The following is the outline used in a 20 minute radio interview on the subject of evil and suffering. The interview was given on July 16, 2010 on Radio Luz: XHTE in Tehuacan, Puebla in Mexico. The program is a favorite of the listeners called, “Un Cafecito Con Jose Angel”. The questions were asked in Spanish through an interpreter, Michel Lagunes, and I replied in English through the same interpreter.
I was in Tehuacan as part of our bi-annual term teaching more than 100 Christian leaders the subject of Apologetics. Jose Angel, one of the station owners, was part of the class and invited me for the interview.
Question: What is Evil?
- Evil is the absence of the good, which comes from God; the exception to the normal that God created. Evil entered the Cosmos through the fall of Lucifer (Ezekiel 28:15)
- Sin is a choice to step away from truth righteousness and goodness; it is choosing something partial, twisted, negative or improper. Sin entered the human race through Adam (Romans 5:12)
- Suffering is a direct or indirect result of evil entering the Cosmos and gaining a foothold. In Genesis 3, the curses followed the disobedience.
If God is good, why does he allow evil and suffering in the world?
God’s reasons are above and beyond our understanding (Isaiah 40:13). We do know certain things about God:
- He is good (Deuteronomy 13:4)
- He is wise (Job 12:13)
- He is all-powerful (Isaiah 44:6)
Maybe the best way to capture the essence of at least part of God’s reasons for allowing evil and suffering into the Cosmos is because he desired that people have real choice. Only with real choice can we truly choose him. Maybe we can over-simplify this and juts say that God, who loves us, wants us to really love him in return.
That choice to love God cannot happen if he pre-programmed us to love him. Only when we may choose to love or not love; obey or not obey, is there the possibility of love and obedience freely given. Sadly, some of his angels chose not to love him and evil entered the Cosmos. Then the human race chose its own way in the Garden, bringing the infection of sin into the human race.
The good news is that we may still freely choose him by faith. Hebrews 2:10 refers to Jesus Christ bringing many sons into God’s presence. We become God’s children through this choice we call faith.
How can the problem of evil and suffering be dealt with?
- God has decisively dealt with sin and evil. He did this through his son Jesus on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). This means:
- He personally knows the horrors of evil as well as the mental stress and agony of suffering (Philippians 2:8).
- He has dealt a decisive blow to evil, sin and suffering (Colossians 1:20).
- Someday God will put an end to suffering (Revelation 21:3-4).
- In the meantime God is so wise and powerful that he can use all things (including the evil and suffering he didn’t cause) to work for the ultimate good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
From time to time, various magazines and television channels tackle the perennial question, “Who is God?”. Much space is devoted to personal views of a cross-section of people concerning who, or what, God might be. Well-known personalities are interviewed as well as other lesser-known people from around the world, including professed Christians of different varieties, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, agnostics and free thinkers.
As a student of world religion and Christian leader I find such inquiries to be intensely fascinating because they give us the pulse of what people are thinking in our wider world. For example, a Hindu beggar from Benares, India, reverences a variety of deities and wonders why he has been stricken with leprosy. He suggests that it may be because he is being punished by Brahma for bad karma in previous lives.
A California woman was raised in an Orthodox synagogue but says she can’t connect with God or with being Jewish anymore. The idea of God as she has understood it simply doesn’t connect in her life experience. A British biologist views God as the “ultimate reality” and believes that the destiny of individuals is to be absorbed into this supreme truth.
A Columbian hit man describes life as a dark experience in which God makes each person pay for the evil they commit. Yet he goes on to say , “God pardons everyone who seeks him, so pretty much you can do what you want.”
A Presbyterian minister defends his gay lifestyle by saying, “God loves you just the way you are”. He blames strong feelings against homosexuals on traditional religion.
A Palestinian sheikh views Allah as a vengeful God, and boasts of his willingness to die in holy war.
These views of God are indeed fascinating. Yet even so, they ought to prod our thinking a bit. Given the fact that people have an almost endless variety of opinions about what God is, it certainly does not follow that every opinion is equally valid. We Americans cherish our religious freedom. However, simply because people are free under the law to practice religion as conscience may dictate, this does not mean that all religions are equally true, or even equally beneficial.
This brings up the question, “How can we sort through the menu of religious ideas and recognize the truth when we stumble across it?” The Bible’s answer to this is simply that the whole question of religious opinion is irrelevant. It is not what we think about God that really matters, but what God has revealed about Himself to us that counts.
To this many people say, “Wait!” Who says the Bible’s portrayal of God is any better than the views of an Indian peasant or a Hollywood producer?” This is an excellent question. If what the Bible says about God is simply just another human opinion, then Christianity (and the ancient religion of Israel for that matter) crumbles like a house with no foundation.
So let’s narrow the field a bit. The Bible does not belong alongside the religious opinions of ordinary people simply because the Bible claims to be divinely inspired. It claims to be God’s word as revealed through the prophets and apostles. There is a quantum difference between what your neighbor thinks about God, and an ancient and widely revered document that claims divine inspiration.
What about the other books which share this claim? Many Christians answer this by pointing to the need to simply have faith in the Bible. While it is true that faith is necessary, it would be wrong to assume that there is no evidence for the Bible’s final authority. Consider these bits of evidence for the Bible’s unique inspiration: the amazing unity of its message, though written over a span of roughly 1500 years through more than 40 human authors; its triumph time and again over those who actively sought its destruction; the dozens of literally fulfilled prophecies; the impact it has had on millions of lives.
Also consider the historical fact of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. I understand that many people consider this to be a matter for faith as well. This is true, but not without some evidence. A major piece of this evidence is the ease with which those who wished to stop the rumor could have disproved it by opening the grave and displaying the body. They didn’t. Why would hundreds die willingly, knowing that the resurrection which they claimed to witness was a lie? Indeed, the Resurrection is the foundational fact on which the Christian gospel was and still is based.
So there is compelling evidence for the authority of the Bible in what it says about God. It proclaims Him to be the Eternal One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It shows Him to be holy, yet also merciful in sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins. It invites us to know Him through Christ and become His children. This, and much more God has revealed. Why settle for mere opinions?