The Problem of Evil, Part 2 – God Behind Suffering?

By | January 19, 2016

In my previous post, I introduced the dilemma caused by the existence evil.

There is another angle which is unique to people of faith: believing that God specifically wills or allows bad things to happen for some good purpose. This one which is particularly troubling because it sounds really good in certain respects so long as it is not taken too far1. At first, it seems like the most reasonable way to resolve our dilemma.

What this response does, in an attempt to hold on to both God’s power and goodness, is effectively redefine goodness such as to include evil. Since God is good and is somehow involved (actively causing or allowing evil), the bad must in some way actually be good.

This could be seen as a way of effective resolving the problem of evil by denying evil exists. But it can also effectively be a way of saying that God isn’t all good. This idea the everything that happens according to God’s plan forces one to say that all evil is somehow God’s will, and unfortunately, some do say just this.

There are people who find this idea comforting. I believe this must be because they understand it to mean they can trust God since he is in control and will make things turn out for the best in the end. This trust is good and is the kind of faith we should all be striving for.

But if we get the idea that God causes evil to happen, this can serious affect our relationship with God negatively. It will be difficult to truly love this God. I believe we all have an intuitive understanding of what is good and what is evil. (Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil after all.) So even if we try to believe that bad is somehow good consciously, I don’t think we will fool our subconscious convictions. It is for this reason that I say, when it boils down, this is in essence a special case of the position that God is not entirely good.

But there is an extremely important differentiation to make here. The Bible says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28 HCSB). However, this does not mean God specifically causes all things. The difference between God causing all things and God working through (despite) all things to bring them to a good end is big and important. (Unfortunately, some translations word this verse as “God causes everything to work together for the good” (NLT), which an uncareful reading makes sound like God is the cause behind evil, not simply that he works everything—even including evil—out for good in the end.)

In my next post, I begin to explain how I believe a couple of misconceptions have led us to this dilemma of evil.

1. One problem here could be caused by not distinguishing between the pain of positive discipline and tragic evil. God could arguably specifically allow certain pain and frustration in our lives in order to direct us. The problem is that people don’t differentiate between this and greater evil, and so think that God must also be behind a tsunami or mass shooting.

photo credit: Boko Haram via photopin (license)

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