The Problem of Evil: A failure to ask preliminary questions

This week, in my series on defeater beliefs for Christianity, I want to consider the problem of evil. There is no one problem of evil, but several, depending on what kind of objection is in view.

There is the logical problem of evil: “God’s existence and the reality of evil are impossible.” There is the evidential problem of evil: “God’s existence and the reality of evil are improbable.” There is the emotional problem of evil: “I reject (note: not refute) God because of this pain and suffering I am experiencing.” I think that there are adequate responses to each of these objections for the theist: God and evil are not logically incompatible—philosophers, theists and atheists alike, almost universally agree that Plantinga solved this conundrum with his freewill defense in his 1974 The Nature of Necessity; nor does evil render God’s existence improbable—there is no pointless evil, God has a morally justifiable reason for allowing evil even if we don’t know what that reason is in all cases (that is, even if we can’t point to God’s morally justified reason for evil, it does not follow that there isn’t a morally justified reason for evil, in fact, given human finitude, we wouldn’t expect to “see” the reason in all cases); and for those going through real suffering and pain, a listening ear, an arm around the shoulder, care and compassion are what is called for.

All of the above territory is familiar to those who deal with the philosophical issues related to the problem of evil.

In this post I want to ask a prior question, one percolating beneath the surface for the man and women on the street: what did you expect from life? I suspect that much (not all—it is after all a real and present reality in our lives) of the apparent strength of the problem of evil derives from a failure to ask the right preliminary questions about life’s purposes. For example, if you ask the man or women on the streets what the purpose of life is, the answer is almost invariable: “to be happy” where “happiness” is understood as sensual fulfillment or pleasure. On this story, man’s greatest need is the elimination of pain and suffering (that is, the opposite of pleasure) and this is found through progress and the ultimate savior, technology. But this “answer” to the problem of pain and suffering will not satisfy, because it doesn’t get to man’s deepest needs or God’s answer to the problem of pain and suffering. We have failed to ask the right preliminary questions, and we therefore arrive at an unsatisfactory answer.

Let me suggest, at the end of the day, God’s answer to the problem of pain and suffering. And interestingly, God’s answer isn’t philosophical; rather it’s intensely personal. And this is how it should be right? For the problem of pain and suffering isn’t just a theoretical problem. It is an existential problem. It is a personal problem that we all live with. We all suffer to some degree—the angst of living in a fallen world, broken relationships, sickness, disease, death, theft, rape, murder, violence and so on. The reality of pain and suffering is felt at the level of our lives, not as a mere abstraction.

I say, God’s answer to the problem of pain and suffering is a person—the person of Jesus Christ. Christ has stepped right into all the pain and suffering. He has opened himself up to it, and ultimately has taken it all upon himself on the cross. It is the cross then, that is the victory of God over pain and suffering, and the only place for men and women to find peace, hope, and comfort from its sting. And by the way, the only place to find true happiness (now as it is classically understood): human flourishing in light of our natures (in intimacy with God and harmony with each other). Man’s deepest need isn’t sensual pleasure (conversely, the elimination of pain and suffering). Rather, we are broken people, in need of a Savior. So, God’s answer to the problem of evil: Christ on a cross.

 

 

 

3 Responses to The Problem of Evil: A failure to ask preliminary questions

  1. Phil says:

    Good job Paul. I think this is the most prevalent reason that Faculty reject Christ>> the Problem of Pain.

    Most any of us faculty members recognize our ignorance outside our narrow fields, yet we EXPECT that we can totally comprehend and EXPLAIN the G^D of the UNIVERSE!
    Go Figure!

  2. Pingback: God’s Answer to Man’s Problem of Pain and Suffering | Paul Gould

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