Thursday, September 18, 2008

The "Problem" of Evil

I believe I speak from experience (however minor) that the only real substantive argument that atheists have against Christianity is the so called "Problem of Evil." Frankly, all their other arguments besides that one are trivial at best and idiotic at worst. Because the Problem of Evil (POE) is consider such a stalwart opponent, I feel that I have not lived up to my obligations as a critical thinking believer until I have engaged (however badly) this impressive beast. So, for better or for worse, here is my attempt to add my two cents into the long debated subject. I have no doubt my own small pebble will do nothing in the collective sea of human thought other than to serve as a reminder to myself of my own ideas.

Let's begin by saying what POE is. It goes something like this (and you have probably heard this before): "God is good. God is all-powerful. If God were good and all-powerful, He would not allow evil to exist. Evil does exist, however, so God must not be good, all-powerful, or both." Here it is in short: if God is good and all-powerful, then why is there evil, and why does it continue? That is the insurmountable question leveled against Christianity, the rocks upon which many a faith has supposedly wrecked.
The answer to POE is so blindingly obvious, however, that once I (quite unexpectedly) fumbled upon it, I began to seriously question what all the fuss was about. It also made me sad, because the implications of POE's persistance in the marketplace of ideas is that Christians have suffered a serious bout of amnesia in regards to their own foundational doctrines. It is the equivalent of a bard forgetting a story that he has told for years (incuding just yesterday); it is inexcusable.
POE is answered by the simple reassertion of Christian doctrine; namely, that there are two sides to the story of God and man: one side is the Fall; the other side is the Cross. Both of those sides serve as an answer to POE that puts it to bed so suddenly and quickly before the eyes of mortal men that its simplicity may be its only weakness (as honest men may not take it seriously). It is, however, the foolishness of philosophic thinking to demand complexity on all counts; simple things can level entire kingdoms faster than convoluted argumentation. POE itself stands as a prime example of this; its simplicity is its true venom. It is also its downfall, however, since simple questions usually incur (after much thinking) simple answers; and I am defiantly proclaiming that the Christian answer to POE is simple.
As to why evil is, the Fall is the response; a response as simple yet as shocking as lightning. I could hazard some sort of ridiculous commentary here, but I believe better men have put the issue of the Fall in a much more adequate and simple fashion. Francis Schaeffer was one such man, and he put it this way:

Christianity's answer [to evil's existence] rests in the historic, space-time, real and complete Fall. The true Christian position is that in space and time and history, there was an unprogrammed man who made a choice, and actually rebelled against God. (From Escape From Reason)

The presence and continuance of evil on earth is the result of man's choice, leading to fallen men and a fallen creation (
I Corinthians 15:21, 22 & Romans 8:19-22). The Fall gives meaning to both men making evil choices and a world breeding disease and disaster. All men are wounded, and so is their world.
As to what God is doing about all this, the Cross is the equally simple yet shocking response. According to Christianity, there were only two ways God could have "dealt" with evil when the Fall happened. First of all, He could have destroyed us. Such a response would not have satisfied POE for two reasons: firstly, there would be no one to question God and thus no one to ask POE in the first place; and secondly, such a response would reveal God to be indeed all-powerful, but not good, since He is meeting evil with evil (i.e., destroying all things). Thus it would prove POE's point: God is not God if He answers in such a way.
The second way God could have dealt with evil, the way He did take, the way for which we fall on our knees and worship Him, is that He could have saved us. This, of course, is the whole meaning behind the mysterious and immutable reality that is the Incarnation. In response to honest men asking, "What has the good, all-powerful God done about evil," we can most definitely say, "Good sir, it is Christ." Romans 5:8 is the summation of Christian apologetic thought on the subject of what God is "doing" (or has done) with evil.

Objections can be raised. One is that if God is all-powerful, why is destruction and salvation His only options? Why not instead prevent evil from happening at all, or prevent it from continuing to happen? I have heard something like this before, and I am afraid that it does not escape the same problem that occurs when God decides to destroy us, i.e., in order for God to do what is good (i.e., deal with evil) He must do something that is evil (i.e., removing freewill). Again, God is revealed as merely all-powerful and not good; He is no longer God.
Another objection that can be raised is that if salvation (through the Cross of Christ) is God's response to evil, His way of "dealing" with it, then why not save everybody and be done with it? The answer is the same as before: that would be God meeting evil with evil (i.e., removing freewill). Like evil actions, salvation is a choice, though, unlike evil actions, it is not a choice between doing or not doing, but rather between receiving or not receiving. Evil is an active choice; salvation is a passive one (which is why Christianity has often described it as a "surrender"). If you receive the salvation of Christ, all well and good; if you reject it, however, then you are (for your part) responsible for the continuance of evil. Salvation is God's dealing with evil; rejecting it is tantamount to saying, "I'm sorry, sir, but I very much like evil, and wish it to continue."
The Fall and the Cross are Christianity's final and only answer to POE. Any answer that does not include them is asinine, and ultimately satisfies no one. In response to POE (and all of its proponents), we defiantly say this: it is mankind who chose to unleash Hell on earth, and God who chose to send Heaven to earth. You can be mad at men who perpetuate evil by committing evil acts or by rejecting salvation; you can even be mad (as you should be) at the Church for being slack in its job of proclaiming the gospel; but enough of this childish nonsense that blames evil on God, or uses evil to disprove God. He has chosen to save us and not destroy us (or our freewill), and has sent people (including Himself) to bring us His salvation. What more would you have Him do?