To start with, I first want to differentiate between pain and evil. Pain isn’t always negative: think about a trainer working out with you in the gym, think discipline. What I believe is truly at the root of the problem of pain is the problem with evil. Why would God let someone like Adolf Hitler live? Why wouldn’t he stop someone like Stalin, or even more recently, why would he let Bin Laden kill thousands and thousands of innocent people? Or what about natural disasters? Like the tsunamis that have killed thousands in recent years, or hurricanes, or even the horrific F-5 tornado that devastated Joplin, MO? This is a tough question.
Let me be really clear about a few things quickly.
1) This will not be a dissertation of this issue. Little ink has been spared as brilliant minds have wrestled over this.
2) This question isn’t just for Christians. No matter who you are or what you believe, you’ve wrestled with this.
3) I will quickly answer from three perspectives. First existential, or from the human experience. Second theoretical, stepping away from personal experience to a broader, 10,000 foot view. Third Theological, or what does the Bible say about it?
So, here we go.
First: Existential (how it relates to the human experience.)
Let’s face it, the world is broken. The process seems unfair, and bad guys still win. I hate it too! Did you know that even thousands of years ago people are recorded crying out to God over this? You’re not alone. Habakkuk cried out to God, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” Existentially speaking, evil is real and it truly affects us! It destroys lives physically and emotionally. Justin Hayward sang about it too: “Why do we never get an answer, when we’re knocking at the door? With a thousand million questions about hate and death and war?” This problem doesn’t just resound in the halls of higher education institutions, it also bellows from the millions of illiterate starving children in third world countries. It affects us all! Ravi Zacharias says it well “Evil is a mystery not a problem. Getting to Mars is a problem. Falling in love is a mystery.” He is right. This isn’t just something to be solved, we want to know WHY!
Before we go on.
If you are not a believer, please know, as a Christian my goal isn’t at all to get you to vote a certain way or line up with me in a complicated, politically correct wasteland! If that is all you know from your experience with Christians, I am sorry. As a Christian who loves and studies philosophy my goal is to tenaciously uproot truth and offer as the Bible says “good news” to a very broken world! So please, before you read on, lay governmental agenda or any other presupposition aside and listen to a heart in pursuit of answers.
Second: Theoretical (What options are there?)
What if… I know this is going to sound emotionless now, but what if man wasn’t allowed to mess things up? What if somehow, we were unable to make “bad” decisions that have negative repercussions both on our world and on us? Let’s say you had no free will to choose what is wrong and all you could do is robotically do what is right. What if you had no emotions to feel hurt or pain? Anybody catching on yet? Every statement made assumes there is such a thing as wrong. For there to be wrong, there has to be some basis for right. What if what is best for the health of our planet is for humanity to not exist on it? What if us slowly being removed makes a healthier earth? I mean we have done a fairly bad job taking care of life so far. Many atheist scholars have tried to create a moral absolute basis to no avail, because what is right is relative if our opinions are it’s only guide, if there is no absolute Being. There are even scholars that believe a life absent of struggles brings a life absent of purpose and would be miserable. So what do we do?!
Third: Theological (An answer)
Imagine you walk into a room with a computer on. The screen saver has scrolling across it your name followed by the words “I love you.” Would your pulse race? Hands begin to perspire? Would you ask that machine that flawlessly declares it’s love to you to marry you? Of course not! Why? Because love that isn’t chosen but rather programmed isn’t love. The power in love is it’s freedom! If you can chose to love, you by requirement have to have it’s antonym. I believe the Bible has the ONLY good answer I can find for this chaos. In the beginning God did create it perfect. In PERFECTION God gave man the FREEDOM to choose what they will. There was that pesky tree. The tree that stood in the middle of utopia. Man had the option to stay or go. God refused to imprison man. He gave him freedom. The Bible says we live as a result of our own choices. I don’t have nearly the time or space to write on it now, but please read Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller, and Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zachrias to extrapolate on some of these ideas. If you also so choose to believe in the Bible, the best is yet to come! All will be made right, and out of all the powerful teachings in the Bible we find an amazing promise in an obscure passage.
“17 “For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
and her people to be a gladness.”
Not just is the best yet to come, the broken parts of this world will not be remembered. That’s right, try to remember being a two-year-old scared of the dark. As a parent of a two-year-old I can tell you she is terrified of the dark, but I know those things will “not be remembered”. They will not control her forever. As an adult I know she will be free from this. What if Heaven will be so amazing after 10,000 years of bliss the “former things shall not be remembered?” If you choose to trust the Bible, you have hope in a future free of pain!
This leaves one more thing.
“3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I believe life on this planet is in preparation for the next. I know this is really hard to accept at times, but what if God is developing our character for something much richer and deeper than even the best of this world? I believe we are currently in the proverbial gym, a “spiritual boot camp,” whipping our spirits into shape, learning about justice, mercy, love, and compassion. We are learning and being made into something that will carry on well beyond our earth-centric perspective. I love the way C.S. Lewis says it in “The Last Battle:”
“And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
I know this doesn’t pacify us today. Like my daughter hating that she deals with fear of the dark, the reality is she is being developed into something better and stronger by wrestling through this today.
1) We usually respond emotionally with what we experience empirically, not what we theoretically know. The truth is it is hard, very hard, to react to hardship in balance with what we believe.
2) It’s also ok to hate the result of sin being present. It’s ok to hurt when we are hurt and mourn with others. Even Jesus wept though he knew he was just about to raise Lazarus from the dead.
3)Survival is so intertwined with hope. What you believe matters so much! Do you believe in something that gives answers and hope? I wish I could remove all the baggage that we have added to the Christian message. The truth is the Bible does give hope! “For the wages of sin is death (we can see the result of our sin all around us!) but the gift of God is eternal life (Here is the hope!) through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23
Do you have hope?