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The Problem of Evil

People free a man from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal, in Kathmandu, Nepal, 25 April 2015.  EPA/NARENDRA SHRESTHA

People free a man from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal, in Kathmandu, Nepal, 25 April 2015. EPA/NARENDRA SHRESTHA

On April 25 a major earthquake struck the mountainous country of Nepal. The death toll stands at 3,300 confirmed dead and is expected to rise. Thousands were injured. Thousands more are homeless. How could a good God allow such suffering?

It’s a serious question and one of the biggest objections to belief in God. It’s called the Problem of Evil and it’s as old as the Book of Job: Why do bad things happen to good people? Or to put it another way: If God is good, why does he allow evil to exist?  There are no easy answers, but a few truths can help us understand.

First, evil is not a thing that God created. God made the sun, moon, stars. He even created worms and        mosquitoes. But he never made anything called “evil.” Evil is simply the absence of good. Evil is a wrong choice or the result of a wrong choice. It’s not something God made.

Second, free will allows for the possibility of evil. God could have created a world without free will. However, in his goodness God decided to allow spiritual beings (angels and humans) the ability to choose. When we choose to do wrong, it’s evil. God could stop us from choosing evil, but then we wouldn’t have free will and that would be even worse. Even natural evils like floods and earthquakes are ultimately the result of moral evils. God created the world and pronounced it good. Adam and Eve chose to sin (moral evil) for which God punished man with physical evil (suffering and death). All of creation was also affected by the fall of our first parents. The world was no longer a safe place.

Third, God provided a solution to the Problem of Evil in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for us in order to defeat the power of evil. His ultimate plan of salvation is not only to save people who turn to him in faith but also to restore all of creation and reconcile it “through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). God’s answer to undeserved suffering is the cross of Christ, the most undeserved suffering.

Many people have rejected faith in God because of the reality of suffering. But what are they left with? They still have their pain and sense of injustice. But they have no comfort, no faith, and no hope that wrongs will eventually be made right. Without belief in God, the world is simply a bad place and there’s no way to make sense of out it. In fact, without belief in God concepts like “good” and “evil” make no sense. How is unbelief better than believing in a God who allows evil to exist but promises to bring good out of evil for those who love him (Rom. 8:28)? How is unbelief better than believing in a God who becomes man and joins us in our suffering in order to save us? It isn’t.

It may be difficult at times to believe in God when we are confronted by evil and suffering, but it’s better than the alternative.

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Psalter Bread

Bay_Psalm_Book_LoCA copy of the Bay Psalter, a historic Bible and the first book published in what is now the United States, sold this week for a record breaking $14.2 million. It was purchased by businessman David Rubenstein who plans to loan it out to libraries across the country. The sale says something important about our American society today, only I’m not sure what exactly. Our love of firsts? Our obsession with big-ticket items? Our generous philanthropy? Maybe the answer is (d) – all of the above. But I don’t think it means that we value the Word of God highly. I can pick up as many copies as I want from Goodwill for fifty cents each.

The sale of the Bay Psalter got me thinking about my own values. With my enthusiastic approval, the church I serve recently paid a hefty sum to have our 1840s Bible restored while Boston’s Old South Church sold their pricey 1640 Book of Psalms to finance their ministries to the homeless and people with AIDS. Maybe they wouldn’t have gotten rid of one copy if they hadn’t owned two. Perhaps the church saw no other way to fund its programs because it’s fallen on hard financial times. I don’t know. Still, whatever the circumstances, it took courage and compassion to give up a precious relic to care for those who are often considered to have little worth. With this decision, the people of Boston’s OSC showed that their values are different from the world’s. The world says, “Use people and value things.” But our faith teaches us to use things and value people.

Where did the Christians in Boston get such a radical idea? Maybe they read the Bay Psalter where it says, “See ye do defend the poor, also the fatherless: unto the needy justice do, and [to them] that are in distress. The wasted poor and those that are needy deliver ye; and them redeem out of the of the hand of such as wicked be” (Psalm 82:3-4).

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