t neatly tie up into a package with no loose ends… no matter how hard people try.

*****
The Gospel does not come with a  long list of pre-qualification steps, external requirements, or other demands upon the sinner. It simply offers eternal life for those who believe what is in essence a simple message: that Christ died, was buried, and rose again as a vicarious sacrifice for sinners.

I’m kind of noticing that Christianity (at least in the Southern parts) puts a lot of external demands on people before it will acknowledge them as Christians. And so I see people trying to clean themselves up before having anything to do with religion

Or Christians who shy away from reaching out to the hurting and needy in the Church itself because they’re afraid their actions (love) will be misunderstood as “putting a stamp of approval on someone’s sin.”

Man, that is *bad* theology right there….