Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Intro)

We live in a complex world, and sometimes the answers in theology, as in science, are complex.

Over 800 churches in the Chicago area have been carrying on a discussion under the heading, Explore God. The discussion is prompted by a series of seven questions. A couple of weeks ago, the question was this: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?

This is “the” hard question. It’s a question with which most believers struggle to reconcile with the idea of a loving and all-powerful God. It is the stated reason why men such as Darwin and Einstein were not believers in the God of the Bible.  It’s a question we should take seriously, though the answers may not be easy or simple to understand.

As with the natural world, answers to very difficult questions like the problem of evil may be complex. We live in a complex world in which the theory of relatively seems to be contradicted by quantum theory. Sometimes answers aren’t readily seen and require careful study and reflection to determine. Sometimes we have to dig, and engage our minds and work through the details.

How long have we been studying the stars and galaxies and the tiniest particles of the world? And we haven’t yet begun to fathom all the mysteries. Little by little we make progress. Since the days of Job (from the oldest book in the Bible), the problem of evil has been a mystery to be fathomed. As with science, we have made a great deal of progress, but to begin with, we need a good understanding of the problem.

In a nutshell, it is this: If God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all good, there should be no evil in the world.

I have written about and around this issue for years. There are answers. There are explanations and ways of understanding why a good, all-powerful God puts up with evil in the world. For some, the answers may be intellectually viable, but they fall short emotionally. I would not pretend that the issue is an easy one to grapple with.

As in science, though, we have to start with a premise. For this issue, we start with the premise that God exists, that God is good, and God is all-powerful. How do these things fit together in harmony (if they can be fit together in harmony)?

Just as there are tensions in science between things like the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, we have to hold on the premise that we are trying to test, as hard as it is to reconcile. Only then can we begin to find possible solutions to the dilemma.

Scientists accuse people of faith of being lazy intellectually. If we respond to the mysteries of science with the statement, “I don’t know; God did it”, we do science a disservice. The same is true of theology. We shouldn’t be lazy in our understanding of God and the reality in which we live.

I am indebted to the discussion of The Problem of Evil and Suffering on Veracity Hill between Kurt Jaros, the host, and John Peckham from Andrews University. I apologize for the length of this piece. I have only focused on the things that seemed most significant to me and which have advanced my thinking on the subject. Still, the summary isn’t short.

Therefore, I am breaking it up into parts. This is only the introduction

We will tackle the logical issues first. to expand on the basic problem expressed above, it goes something like this: How can an all-powerful God who is good allow pain and suffering? Either God isn’t all-powerful, or He isn’t good, so the logical conundrum goes.

Before jumping way ahead to some deep level discussion on this point, we need to concede that goodness is defined by God if God exists. Some may argue that goodness is an absolute truth by which even God can be judged, but then the Being we are calling God and judging isn’t God.

Dr. William Lane Craig and others describe God as the maximal being. God is the being that is maximal in every way: maximally good, maximally powerful, maximally knowing, etc. If we are speculating about a god who is judged by a standard of good that is greater than god, we aren’t talking about a maximal being. We aren’t talking about the God revealed in the Bible.

If God exists, He is maximal, and He has purpose. Goodness doesn’t apply in the abstract. Without the context that purpose provides, we can’t determine what is good (as in what is best).

For instance, I might be ordered by my boss to deposit the money in the bank to cover the employee’s next paychecks. On the way to the bank, I might encounter a homeless person asking for money. If I gave the money meant for the employee’s paychecks to the homeless person, it would be wrong.

Giving money to the homeless isn’t wrong in itself. In fact, it is very good. But the money was meant for a different purpose, and not using it for that purpose would cause multiplied hardship for all the people who were counting on their paychecks. In that context, giving the money to a homeless person would be wrong. This is what I mean by context.

Likewise, we need to try to understand God’s purpose before we can address the problem of evil in the world. We need to understand the context in which evil exists in the world. We could do this for each world religion that provides a description of who God is, but I am using the Christian version, the Bible.

The Bible lays the groundwork for who God is, not only that He is all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, but He is love. (1 John 4:16) Love requires relationship. It requires reciprocity. This explains why God is one, yet three in person. God embodies love in God’s nature. (See The Plurality of God)

We also see that God created mankind (male and female) in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27) God created us to participate in and reflect back His love.

These are the basic components of the problem and of a possible solution to the problem. The more I test and consider these things, the more it makes sense to me. In the next piece, Another Look at God in Light of the Evil In the World (Part 1), I will get into some nuances that I haven’t seen before that round out that possible solution to what may well be “the” hardest problem for the believer in God.

14 thoughts on “Another Look at God in Light of the Evil in the World (Intro)

  1. Part of the problem is an unspoken expectation of why we believe we are here… to seek and experience pleasure. We imagine God’s behavior should be consistent with that expectation (i.e. God shouldn’t allow evil in the world). What if our purpose was to “grow in love’? Just like going to a gym and experiencing pain in order to get physically stronger, you have to be tested and experience pain (e.g. evil in the world) in order to grow in love.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I agree. That gets to the idea that God has a purpose. It’s HIS purpose. He made us to love, to love Him and reflect His love. Pain “helps” us in that process. If we didn’t have pain, we might not ever get past our selfishness, perhaps. I am thinking it loud here. But I think you are right. There is purpose, generally, in pain. The problem is finding purpose sometimes in particular pain and suffering. I think the other thing, which may go a ways to answering the more pointed question (why did my mother have to suffer so long and so much with cancer) is that we tend to find so much of our value iin this temporal life when truly it is nothing compared to eternity, and the value of this life is minimal compared to eternal life.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Response to purpose in long-suffering (e.g. cancer)…

        Purpose of sufferer – To paraphrase Matt 5:3-12/Luke 6 20-23 (Beatitudes) + Luke 6:24-26 (woes)… those who get the snot kicked out of them in this life will be rewarded. The first shall be last and shall be first… a message of hope to sufferers. Consider the 3 times Jesus tells rich people to give away all of their possessions and come follow him.

        Purpose of non-sufferer – an opportunity to grow in love (i.e. be more Christ-like) by taking care of sufferers.

        Consider the HUGE opportunity to grow in love by “loving your enemies”… people not so easy to love.

        Consider the following “thought” experiment…Imagine that before we were born, God is talking with us in heaven and has the following conversation… “Each of you will soon be born into the world with a ‘lesson’ opportunity to grow in love… in becoming more like Me.I will let YOU choose your own lesson plan… the events in your life in creating this “grow-in-love” opportunity… the more difficult the lesson you choose (i.e. suffering), the greater your reward when you return”.

        Now I’m not claiming this “thought” experiment actually occurred (no evidence in the Bible), but if it did, this would explain much of the suffering we experience in this life… the idea that we ourselves might have actually CHOSEN this suffering we experience… with the promise of later rewards… and maybe Matt 5 is Jesus’ reminder of this lesson “deal” that each of us made before we were born.

        Blessings to you Kevin… my good brother in Christ. Your writings offer much to the world.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Wow, indeed! That would make an interesting plot of a novel/movie. That thought gives “chosen before the foundation of the world” a new twist. Thanks for the kind words, and the insight.


  2. I think what you say about relationship really strikes me as essential to this argument about why there is evil in the world if God is good. I believe there is an underlying and fallacious assumption behind the argument that if God is good then all things must be good. It ignores the concept of agency, which is essential to relationship as you mention in your post.

    God is good and he can only do good but it is completely within his ability to create beings that have their own choice as to whether or not they want to do good or evil. Now I think there is a nuance here that I want to flesh out. If God is good and can only do good then how can he create anything that wants to do evil? Here we need to accept that we don’t actually understand what good means in a divine context. That is that free will is good even if the consequences of free will can result in evil.

    I admit this seems paradoxical and that perhaps God’s apologists are justifying themselves by saying that free will is a “greater good” than any resultant evil from exercising free will therefore it is “good,” but in a more diluted sense than our traditional notion of the concept. I would take the hard stance that free will is in and of itself good no matter what the consequences of the exercise of free will are. This is a mystery I concede but part of our faith is allowing for these mysteries and bending to them instead of making them try and bend to us. Let’s not try to pull heaven down to earth but bring earth up to heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! Great insights. We don’t have the advantage of God’s perspective, and we don’t see the big picture, so it becomes hard for us to grasp these things fully. Thus, we do need faith, which is trust in the goodness of God. I don’t think free will is the driver so much as love, which requires free will. I have follow up articles teed up. I just need time to complete them and get them posted. I would love to continue the discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I agree love is the driver which requires free will and I had not thought about that before. Perhaps where there is truly love there must be free will (i.e. choice?). Can you truly love someone if you don’t give them the option to love your in return or not?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I can appreciate your search for God. However, you are making some seriously flawed assumptions that make your answers harder to come by. I don’t need a model to come by these answers. What model are you using that leads you to believe that Love makes Free Will necessary? I see no connection between the two. I don’t need faith to know that God is possible. Faith does not suffice as evidence for me. Faith is only needed if you are trying to convince yourself that something is true. If we didn’t have pain & suffering how could we know if they existed? Then how could we determine what was good or bad? From good or bad I assume you can work your way to Love or Evil. I applaud your effort. I want you to succeed. But don’t make it harder on yourself than it needs to be. God is not hiding.


Comments are welcomed

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.