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The Problem of Evil

Believe it or not, in its Good Friday edition last week, the New York Times (America’s so-called “paper of record”) published an op ed piece entitled, “In This Time of War, I Propose We Give Up God.”

Written by Shalom Auslander, a former orthodox Jew (apparently turned hardcore cynic and/or atheist), the piece compares the ongoing horrors of the war in Ukraine with God’s acts of judgement as recorded in the Old Testament and then spins all that as good reason why all people of faith need to give up their belief and trust in God.

Now let me be clear, as a proponent of free speech and other First Amendment rights, I do believe that all Americans should be free to express their views and opinions, no matter how twisted or messed up they might be.

I do, however, have some qualms with the editorial staff at the NYT. Choosing to publish this piece during Holy Week really pushes the envelope of poor taste and insensitivity. Still, I’m not surprised. The Times has been exhibiting anti-faith tendencies for decades – at least toward any faith or belief system that doesn’t line up with the elitist, hyper-secularized worldview they’re peddling.

As far as Auslander’s assertions, he’s not really proposing anything new. Essentially, he’s just repackaging 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume’s Problem of Evil – a logic-based argument in which Hume asserts that the existence of evil and suffering in this world proves that God cannot be both good and all-powerful.

Hume, by the way, actually did believe in God’s existence; he just thought that God was amoral and indifferent to the suffering of human beings.

I was introduced to this argument in a philosophy class during my freshman year at Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) by a professor who seemed to take delight in poking holes in the faith of unsuspecting church kids.

But if you really break it down, both Hume’s and Auslander’s arguments amount to little more than propping up a strawman deity and then kicking it over. For these arguments to really work, one has to employ some pretty narrow and shallow definitions of both benevolence and omnipotence and then assume that human logic is both infallible and that it effectively extends into the realm of transcendence.

I say that God is good – but I have come to learn over the years that just being perfectly comfortable without any hardship or suffering is not really God’s top priority for my life. I believe He desires what’s best for me, but I suspect that has a lot more to do with me growing up into the likeness of Christ than living in some kind of safe space or bubble free of pain and sorrow.

I also believe that God is all-powerful, but I think scripture clearly indicates that God has some self-imposed limitations that arise from His own nature and character.

He’s a God of love. But, if you really think about it, free will is an essential element of love – which necessarily involves the options of refusing to love Him back and thumbing our noses at His will.

Sure, He could have made humankind in such a way that we were incapable of disobeying Him and hardwired to gush adoration at Him 24/7 – but that would not have been real or genuine. What kind of God would actually prefer a fake world full of perfectly compliant robots? Real love is messy, and it always involves a measure of sacrifice and suffering.

He’s a God of both truth and righteousness – which means that, though He loves us dearly, He’s just not going to let us live free and clear of the consequences of our own actions or just magically erase the wider, cascading effects of sin and evil in this world.

He’s a God who places a very high premium on faith – and genuine faith could not exist if He went around providing everyone with irrefutable evidence of His existence every five minutes. Sure, trusting in a God we can’t see is hard – but’s that kind of the point.

And He is the Creator of all things. So, if you really think that the One who spoke the universe into being and established the very framework of time and space in which our entire reality exists is just going to roll over for some “gotcha” logic trap or glorified word problem, then you’re welcome to it. I would say that’s a wee bit arrogant, but maybe that’s just me.

The rock-bottom reality is that we’re all fallen creatures living in a fallen world, and bad stuff is going to happen to us, regardless of whether we’re good people, bad people, or somewhere in between – and the suffering we all experience in the course of this life is all too real.

So if Mr. Auslander wants to blame God for that or take it as proof that He doesn’t exist, then that’s his inalienable right. But I certainly hope he doesn’t think that actually makes him more intelligent or realistic or sophisticated than anyone else – because the worldview he’s selling isn’t smart or true or anything to be desired.

Seems to me, he’s just a man who has thrown away the faith he once knew and now wants everyone else to join him in that pit of misery and hopelessness. I have wallowed in that pit myself before, and, no offense, Mr. Auslander, but I think I’ll pass on crawling back in it.

Now I’m not claiming to be particularly smart or wise myself or that anything I’ve written in this column adequately explains God or human suffering or anything else. Honestly, I struggle with these issues every day, and on many occasions I have questioned God as to why I and the people I love have to suffer. And, time and time again, His answer has been, not to take the suffering away, but to walk beside me and uphold me through those rough patches.   

You see, God has provided a solution to the Problem of Evil, and that solution was purchased at the highest of prices on a Roman cross 2,000 years ago – when He became well-acquainted with evil, suffering, and death.

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