Evil (an essay)

Posted on August 26, 2009

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The following is an essay that I wrote for my Apologetics class on “The Problem of Evil.” I decided that I should be able to get two uses out of this writing and post it as an entry here on my blog. Rather than writing this paper from a scholarly viewpoint, I wanted to write it so that all people could understand my viewpoint on evil. Obviously, as an undergrad I am able to write from such a point of view. So here goes:

“The Problem of Evil”

At seven years of age something significant happened in my life; I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Being subject to the pain of constant needles being prodded into my skin and being trapped in a hospital for seven days was what really helped to bring about some spiritual wonder within my soul. I grew up being told constantly that God loves me and my favorite church song was “Jesus Loves Me.” However, I struggled to reconcile how the God who allowed me to get such an illness could at the same time love me. Little did I know at the time but, I had questions regarding the problem of evil. The problem of evil can puzzle the minds of even the brightest theologian. It would be no surprise that those outside the Christian faith have their concerns or questions regarding evil. If any apologetic issue needs to be taught about it is the problem of evil which is why I chose this as the topic for my first apologetics paper. As a matter of fact, the problem of evil is simply asking the question “If God is all-powerful and good, as the Bible affirms, why does He allow evil?” (Butler 2003). The goal of this assignment is not only to achieve academic fulfillment but to also receive a better understanding of the problem of evil.

Before an individual can completely understand the problem of evil; it could be beneficial to establish a definition of what evil is. My father always states on a regular basis that “evil is anything that separates you from God” and to a large extent he is right. The Holman Bible Dictionary states that evil is “That which is opposed to God and His purposes or that which, defined from human perspectives, is harmful and non-productive.” (Butler 2003).

Where did evil come from? It all started in a garden. God had created two people and set them up to live life in the most perfect of places. However, God had one request: “You may freely eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:15, New Living Translation). Mankind in their rebellion refused to heed to this command given to them by their creator. As a consequence of their rebellion we have an example of the first evil action to ever happen.

To properly understand evil, one must know that there are two types of evil: natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil was unleashed after the rebellion that took place in the garden by Adam and Eve. Natural evil involves things such as illnesses or natural disasters. Sometimes natural evil can actually be a consequence of moral evil. Moral evil part of what we do every day. Everything from those little “white lies” that we tell to the act of murder are all categorized as moral evil. Abstaining from moral evil should be an ideal goal for any follower of Christ. Thankfully do have freedom in Christ but it is helpful to know how to not abuse that freedom. “God says that true freedom comes from obedience and knowing what not to do. The restrictions he gives us are for our good, helping us avoid evil.” (Life Application 2000). A simple way of looking at freedom would be to assume that we have the freedom to dive off of a cliff but we know that it is not a good idea. We would not have to follow through and take the jump in order to know that jumping would not be the best idea for our life.

Suffering happens regardless of our own moral evil. There is a simple reality that unfortunately, natural disasters do occur. They are natural evil. Recently, Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast and left Americans at a standstill. So much death and suffering occurred which was not as a result of anyone’s moral evil. Yet, we know that even though suffering occurs for seemingly no reason there is still hope. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28, New Living Translation). God uses everything for his purposes. A testament to this is the life of Moses. There was a crooked politician who had even committed murder but yet God spoke through him in order to deliver the Ten Commandments to the people. Just as God uses all things He does not expect us to ignore suffering or adversity. When confronted with the death of Lazarus the Bible tells us that “Jesus wept” and that He was “deeply troubled” (John 11:35, 38, New Living Translation).

Many times we as humans may look at our neighbor and wonder how even though they are living a sinful life they have such a seemingly wonderful life. This type of understanding is not good for a Christian to have. There is simply a fact that our timetable and God’s timetable are not the same. We may not see a person treated justly by God in the amount of time that we feel is best but ultimately justice will be served. “God promises to deal with sin, but in his time, not ours.” (Life Application 2000). Though at sometimes we get a bad attitude and wish that someone would simply get what they deserve; we must take a step back and look at our own lives. Each of us sins every single day of the week. What would happen if we got what we deserved instantaneously? Without time for repentance and receiving God’s grace we would all be greatly doomed. After all, the universal knowledge of man’s evil nature is wide spread to even those outside of the Christian faith. Albert Einstein affirmed this when he stated “Evil is the real problem in the hearts and minds of men. It is not a problem of physics but of ethics. It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man” (Draper n.d.). Evil is built in to our nature as human beings. It has existed since the fall and will continue to exist within mankind here on this earth.

Just as people may have questions about the presence of good within the lives of those who are visibly full of sin. There is the inverse version of the question that wonders why God would allow bad things to happen to good people. First off, there takes a great understanding in realizing that no one can technically be labeled as good. The Bible declares that “all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23, New Living Translation). There are no good people; only people who have chosen God’s grace or have not chosen God’s grace. With the previous statement in mind, it might be a better question to ask why God allows bad things to happen to those who follow Him. Right now, we as Christians are subject to evil. There has always been a potential for evil to exist because mankind was created with free will. “We choose to love or hate, to do good or evil. […] without choice, love is meaningless.” (Hanegraaff 2004). It is a powerful concept to realize that love is in fact a choice. God chose to love us just as many of us choose to love God or we choose to not love God. Along those lines, we choose to sin. Many times, the bad things that we encounter in life might just be natural evil as a result of our moral evil. In example, many people end up with terrible sexually transmitted diseases which are alone, a natural evil yet it is a consequence of sexual immorality which is moral evil. Clearly suffering plays a part within the problem of evil. “Suffering is easiest to understand when it comes as the direct result of a moral choice to sin. When David sinned by committing both adultery and murder, the judgment that befell him did not cause him theological anguish. He knew that God is both just and loving.” (Phillips and Brown 1996). It is all in what you know about God. A proper understanding of the nature of God would leave one to know that God truly is loving but yet it is within his nature to be just. Part of the problem existing within someone who questions why bad things happen to them is the simple fact that they lack a proper perception of evil. N.T. Wright suggests that people “ignore evil when it doesn’t hit [them] in the face.” (Wright 2006). This all leads to believe that many people are in fact surprised by evil.

In order to not be surprised by evil it can be necessary to understand the fact that evil is all around us; unleashed upon this earth in which we reside. In watching the local news, one can know that they are exposed to a world of murder, adultery, corruption and injustice. It is no surprise that inaction happens among the faith communities across the world. Many people would rather remain comfortable by turning a blind eye to those in need. This is a sin in itself. The writer James clarified this by stating: “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us.” (James 1:27, New Living Translation). Not only do we need to avoid the evil around us but we must be people of action in caring for those who need our help.

The problem of evil is a very delicate apologetic issue. Knowing how to address specifics regarding it are key in being able to properly defend one’s theistic Christian faith to those outside the belief system. Knowing the right questions and the answers to those questions are of utmost importance. When those who have questions do not receive proper answers to those questions then our faith defense comes up empty. When everything boils down the problem of evil is simply a misunderstanding that God has two natures; a good nature and a bad nature. Obviously, this is not true. God’s nature is purely good. It is only through this understanding can we know that God loves us and everything he does for us and everything he asks of us is simply out of his radical love for us. After all, it is a choice to follow God and by that choice we are saying that we will honor God and accept that though we may experience bad times; God is with us and always will be. We have a final hope into the future where evil will be pushed aside. The Bible reminds us: “They will never again be hungry or thirsty, and they will be fully protected from the scorching noontime heat. For the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away all their tears.” (Revelations 7:16-17, New Living Translation). For right now, the best thing that someone can do is “turn to the plan of God and see that He will turn around even an ugly situation and use it for good and you will let Him.” (Warren 2006). Keeping our eyes focused on God and looking forward to a world without evil is the greatest hope that we can have.

Works Cited

Butler, Trent C, ed. Holman Bible Dictionary. B & H Publishing Group, 2003.

Draper, Edythe. Draper’s book of Quotations for the Christian World. Wheaton: Edythe Draper.

Hanegraaff, Hank. The Bible Answer Book. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Book Group, 2004.

Life Application. The Handbook of Bible Application. Wheaton: Tyndale House  Publishers, 2000.

Phillips, W. Gary, and William E Brown. Making Sense of Your World. Salem: Sheffield   Publishing Company, 1996.

The Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Tyndale Charitable Trust, 1996.

Warren, Rick. God’s Answers to Life’s Difficult Questions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Wright, N.T. Evil and the Justice of God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

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