The Question of Evil

The question of evil, also known philosophically as the problem of evil, is a perennial dilemma within Christianity and the Abrahamic religions. Briefly stated, if God is loving and all powerful why is there evil and suffering? This past Sunday the Los Angeles Times had an article dealing with this problem as seen through the eyes of Vincent Bugliosi, an agnostic who is a former LA county prosecutor and has written a book, Divinity of Doubt that tackles this question. While having not read the book, I will address some points raised in the article.

One point he raises is, “according to Christianity, God, being all-powerful, could have stopped all of this [regarding the Holocaust]. But he apparently decided it was just fine with him.”  Here he has expressed the conception so prevalent in philosophy of religion and in some areas of theology. This is not the conception of God presented in the Bible. The suffering of humanity and the evil perpetrated by the same is the concern of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This God took on human flesh and suffered on a cross at the hands of religion and empire. This God is near in Spirit, who comforts and comes along side us in the midst of our sorrows.  Our brokenness is not “just fine” with God and he desires our healing and restoration.

He also states, in reference to the God of Christians, “…if they have any respect for logic, they’re going to have to redefine him.” Those with an Anselmian perspective of ‘faith seeking understanding’ may take Bugliosi to task regarding the rationality of the Christian faith. One can give reasons and justifications for religious belief in coherent ways. Alvin Plantinga’s “Free Will Defense” is a refutation of the logical problem of evil by appeal to human freedom and possibility and is widely accepted by many philosophers. The redefining of God is another matter. Defining reality, including God, is endemic to Western thought. Maybe we in the west should take a hint from those in the east and stop trying to define God. Maybe it’s more of a matter of being defined by God and responding accordingly. Of course, such redefining may not be amenable to Bugliosi.

Rationality has its place in the Christian faith but reason is not the only aspect of the faith. Some, like Tertullian, go the other direction of “I believe because it is absurd.” This is a facet of the Christian faith that embraces the mystery and ineffability of God. This approach to faith can provide a place for agnosticism because of the limits of reason. An investigation into the medieval mystics might provide some insights into the Christian faith in whicht Bugliosi might find some common ground.

Just on the surface, this challenge to God does not take into account the many facets of the Christian faith and the multiplicity of responses to the problem of evil. He seems to treat Christianity as a monolithic entity when in reality; the multifaceted expressions of the Body of Christ provides many answers, some better than others. The Body of Christ continues the earthly ministry of her head. If Jesus came to those who are blind, broken and poor, those subjected to evil; shouldn’t we continue the ministry of healing and proclamation of freedom? Do we want to participate in the work of God? Or do we stay content in our own little domain?

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