I’m currently reading for an entrance exam, in the usual fear and trembling that my efforts will not be enough, and yet God tells me not to fear but to trust Him. Before I get in the car, listen to Crime and Punishment on my way to the mall for a walk, followed by a trip to the library to continue reading (I’m off from work to prepare for the test) it hits me that my current situation is the problem of evil in Microcosm. That is my feelings and my understanding that God is in control appear to be in conflict. So it is with the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of suffering.
I will likely come back to the problem of evil at a later date, but I have given in my last few articles what I consider a rough outline of the issue. Specifically, I have noted that the problem of evil has an emotional and an intellectual component. The intellectual component is answered fairly easily by remembering a few basic elements – 1. According to Christian doctrine, God gave man freewill, and it is not free if man has no choices. 2. Just because God has not dealt with the problem of evil yet does not mean that he will not. 3. God may very well have allowed evil into the world to bring about a greater good 4. God is adept at using evil to create good in the lives of his children and 5. It is an unfounded premise to confuse “good” and “evil” with “not suffering” and “suffering,” Moral good requires justice and suffering for the unbeliever, while not desirable (even by God who “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked”) is by Christian understanding, just. This does not prove Christianity is true or atheistic arguments to be false, it simply demonstrates that Christianity is logically consistent and atheistic arguments then to be based on assumptions that do not match Christian thought – they are a strawman. Some of this I elucidated, some I did not.
Similarly I noted that Atheists have no basis to make an argument – if man has evolved then he has no innate value, if he has no innate value than he has no rights. While morality might be a means of preserving the race (as atheists contend) this gives them an argument that some system of morality is necessary for society, but no reason to regard society’s needs as greater than my own individual desire to survive or even to regard society’s needs as greater than my own happiness. Thus, to rape, pillage, murder, rob, steal, commit perjury or adultery are ultimately, within any atheistic framework, a matter of personal preference. Nietsche seems to have been consistent in realizing that atheism ends in ethical niehlism that he at times despairs of, and at times delights in. Existentialist and post modern philosophers have posited answers to this dilemma, but they cannot connect these to their worldview – they are simply writing in the tradition of Plato’s noble lie – man needs meaning (ultimately such as can only be found in a relationship with the living God of heaven, our Creator) but atheism provides no such basis for meaning, so existentialists and post modernists invent meaning subjectively to satisfy the longing in their souls.
All this answers, though, are the intellectual questions. I came to understand the intellectual problem of suffering in Seminary, but I came to understand the emotional side of that dilemma through life. I do not need to completely reiterate, but I was a pastor who through no fault of my own was ousted from a church, and then my wife and I proceeded to lose our first child to an ectopic pregnancy – and I questioned not whether God was real or whether the God of the Bible was real, but whether He was actually good – after all, I was on His side, wasn’t he supposed to bless me? I struggled with this question for over a year, forgetting my books, my understanding and lived a meaningless existence, as bare perhaps as the one the existentialists seek to shelter from. I was a fool, and yet, we all are at times. The answer to the emotional issue of suffering is more deeply rooted because it is innately selfish, it makes the same confusion between good and “not suffering” (or to Christians who should expect to suffer, “not suffering beyond my perceived breaking point”) that the atheist version of the argument makes.
Waking up from that nightmare, I realize a few things that theologians sometimes forget: knowledge must be applicable to life. The solution to the emotional side of the problem of suffering is to realize that without God our suffering is meaningless. If the emotional problem of evil is the personal form of the intellectual problem of evil, then the solution is to personalize the intellectual answers. If man is willfully evil, well as a Christian I am merely a sinner saved by grace, and one who cannot claim to walk perfectly before my God (the freewill theodicy) – I deserve worse, hard as it is for me to admit. 2. In Christ, we have tears today, but expectation for an eventual tomorrow. 3. God has allowed pain to bring about a greater good, my children who have not seen the light of this World have been spared its pains and see the Light of His face. 4. By faith, I realize that God can take this pain and do something good in my life with it – in fact, perhaps if this article helps someone with these struggles, He has done just that already. Indeed I am more aware of my dependency on Him after these encounters than beofre 5. Distinct from my fifth point on the intellectual discussion, justice was exercised on my behalf on the back of Jesus Christ, my Savior, the God who my sin offends and so greater than justice I have received Grace.
I cannot say this is an easy answer, but the irony of the Christian position is that the emotional suffering we receive now brings us greater joy later. If God is in control, my suffering becomes meaningful rather than pointless.