Thursday, September 12, 2013

Stump the Priest: The Problem of Evil

Question: A major argument that I hear from atheists against the existence of God is that there cannot be an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God, because such a being would not permit the evil, pain and suffering that exist in our world. What is the Orthodox response to this "problem of evil"?

This argument is often used to argue against the existence of God, but in reality it is an argument against the goodness of God. If God was the kind of God the Deists envisioned, He would simply not concern Himself with the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is one that is often raised, and there are many good answers for it. For example, C. S. Lewis wrote the book "The Problem of Pain", which covers this question very thoroughly, and I think is well worth reading.

The usual argument points out that the only way that God could prevent evil from existing would be to deny his creatures freedom of choice.

Some also deny the premise of the question, by pointing out that there has only been one good man in human history, and He volunteered to suffer. Suffering is the result of the fall of man, and all creation has suffered as a result of that fall. Christ suffered for us to redeem us from the curse that came as a result of the fall.

In Scripture, the closest thing you find to a treatment of the problem of evil is the Book of Job. In that book, a righteous man suffers, and then struggles with the question of why. The reader is let in on the fact that God is allowing Satan to bring calamities upon Job as a test, but God's answer to Job is essentially to point out that Job is in no position to question God, or to understand his judgments. In the end, Job accepts God's answer and is once again greatly blessed by God, but God never gives Job the answer to the question of "Why?"

The fact is that we know that God is good, because He has revealed Himself to be such. We know that He is all-loving, because He became man and suffered for our sakes. Why bad things may happen to us is often unclear to us. Sometimes, we eventually come to know why. In many cases, however, we will never know, this side of eternity. But we do know that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28). God can even take the evil choices of men, and use them for good. As Righteous Joseph, who had been sold into slavery by his brothers, came to realize -- though his brothers had "meant evil" against him; "God meant it for good..." (Genesis 50:20).

David Bentley Hart discusses the problem of evil in this video:

This video summarizes C.S. Lewis's answer to this question:

Dr. Hart on the "New Atheists"

See also this article by Dr. Hart: "God and the Problem of Evil."