{7}           Suffering (1): Problem of evil

29.            Why is the problem of evil so important?

§        The problem of evil and suffering is the most difficult question for Christianity to answer.

A.  Two kinds of evil: [1] abstract evil – spiritual evil of sins that we actively commit, and [2] tangible evil – physical evil of pain and suffering that we passively suffer.

B.  Because abstract evil (sin) brought tangible evil (suffering), the former is the greater evil. Sin was originated from the Fall of the devil, followed by the Fall of man in Eden.

C.  It is important that all Christians understand the problem of evil because:

(1)  Apologetics: Christianity can provide satisfactory answers to all questions of life, except one, the problem of evil. Christians must understand the problem and respond to questions on suffering.

(2)  Evangelism: Evil and suffering sometimes becomes the main obstacle to the gospel.

(3)  Counselling: Everyone experiences various kinds of pain and suffering, including physical pain like sickness and injuries, emotional (psychological) pain like fear and anxiety, spiritual pain like doubt and despair. Out of despair, a suffering person may turn to blame God.

D.  How is the problem of evil used to argue against God?

     The Bible teaches that God is perfectly loving (Ps 145:9,13; Jn 3:16) and is all powerful (Gen 35:11; Job 11:7; Rev 1:8). If God is perfectly loving, He would want to eliminate evil. If God is all powerful God, He has the power to eliminate evil completely. But evil exists in the world, so either: [1] God is not perfectly loving, or [2] God is not all powerful, or [3] there is no God.

30.            Did God create evil?

§        God created everything in the universe. But evil is not created because it is not a concrete thing.

A.  Evil is a condition but not a positive reality. It lacks any substance, thus it does not require the causal activity of God. Augustine describes it as a privation of goodness. “Privation” means an absence of something that should be there. For example, a hole in a piece of wood.

B.  Evil is not created by God but is permitted by God. There are 3 explanations to why God permits evil.

     Why couldn’t God create a world that has no evil? No, otherwise there will be not be a moral world. A moral world is one that distinguishes right from wrong. Without free choice to commit wrong, there is no moral world.

C.  Explanation 1: Evil is the product of human free choice (by Augustine).

     A perfectly loving God created the world because of love. He created man to share His glory and goodness by simply loving Him. God also gave him the power of free choice because love involves a choice. Man used this freedom to sin so that evil came into the world.

     If God created a world that has no free choice, human beings will become robots. There is and can be no love without freedom. No one can be coerced into loving another. Love includes the provision of a choice. Either love exists freely or it does not exist at all.

D.  Explanation 2: Temporary evil is permitted for the goal of eternal good (by Aquinas).

     God permits temporary evil for eternal good. Eternal life will not be as good without evil and the subsequent salvation. Augustine says: “God can bring good even out of evil.” (Isa 55:9)

     Evil is temporary; both sin and suffering will eventually be eradicated. Innocent suffering can be ultimately justified. Even God Himself suffered for the ultimate good.

E.  Explanation 3: Evil is the precondition for greater good.

     The existence of good depends on the existence of evil. For example, a healthy body requires often painful exercise. Patience cannot be produced without tribulation, nor mercy without tragedy. Courage is possible only where fear is a reality. (Jas 1:2-3)

     Analogy in aesthetics: Contrasts heighten beauty, for example, dissonant chords in a musical work make subsequent harmonious chords sound sweeter. We would not have noticed the goodness of God without the contrast of evil. For example, the concepts of great and small are relative. If there is no small thing, then all large things will not be regarded as large.

31.            What is the cause of sufferings in the world?

A.  Most sufferings are caused by man: Some came directly from the wrong use of our own free choices (e.g. abuse of one’s body such as smoking, poverty from laziness). Some are caused by human sin (e.g. child abuse, violence and crimes). Some may be a necessary by-product of other good activities (e.g. accident in physical exercise).

B.  Some sufferings are caused by evil spirits, such as Job’s sufferings, possession by evil spirits (Mt 17:14-15,18).

C.  Some sufferings are brought by God for beneficial purposes: Toothaches and chest pains are warnings of greater physical evils; OT catastrophes were warnings to sins.

D.  Some are natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, plagues): They occur after the original perfect world order was destroyed and the environment was corrupted by sin.

E.  Why doesn’t God use His power to prevent sufferings? If God continually interfere, the regularity of natural law will be disrupted; human freedom and responsibility will become unnecessary; all moral learning would cease and the development of various virtues through real life experience will not be possible. On the other hand, God is intercepting some evils by placing good influences in the world (such as the Holy Spirit, the Bible, Christians, and moral law). Occasionally, God will directly intervene through miracles when necessary.

32.            Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?

A.  No one is completely innocent.

     The description of “innocent people” is only relative, not absolute.

     We commit numerous explicit sins but also unnoticed sins. Some common unnoticed sins include self-centredness, I-need-it-right-now mentality, using evil means to achieve selfish ends, giving excuses for wrong deeds, neglecting rightful duties.

     We may have a feeling of unfairness when experiencing sufferings. Yet we also need to remember that we have hurt others many times in the past, sometimes unconsciously or unintentionally.

B.  Some apparent innocent suffering may have a cause, for example, children may suffer because of the sins of the parents (Ex 20:5; 34:7; Nu 14:18; Dt 5:9), such as infants with AIDS, or handicapped newborns because of the mother’s addiction to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs.

C.  Yet, we have to admit that some innocent suffering has no apparent justification and that we do not have a satisfactory answer at the present. However, there may be a justification in the future (Job 42:3). Ultimately, we have to trust God’s sovereignty.