Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The problem of evil, pain and suffering (part III)

Boy, where did the time go? It's pretty exhausting work trying to provide an intellectual understanding of Einstein's dilema with Christianity (which is a similar dilema for many today), so I missed out on updating the blog yesterday. I apologize to those of you who did come back hoping to find part three of our ongoing discussion on the problem of evil, pain and suffering. Anyway, enough perambulating so we can get to work.

Previously on 24... (I'm sorry, I'm getting withdrawal symptoms from not being able to watch my favorite show on TV). Previously we established that evil, pain and suffering entered our world as a direct result of sin. Skeptics would query, "Why did God create us with the capacity to sin, since, as an all-powerful and all-knowing God, He knew that we would make a mess of our lives?" This is a fair question, deserving of an answer. In order for God to ensure that we could not sin, He would have had to tamper with our freedom of will. In that case we would not have been fully human but more robots programmed to do only what He wanted. That, in turn would have rendered us incapable of loving God or one another, because genuine love cannot be coerced. Genuine love must choose to love. Without free will, we would be incapable of moral responsibility, creativity, obedience, loyalty, or heroism. The only way God could create beings that are fully human was to take the risk that they would use their freedom to choose evil.

Once humans did choose evil, God's holy nature and character required justice. He could not overlook sin and evil, nor could He ignore it. Once the scales of justice had been tipped, they had to be balanced. The skeptic responds, "In that case the human race should have ended with Adam and Eve. They should have been punished for their rebellion, cast into hell, and that would have been the end of God's attempt at creating a human race." But God is as merciful as He is just, and He devised the most "unbelievable" alternative: He would Himself bear the punishment for His creation. God Himself would enter the world of humanity to suffer the judgment and death that sinful humans deserved. Picture that for a moment. Hear the whispers in the inner courts of heaven as the angels in utter bewilderment question the rationale behind such a decision. "God, will be born a baby?" And that is exactly what He did. He came as the God-man Jesus Christ in human form as a baby.

Through His death on a Roman cross, Jesus defeated evil and guaranteed the ultimate victory over it. He beat Satan at his own game: He took the worst blow that Satan and human sin could deliver, and He turned it into the means of our salvation. "By His wounds we are healed." (Isa. 53: 5) The Bible teaches us that at the end of this present dispensation there will be a new heaven and a new earth, free of sin, free of evil, pain and suffering, where He will "wipe every tear from their (our) eyes." (Rev. 21: 4)

Until that time though, God uses the "thorns and thistles" that have infested creation since the Fall to teach, chastize, sanctify, and transform us, making us ready for that new heaven and new earth. I know this first hand: The greatest blessings in my life have come out of my greatest pain and suffering, and I have seen this same process repeated in countless lives. Just as it hurts when the doctor sets a broken bone, so it can cause enormous pain when God "resets" our character. Yet it is truly the only way to be whole and healthy. Friedrich Nietzsche, though himself an atheist, once uttered a profoundly biblical truth: "Men and women can endure any amount of suffering so long as they know the why to their existence." The Bible answers "the why," the wider context of meaning and purpose, an eternal perspective. Why did God choose to die for His creation? Love. In demonstrating free will, He chose to love us even when He foreknew the sin and suffering that would distort His creation. There is no greater love than this, and no greater mystery: that the God of all creation would choose us. It inspires our hearts to worship.


Hope Clark said...

I love this explanation. So well said! This issue is so commonly spoken of now. It's a hard subject. So many people hear a humanly analytical comment about pain in the world and compare it with hardship in their own lives and immediately conclude that there is no reconciling the idea of a God and of hardship. But it's not only because our concept of hardship is wrong...our concept of God is wrong. He's not Santa Claus. God is so big and so good, it's impossible to wrap a human, analytical, skeptical, box-creating mind around Him.

Joseph said...

Great response Hope. It is true that this topic is spoken of more and more in wider circles, and we need to competently be able to address it so that we can remove the possible stumbling block in the path of earnest seekers of truth.