Monday, January 19, 2009

Apologetic Approach to Evil.

The problem of evil has been accurately assessed as the most serious intellectual obstacle that stands between many people and religious faith. This issue is grounded on the fact that a number of related and essential beliefs about God appear to be incompatible with the evil we encounter in the world. Christians believe that God is completely good (omnibenevolent), all-knowing (omniscient) and all-powerful (omnipotent). The problem is that these claims about God do not seem to be consistent with the amount of evil in the world. If God is good and loves human beings, if he is all-knowing, and all-powerful, it seems reasonable to believe that he is able to deliver his creatures from evil and suffering. Ronald Nash unpacks the basic idea of the problem of evil when he writes,

“Given these claims, it seems to follow that God wants to eliminate evil, that God knows how to eliminate evil, and that God has the power to eliminate evil. But evil exists. In fact, great amounts of evil exist. Indeed, great amounts of apparently senseless and purposeless evil seem to exist […] In short, the existence of evil seems inconsistent with our belief in God’s goodness or omniscience or power. Troubled by their reflection on these difficulties, many have found it easy to take the additional step and conclude that the existence of evil in the world makes it unlikely that God exists.”

This is evidenced in a statement made in a debate on God by Sinnott-Armstrong, “There is lots of evil in the world. There would not be so much evil if there were an all-good and all-powerful God. Therefore, there is no such God.”

Responding to the problem of evil apologetically is a difficult journey to embark, however, it must be done. This argumentation seems to leave Christian thinkers in a horrible predicament. On the one hand, they cannot deny any of the factors that make up the problem of evil, much of it apparently gratuitous or meaningless. However, as theists, believers must affirm their belief that this world with all the evil was actually created by a good, loving, omnipotent and omniscient God. Christian apologists’ goal is to show how the Christian worldview is consistent with the problem of evil. However, one needs to be aware of the two sides of this argument.

Apologetically, the problem of evil can be a very sensitive subject to address. The reason for this is the two sides to this argument, the intellectual side and the emotional side. Intellectually, one wants to face in rational terms the question of whether the reality of evil is incompatible with the God of theism. However, the emotional side of the problem of evil is personal and can be detrimental to apologetic efforts. When one is going through an emotional time of suffering the intellectual approach of discussing conceptual ideas will usually be of little help. A time like this usually calls for emotional, spiritual, and psychological support. Apologists should be discerning when entering into an apologetic discussion.

Intellectually, Christian apologetics need to be honest and agree that the problem of evil is undoubtedly the greatest obstacle to belief in God. William Craig makes this point in a debate, “When I consider the depth and extent of suffering in the world, then I have to admit that it makes it hard to believe in God.” Understanding that, one needs to seek to give a rational account of the co-existence of God and suffering from a Christian worldview.

One might notice that while describing the problem of evil the word “gratuitous” was used frequently. Everybody admits that the world is filled with suffering. However, although we are often unable to see any reason for why harm befalls us, it does not imply that these apparently gratuitous evils are indeed gratuitous. Craig gives an example of this when he writes,

“Everyone of us can think back on experiences of suffering or hardship in our lives, which at the time seemed pointless and unnecessary but, when viewed in retrospect, are seen to have been ultimately to our or others’ advantage, even if we would not want to go through them again.”

As a Christian apologist, one must show how although there is evident suffering, that evil is not gratuitous and actually fits in to his or her worldview.

For example, Romans 8:28 reads, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose” (NKJV). This verse is often misunderstood to mean, “All things work together for good, period.” Due to this error, millions of people think the promise in this verse applies to them. However, a proper interpretation of this passage would pertain to a large audience who loves God and are called according to his own purpose. Another misconception concerning this verse is that everything works for good during the earthly existence. On the contrary, all things work together for good when viewed from the perspective of eternity. When one is sharing this he or she needs to explain these common misconceptions and how the existence of evil does not mean that God does not exist, in fact that all things actually will work together for those who love the Lord and are called by him.

Knowing that the problem of evil has not been solved by this short text, it is imperative that one remembers the words of Peter. “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” (I Pet. 3:15-16a, ESV). The issue of evil is philosophically difficult, however, one must not run from it but engage individuals with gentleness sharing the hope they have in Christ despite the suffering (Romans 8:18).

1 comment:

Nick said...

I actually just wrote a short essay about the problem of evil. We are reading Milton's Paradise Lost and I had to explain what Milton meant when he said his purpose of writing the epic poem was to "justify the ways of God to men". In other words, explain why a just and loving God allowed Adam and Eve to fall. Glad you are thinking through the same things I am.