The problem of evil has plagued Christians for centuries. It has led Augustine to suggest the free-will defense, Hume to doubt God’s existence, thoughtful Christians to question their faith and a host of philosophical theologians to develop various permutations allowing God to coexist with evil.
When I talk with Christians about their struggles in faith, the question of evil invariably surfaces early on. When I talk with those who have come to faith as adults, very often I hear stories of how God or one of God’s angels in human form has been very present to them in times of suffering.
Woody Allen famously pointed out that the problem is not that God doesn’t exist, but that he is an underachiever. The philosophical tendency for at least the past three centuries has been to assume that the human estimation of God is more significant than the divine estimation of humanity.
Humans are meaning-seeking creatures. We want to make sense of life. After the massacre at Virginia Tech, we want to know why it happened and whether something could have been done to stop it. And many of us ask: where was God in all of this?
When my wife and I returned home from vacation with a painting of a wolf, noble and forlorn in its expression, I had no idea how strange this purchase would have seemed to our great-grandparents. As the preeminent symbol of disappearing wilderness, wolves inspire awe in my generation.
When disaster strikes, people turn to religion to help them answer two questions: Why did this happen? and What should we do about it? Call the first the meaning question and the second the action question.
Perhaps it was John Wesley who observed that a preacher has only a few things to say, only a few sermons to preach, and that the task of preaching is a matter of addressing in newly creative and energetic ways the few essential themes. After four decades of preaching, I’m ready to agree.
Evil should be mourned but not ascribed to any greater divine purpose
Jan 25, 2005
It is hard to speak theologically about the Indian Ocean tsunami without being banal or obscene. To say the event reminds us of our finitude or our inability to control nature is to mumble platitudes. To say God willed such devastation for some greater reason is to administer a theological slap to the tear-stained faces of all who mourn, especially the parents who mourn their drowned children.
I didn’t know Lewis Smedes very well, but I miss him. The Fuller Seminary professor and author who died late last year was the kind of generous and open evangelical who gives me hope for the unity of the church at a time when that hope is hard to come by. We met just once, under peculiar circumstances.