Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Problem of Evil:
IV. What is the Purpose of Evil?

Part I examined what evil is; Part II what causes evil; and part III why God has not yet destroyed evil. However, for most folks the "why" is more about . . .

The question that roars in the minds of those who suffer is, "WHY?" ""Why did I lose my leg?" "Why did our church burn down?" "Why did my little girl have to die?" "WHY?" Unfortunately, we can't always give an answer that satisfies the souls of those who hurt and makes sense of their pain. But to those who use this as a reason to deny God's existence or goodness, we can give an answer. Their argument is this:
  1. There is no good purpose for much suffering.
  2. An all-good God must have a good purpose for everything.
  3. So, there cannot be an all-good God.
We can deal with this problem in two ways. First, we need to make a distinction. There is a difference between our knowing the purpose for evil and God having a purpose for it. Even if we don't know God's purpose, He may still have a good reason for allowing evil in our lives. So we can't assume that there is no good purpose for something just because we don't know what it could be . . .
The book goes on to point out some of the purposes we do know (both from God and the wisdom we gain in life):
  1. we know that God sometimes uses evil to warn us of greater" evils.
    Anyone who has raised a child has gone through the months of fearing that the baby would touch a hot stove for the first time. We hate the thought of it, but we know that once she does it, she won't do it again. She will instantly have an existential awareness of the meaning of the word "hot" and will obey our warning readily when we use it. That first small pain is allowed to avoid the danger of bigger ones later.

  2. Pain also keeps us from self-destruction.
    Do you know why lepers lose their fingers, toes, and noses? Usually, it has nothing directly to do with the leprosy itsel£ Rather, the disease causes them to lose feeling in their extremities, and they literally destroy themselves. They can't feel the pain when they touch a hot pan, so they hang on to it until it bums them. Without feeling things that they are about to bump into, they hit them full force without slowing down. Without the sensation of pain, they do tremendous damage to themselves and don't even realize it.

  3. some evil helps to bring about greater good.
    How would the nation of Israel have survived the fam¬ine and had a refuge in which to grow ifJoseph had not been sold into slavery by his brothers and imprisoned unjustly? Would Job have been able to make his marked spiritual growth had he not suffered first? (Job 23:10) What kind of leader would the Apostle Paul have been if he had not been humbled after his exalted revelations of God? (2 Cor. 12) Joseph summarized the matter when he told his brothers, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it fur good" (Gen. 50:20).

  4. Finally, permitting some evil actually helps defeat evil.
    One of the first steps in some of the substance abuse rehabilitation programs (alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine) is to give the patient all that he can stand of the substance until he gets sick of it. It's easier to quit once you've had a bad experience. Projects like the "Scared Straight" program at Rahway Prison have stopped many young people from following a life of crime, but the convicts who tell them about prison life have both caused suffering and are suffering.

Geisler mentions, and I can certainly witness to, the difficulty of this next question:
Why would God allow His own Son to suffer and die a cruel and violent death as a criminal when He had done nothing wrong and, by nature, had no need to die? This injustice is very hard to explain unless there is some greater good accomplished by Christ's death which overshadows the evil of it. Jesus' own explanation was that He had come "to give His life [as] a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45) and saying, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for [on behalf of] his friends" (John 15:13). Hebrews 12:2 states the purpose of Jesus, ''who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame," meaning that the reconciliation of sinners was worth the suffering. As Isaiah says, "He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed" (53:5). The higher purpose and greater good derived from Christ's death as our substitute for the penalty of our sins is more important than the evil inherent in the process.
This greater good is not usually apparent to those suffering the pain - it is one of those things that time and perspective (as well as prayer of course) help bring into focus.
C.S. Lewis said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." In some sense, we need pain so that we are not overcome by the evil that we would choose were it painless.

He alerts us to the fact that there are better things than misery.

The pastors at my church just went through an 8 part series called Forgotten People: 8 Friends You Gotta Have. - Daniel, Job, Ruth, Noah, Esther, Gideon, Joseph, and Nehemiah. In every case their usefulness as friends comes from how they view and react to adversity/evil. Many more of the good purposes to which God puts our evil are evident there.

That is the social/political lesson here: S__t happens. Evil is alive in the world. Bad things happen to good people. Earthquakes, tornados, floods, etc. exist. There is really no point (unless the reasons are clear and you can learn from them) to wonder "Why me?" - there does not have to be a reason. The question isn't "Why did I get messed over?" but "How do I move forward from here: what is the next positive step I can take?" This is true of both individuals and groups of people: attempting to attach blame -- where blame isn't attachable -- is a waste of time.

However, while we know what evil is and where it comes from, and we know it can actually be turned to good purpose when it occurs, another question then arises . . .

Next Question: Does there have to be so much evil?
Series Link

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly