The Problem of Evil—the question of how there could be good within nature or a good God in the world along side such evil before us (… or, on the flip side, how there could be evil in the world when there is so much good and beauty before us)—is not an easy subject to approach. This has been proven throughout history. A great many philosophers and theologians have undertaken the task of explaining our paradox of evil and the same number has come up short of a perfect answer. No one seems to have an explanation which takes both God and evil, both beauty and chaos seriously. But there are some ideas that have been swimming through our culture. Some are better than others but some are just evil solutions.
One idea takes evil very seriously. In fact some people take evil so seriously that there isn’t any good left and evil has completely overtaken any good there may once have been in the world. In Christian circles this view will reveal itself in the form of fundamentalism. Since evil has taken over the world, the only hope is for Christ to save us from it, get us off of this sinking ship and into heaven. Rather than celebrating God’s good creation we mourn its’ memory, witnessing that this place is no longer God’s good creation. We explain away the good in the world as merely a glimpse of a distant reality, a reality that isn’t actually part of the world at all, a reality that only exists in heaven. We lose our connection to creation because, well, it’s all going to burn anyway, right? In this view it’s not necessarily that we don’t want the world to change for good, it’s just that we don’t think it will. We’ve lost hope that the world can change and we’ve placed our hope in a far off reality. This view will lead us to do nothing for the world except convince it to think like us so that when the “rapture” comes or when the world does meet its’ end (and the world must end for this view to be right) everyone we’ve won over to our way of thinking will be in heaven watching the ship sink. This view doesn’t take beauty seriously enough to cultivate it in our world, only enough to seek it in a different world because this one is a failed project.
Another view that takes evil seriously would suggests that evil is so serious that any attempt to try to solve it is futile. It’s simply not our responsibility to deal with it because we’re powerless over it. So, therefore, no person can be blamed for evil… it’s just the way it is. This view shows up in Christian theology as well. Some would argue that if we believe that we can do anything about evil, trying to explain it or solve it, we’re not taking it seriously enough. Only God can do anything about evil and it’s best for us to pray and wait for him to do something about it. If we are so bold as to suggest that it’s a Christian’s job to do away with evil then we must be trusting too much in our own “works.” There is no sense of partnership with God or responsibility of God’s work for the Christian because we can’t do anything anyway. This view will also lead us to do nothing for the world, not just because it’s all gone to hell, but nor can we do anything about it.
Few Christians would admit that they fall into either of these camps because they are so extreme, but nevertheless, these views will come out in our thoughts, in our prayers, in our actions, and eventually in how we live our lives.
There is a way of not taking evil seriously enough. Some Christians simplify it the other way in order to explain the unexplainable. Some Christians would indeed suggest that there is no such thing as evil (and they don’t mean it the way Augustine did… we’ll talk about that later) and that it’s actually part of God’s master plan. God has a master plan for the world which will end in good and all the evil along the way is just necessary like breaking eggs for making an omelet (see N.T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God, p.34, for this illustration of Marxist theology) Time is marching on and things are essentially getting better because God is in control, so evil is just a test or an obstacle sent by God to make us better. The problem is that this view doesn’t do anything about evil, it just explains it away. As N.T. Wright put it, “the thought that God decided to permit Auschwitz because some heroes would emerge is hardly a solution to the problem” (Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, p. 28.). This view is hopeless in doing anything about evil because, ultimately, God wants it to happen. If you take this view all the way it will lead you to want evil, just like God, if the ends are good because the ends will always justify the means. This will lead you to act much more like a corrupt dictator than Jesus Christ who died on a cross for his enemies.
The fact is evil is a serious thing, it’s serious to God and it had sure be serious to us. To assert that God doesn’t plan on doing anything about evil or that God is ok with evil is just like saying God can’t do (or has at least lost hope in doing) anything about evil and that is in direct contrast to the doctrine of the cross. To say that God wills evil is in direct contrast to the whole biblical narrative. It’s just not Christianity.
Christianity hopes to do something about evil and believes that a rescue mission is underway. Not a rescue from the world to any other place but a rescue to the way the world should have been from the start. We are bold enough to believe that God will do and is doing something about the suffering and the wars we see all around us. To abandon this hope and still call yourself a Christian would be an anomaly.
We must avoid the three extreme views I’ve laid out above as well as any view that takes evil too seriously, to the point where nothing can be done about it, or not seriously enough, to where we don’t really need to do anything about it. We must find an explanation that will lead us toward genuine hope and genuine action without forgetting who we are, who God is, and that it’s all God’s work and we get to be a part of it.