omnibus omnia

Approaches to the Problem of Evil

In Atheism, Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Jesus, Life, Logic, Philosophy, Religion, Spirituality, Theology, Thoughts on September 12, 2007 at 20:59

I’m just sharing here some thoughts I posted as comments to an article entitled “A Biblically Smart Answer to an Impertinently Stupid Question,  since I don’t have time yet to write on its topic, namely, the problem of evil.  Written by Mr. Eliseo “Eli” Soriano, a Neo-Christian televangelist in the Philippines, it sought to respond to a question raised in the atheist site God is Imaginary (or “GII”), “Why won’t God heal amputees?”  Unfortunately, instead of using the opportunity to discuss the issues of fundamental theology implicated by that question, Mr. Soriano simply focused on giving a potpourri of facts about physiology that were largely irrelevant to the matter.  Hence my comment (#42 on the article’s page), which I posted on August 17, 2007:

“With due respect, I think we’ve failed to adequately answer GII’s essential question, which could be restated thus: If God were indeed all-powerful, all-wise, and all-good, as theists believe, then how come He doesn’t heal the suffering? The mere fact that benefits of a sort exist in other areas of human health and life simply doesn’t remove the fact that undeserved pain exists in a universe ruled by the Most High; and worse, I fear, the answer given here treats the question as irrelevant and the questioner as stupid, which they are not.

“Brother Soriano, I respectfully recommend that you read the Book of Job, C.S. LewisProblem of Pain, and John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloris. Perhaps you can’t take the question seriously because you’ve never had doubts, for which I envy you, but I think a humane answer needs to respond to the kind of pain and doubt that makes both the believer and the unbeliever ask ‘why'” (Links supplied.)

A reader named Alfredo responded to my comment by telling me “and other unbelievers” (in Comment #44) to read and understand the Scriptures in humble faith.  His argument was that most perceived evil is the result of human wrongdoing, and cannot therefore be laid at God’s doorstep.  As for those without perceptible human causes, the reason they occur is beyond our ability to understand, but, in any case, “only evil people suffer [and] not the good nor the children nor those innocent of sins even [when] they die because they have nothing to answer before God.”  Faced therefore with the riddle of evil, we must submit to God in humble faith, and only thus can we approach His will.

In many ways, though I wish it was more carefully structured, Mr. Alfredo’s answer was more responsive to the issue than the main article itself.  In fact, he reiterated 2 of the most common theist answers to the problem of evil, namely (1) to attribute it or some of it to human fault, and (2) to consider it to be merely apparent and not real.  Leaving aside the remaining problems of theodicy, Mr. Alfredo deserved better than a brush-off, hence my own (belated) response (comment #49):

“To Mr. Alfredo #44

“Thank you for your response to my comment (#42). Let me clarify here, however, that I, too, gratefully (and unworthily) rejoice in the mercy of God through Christ; and that I am writing from the perspective of a former atheist who remembers how it was to live in a cosmos that is all space without light, and who desires that atheists be ministered to in a more effective way. My comment was thence made not to question faith in God but to propose that we change the manner by which we defend His works; for I think that there were 2 problems with Mr. Soriano’s method, however much I do agree with his conclusions.

“First, the answer unfortunately, and perhaps unintentionally, manifests a tone of polemical disdain, beginning with the title itself. It tries to make the questioner feel unwelcome and foolish for asking a question about God, which we may not do; as Christ He reserved His woes for the self-righteous who, though they gave tithes, disdained the humble publican. We must not forget that non-believers’ questions must be respected, even if we ourselves have never asked them, and they must be answered in a spirit of humility and sympathy if our answers are to be heard, and not rejected by those like Phillip Corbett (#19) who might have responded positively to a more responsive and less ‘shotgun’ approach.

“Second, Mr. Soriano spoke what, to an atheist, is unintelligible language, like Greek to the average Frenchman. In discoursing with non-believers, we cannot simply say ‘you’re wrong’ and cite Scripture for our purpose, for to an atheist, as I was, an argument from Scripture coupled with a peremptory command to believe is simply incomprehensible.  Rather, we must explain the truth in a language that can be understood in mind and heart by those with whom we are in conversation, even those who don’t yet share the Christian Faith. Remember how, when the Apostle Paul was brought to the Sanhedrin, he spoke in eschatological language and thus obtained the sympathy of the Pharisees; and how, when in philosophical Athens, he spoke in metaphysical terms of the God ‘in Whom we live, move, and have our being’?

“In sum, I think that Christians can better minister to non-Christians if they begin discourse not as though they were separated by an impassable chasm, but from within their common situation as fellow-journeyers. For in truth, we all walk in fear and trembling, seeing darkly as through a looking-glass; and the Christians’ only advantage is that they have God’s hand to lead them, and know that it is He Who works in them. Besides, if Christ Himself took on the form of a slave to bring us to God, then, as Christians who ‘put on’ Christ, should we not also descend from our pedestals and ‘eat and drink’ with those who need the physician?

“God bless you, Mr. Alfredo, and, again, thank you for the response to my comment. I’ll re-read the verses you pointed out.”

That said, though, I can’t claim that I’ve always applied my own advice too well, as, often, I have tended to speak censoriously or even irately on nearly every issue, including quite non-fundamental ones.  Anyway, c’est tout for now, but when I have time to do so, I’ll write something more substantive on the issue.  The Lord keep you.

  1. I agree, though with not a little shame, since I’ve at times shared Bro. Eli’s non-empathic approach to matters of faith. Unfortunately, as I’ve discovered the hard way, a frontal charge rarely works, and certainly not against the intellectual guerrilla with the AK-47 Sneer.

    For my part, I agree that the mystery of suffering can be understood only in faith and only in Christ Crucified, but I want to scale it too by reason, if only “because it’s there”. I know, it sounds kind of presumptuous, but I’m also hoping that the questions will serve as common ground (cf. Unamuno, was it?), even as we war over the answers. Deus tecum.

  2. I thought I’d tell you that I sympathize.

    I don’t appreciate the arrogant response to a question posed, even if the question was meant to ridicule. It’s poor form and in poor taste. We are called to be better than that.

    So much bickering and some end with amen and God bless!

    It is a difficult question, which we, ultimately, may not be equipped to answer (unless God grants us the grace to). Suffering is a mystery, and the heart of it goes into the nature of God. If faith is knowledge of God, then it is then a question of faith. It wouldn’t boil down to a simple answer (yet it does, Jesus Christ).

    I suppose I’m even less articulate, but I would rather get a mystery answer than be made to feel a fool. What good will it do if we alienate them? We will never win them over that way.

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