Archive for July 16th, 2008

The Problem of Evil

July 16, 2008

How do we reconcile the existence of evil with the belief in an all powerful, perfectly good God? The key lies in the freedom of the human will; and in the difference between temporal and eternal perspectives.

In the beginning there was only God, and only good. When additional autonomous, sentient beings came into existence there became the necessity of other options. If God is perfectly good then His plans and purposes, His will if you prefer, would be perfectly good. However, in order for sentient beings to be truly autonomous they would need to have an option to follow God’s plans and purposes, or to choose a different path. When sentient beings choose an action that is different from what God would choose then that action is evil. Evil in this context is anything other than the will of God. An action is evil to the degree to which it differs from what God would intend.

Actions have consequences. All over the world, religions recognize a law of sowing and reaping. Good produces good. Evil produces evil.

Evil actions have far reaching consequences. People are affected not only by their own actions, but also by the actions of all to whom they are connected. Indeed, even the physical world, the environment if you will, is subject to the affects of evil. Since humanity is intricately interwoven in our relationships with one another throughout time and place, evil actions cause a chain reaction of unpleasant results.

A person who habitually makes evil choices will consequently have a life that is filled with unpleasant consequences. In fact, those who are near to them will also be caught up in the swirl of cause and effect. Yet God is merciful and will allow them to also be impacted by the good that is in the world so that their entire existence is not merely wretchedness but rather an intermingling of good and evil, with a predominance of evil.

Likewise a person who habitually makes good choices will have a life that is marked by more pleasant events. They too, will have an impact on those around them, but their impact will be more favorable. They also are caught up in the consequences of the actions of those around them so that their lives are a blend of good and evil, with a predominance of good.

God is able to break into this chain of cause and effect. It is not completely determined by the actions of humanity. God can intervene. The problem is that He does not intervene as often as we might like.

Furthermore, our perspective of good and evil is affected by our attitudes. Since all of us have, at any given time, the good and bad consequences of actions of both ourselves and all those that are connected to us, it is important where we focus our attention. We can focus on the evil, or bad, and then the world is a dark and despairing place. Or we can focus on the good, in which case our experience of the world seems brighter and more hopeful.

There is also the question of eternity. If the evil that is in this world only lasts while we are in this world, then it is not so bad from the eternal perspective. For the person who is seeking to serve God , their lives will be marked by the impact of God, and of the good, with a blending of the evil that is present around them. Eventually, they will leave this dichotomous world behind and enter into a place where only good exists. After all, they have been drawn to the Good.

For the person who rejects the goodness of God, their lives are marked by a parade of wrong choices and the evil that accompanies them. They will enjoy some of the good that this world has to offer but it will be bittersweet. Eventually they too will proceed to another life. For them it will be one in which there is no good. After all, they have rejected the Good, what else can they expect?