We have been teaching a class on the Foundations of the Christian Life. We are using C. Michael Patton’s book, Now That I’m a Christian, as a guide (see review here).
This week we tackled several questions related to God and evil – questions like ‘what is evil’ and how do we address the ‘problem of evil’.
While the mindless philosopher C3PO may be right that “we seem to be made to suffer”, the question is how does this fit with the notion of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and good God. Why is it that “bad things” happen to “good” people?
N.T. Wright, rightly reminds us that the “problem of evil” that atheists use to challenge Christians is really the “problem of good” for the atheist (link).
The older ways of talking about evil tended to pose the puzzle as a metaphysical or theological conundrum. If there is a god, and if he is a good, wise and supremely powerful god, why is there such a thing as evil? Even if you’re an atheist, you face the problem: Is this world a sick joke, which contains some things that make us think it’s a wonderful place, and other things which make us think it’s an awful place, or what? You could of course call this the problem of good, rather than the problem of evil: If the world is the chance assembly of accidental phenomena, why is there so much that we want to praise and celebrate? Why is there beauty, love, and laughter?
Wright further challenges us with the “new problem of evil”. This consists primarily in three faulty ways we deal with evil.
- we ignore evil except when it hits us in the face.
- we are surprised by evil when it does [hit us in the face].
- we react [to evil] in immature and dangerous ways.
As followers of Christ, it would do us some good to reflect on how we approach evil.
In class we focused on the defense to the “older” problem of evil that was provided in God, Freedom, and Evil by Alvin Plantinga. But, for anyone reading this post, Wright reminds us that the problem of evil is not ultimately a philosophical puzzle (although it is that). It is a personal problem that infects everyone.
[The Old Testament] spoke of evil in terms of the failure of human beings in general, and of Israel in particular, to live as image-bearing human beings should, to live as the redeemed people of God ought to do. They spoke, in other words, of evil at the level both of individuals and of society; of evil as a problem infecting all …
The good news is this problem of evil – our problem – has already been solved (but not yet fully implemented) by the Messiah Jesus.
What the Gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it is or why it’s there, but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it. … God has rescued his people from the dark powers of chaos. The sea monsters have done their worst, and God has vindicated his people and put creation to rights. And he has done so through the suffering of Israel’s representative, the Messiah.
We are called to live in light of this victory!
The slides from the class are available (pdf).
Several excellent books are available to further explore this topic.
- The Problem of Evil by Jeremy Evans
- Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
- Classical Christianity by Thomas Oden
- Introduction to Philosophy by Norman Geisler
- The Athiest’s Fatal Flaw by Norman Geisler (see review here)