Read the series so far.
Non-Christian Answers to the Problem of Evil & Suffering
Several other attempts have been made to address evil and suffering in our world.
1. Non-Reality of Evil View
Some Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, deny that evil and suffering are any more than an illusion. By denying that evil and suffering are real, they attempt to avoid any dilemma between the deities in charge of the world and the way the world is. The problem for this view, however, is that the experience of suffering is universal and undeniable. Additionally, these same Eastern religions seek to end oppression and alleviate the very suffering that they deny exists. This is clearly self-refuting.
2. Weakness of God View
This view argues that God does not overcome all evil because he cannot, even though he wants to. The advantage of this approach is that God cannot be held responsible for what happens in the world. The disadvantage is that it eliminates any possibility of God finally overcoming evil. If God cannot do anything to stop evil now, we should not assume that he can ever do anything to end evil. God becomes impotent to deliver us from the endless cycle of suffering.
3. Free Will View
This view argues that man has free will, and therefore, God has nothing to do with evil because he cannot interfere without impinging on man’s free will. The advantage of this view is that God is not responsible for human acts of evil. The disadvantages are numerous. First, suffering still happens through natural disasters, illness, and the general brokenness of the world. Second, this view puts shackles on God’s ability to act, because man’s freedom becomes primary. If God cannot impinge on man’s free will, how do we know he can fulfill his promises? Third, Scripture repeatedly speaks of God determining our free choices (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23, 4:27; Rom. 9). Any way you look at it, this view fails to answer the tough questions.
4. “Christian” Fatalism
This view simply says, “God is in control, and therefore you cannot avoid suffering. Don’t let it get you upset. Just stoically accept it, because all things work together for good. So, actually it’s a blessing. It’s nothing to cry over.” The obvious problem with this view is that it distorts the sovereignty of God and eliminates genuine emotion, contra the biblical affirmation of grief and crying out to God.
So, how should a Christian deal with the problem of evil and suffering? Are there any answers to this seeming contradiction?
In the next post we will begin to present a Christian view.
Mark Farnham is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Pastoral and Pre-Seminary Majors at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. Previously he taught systematic theology and apologetics at the seminary level for eleven years. Prior to that he served as senior pastor in New London, CT for seven years. Mark earned a PhD in Apologetics from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He also holds a Master of Theology degree in New Testament from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Master of Divinity degree from Calvary Baptist Seminary.