Thursday, March 10, 2011

#4: The presence of evil: How can there be a God when there is evil?

A friend of mine posted from a news source today about how the Catholic church had not only an awareness of abuse that was going on in its own ranks but seemed to shuffle its priests around in an effort to conceal it from the public.  The report highlights the activities of a priest that was hard to read at times in its depiction of (what I believe) is pure evil.  

You know, there are a thousand different things I could write in this space to illustrate the level of evil that exists in the world - right now warplanes are firing rockets on its own citizens because a single dictator is out of touch with reality . . . 

But it is the ordinary evil that is the most terrifying to me.

When I say 'ordinary evil,' I mean the priest that leads the eight year old altar boy into a back room while they wait for the child's parents to pick him up from church.  I think of the visit I paid to a fraternity in my days at PSU watching a frat boy put his hands up someone's dress while she was heavily drunk.  Evil is not so much on the scale of the Nazi regime . . . evil is evident in the emotional torture an abusive husband puts his wife through.  This evil is present in the life of a teenage girl who I sat across from at the diner telling me that her father calls her a pig and a whore.  Evil is getting young 16-18 year old girls addicted to crack so that they perform sexual acts for profit on street corners, on DVDs and magazines.  You will pass those victims today at the mini-mart magazine stand . . . some of you will see them on your computer screen tonight.  

So we don't have to sift through headlines to see that we swim in evil everyday.  Evil takes what it wants.  Evil uses people as props.  Evil obeys its own appetite.  Evil has no concern for the other person or the greater good.  Evil is everywhere.

So if evil is everywhere . . . where is God?  How does He let that happen?  How CAN he let that happen?

For those of you who think, you must have wrestled with this question at some point - "how can there be a God in heaven if there is so much evil on earth?"  Isn't the presence of evil evidence that either:

1. God is powerless against evil (in which case the God designation is questionable).
2. God is indifferent (in which case WHO WANTS TO FOLLOW THIS DEITY?)

Both are unacceptable answers to the question . . . that is why I think there is a third way - no silver bullet of faith, but at least a step in the direction of getting an answer.

First, the only encouraging thing to me in the whole mess is that we agree that evil is evil.  If you really think about it, the sense of justice we have is a candle of hope.  If we are just animals with a larger brain case, when would the idea of 'right' have entered the picture?  Right should just be that which leads to survival - regardless of how it affects others.  We should be okay with animalistic instincts like eating our young or incest . . . how animals conduct affairs should be okay with us if there is nothing outside of our instinct.  

But somehow, there is an idea of right and wrong that very few of us reflect consistently. Where did that come from?

And this has nothing to do with social contracts, Rousseau was wrong.  We don't create good and bad to benefit ourselves.  Like C.S. Lewis said - right and wrong are not the keys on the piano that we play for our benefit - it is the music on the sheet that tells which keys to be played.  Where did this music come from?

We grieve the disgusting acts of evil people precisely because we have a sense of what the right should be.  It is more than shaking our heads and agreeing it is wrong - it makes us sick to think of people that abuse power over the innocent.  That passion is more than instinct, it is hope of something greater inside of us.

So what?!  I'm so glad that at least we can grieve injustice - why can't God?  Or at least if God can see that there is evil in the world, then why does it still exist?  Which one of us wouldn't instantly vaporize the priest who abuses children?  Or what if that girl on the pages was your little girl and some creep was baiting her with addiction so he could make money off her body - which one of you wouldn't consider inflicting serious harm . . . or worse?

So why wouldn't you?

As people who count ourselves enlightened, the best thing to do is to let justice take place . . . in time. 

Even we as humans know that justice is a process . . . that it takes time and that wrong is eventually made right.  And I think the assumption is that because we don't see justice happen that God is asleep at the gavel.  In the same way that a court case may drag on for years, we grow impatient with the idea that we have to trust in a God who sees all things and is in the business of setting things right.  Why doesn't He do something NOW?

And this is where it gets really challenging and some of you are going to walk away . . .

If we live under a God of grace, not only is the timetable going to be insufferably wrong before the guilty get their due, but the guilty are going to be shown grace.  Grace is not something we can be cavalier about.  Grace - favor given to those who don't deserve it - is available to all of God's children . . . even the pedophile.

To be honest, it makes me sick.  I want the pedophile to pay.

That is why I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God - no one could make this stuff up.  Grace is scandalous.  It is in some ways sickening (except when it is applied to me).  And in matters of justice it can make God seem like He is indifferent . . . but God leads with His grace and that is why evil still has its day.

For now.


  1. Justice is one thing, but the question remains: How can there be a God when there is evil?

    Yes, he could fix it through justice which is a process and takes time. But if he is truly benevolent, should he not hate all that is evil and not allow it to enter the world?

    By allowing evil to exist he is not truly benevolent. For even a minor lapse of evil destroys true benevolence.

  2. Just started following you, John. I'm glad you're approaching this differently! Personally, apologetics have been a huge passion and curiosity.

    I was proud of myself for a while because I could intellectually win quite often (with great eloquence and respect for other parties).

    Yet now, I look at my trail of won arguments and see that I've not made any faithful disciples of Jesus.

    So I'm back to the drawing board.

    People like the Anonymous commenter before me in this post are case in point:

    You make a compelling case, but there's still the a priori of the listener. That is to say, they cannot hear because their heart is still hard.

    So, John. Continue to tell your story. The Story. After all, our saving ingredients are Lamb's Blood and the word of our story. ;)

  3. Stopped by to check in on this blog and my previous comment. It's quite intriguing.

    In response to: "...they cannot hear because their heart is still hard."

    In term selective hearing comes to mind. That is to say, hearing only what one wants to hear. Of course, if I wished to hear the word of God I could, just the same as I could hear song lyrics while the song is not playing.

    This does not mean that what I am hearing really exists, or to take it a step further, that what I am hearing is true.

    I'm waiting for the rebuttal of: "That doesn't mean it doesn't exist and that it's false either."

    If you were planning on using this, please refrain. The world is made of tangible items and governed by intangible laws. We are only able to prove - for a fact - that something exists if it or its effects are tangible. Call this the ignorance of reality, or whatever you wish, but the fact remains that it is true.

    Also, please do not try to say that God is the intangible cause of occurrences, especially ones that already have valid explanations. Just because something does not necessarily have an explanation, does not mean that a false lie needs to fill in the gap until a real explanation arises.

    Faith is not evidence, nor is a collection of stories written during the premature age of man. It is one thing to believe, it is another to try to convert others into believing.

    By the way, I love the humility in the previous post: "...I could intellectually win quite often (with great eloquence..."

  4. Why does a good God permit evil to exist? That question has been knocked around for centuries without an answer that man, in the mortal limits of his cognition, finds satisfactory. We don't understand all the reasons why, just as there are so many other things we cannot understand about this transcendent Being. But we can say this: God permits evil because it is part of his plan to accomplish his ultimate purposes.

    It is interesting that when people speak of evil, they tend to refer to it as something outside themselves. Pedophile priests, and the old standbys, Hitler and Stalin - they are clear examples of such unthinkable evil that God must be asleep at the switch or something.

    But consider the character of God and his holiness. From his viewpoint, there really isn't a lot of difference between old Adolf and folks like you and me when it comes to evil. We are all guilty of evil, and capable of much more. If He was going to come down and start smiting people because of their evil, where would He stop? Be sure that He would not draw the line where we might draw the line.

    When we hear of unspeakable, vile acts, we are outraged. To a degree, this indignation is right and proper. Well, think of how He feels when He sees these things. He sees it all, with a purity of character and holiness with which we are not acquainted. Do you think He is not angry about these things? It is not for nothing that the Bible speaks so often about the wrath of God.

    That God has not utterly destroyed evil yet is not a sign of weakness or indifference - it is a sign of his mercy. His judgment is coming. The good news is that He has provided a Savior to deliver us from evil.