The Problem of Evil undoubtedly causes people to lose their faith. But, are some kinds of evil more to blame than others? And, what does our battling those evils say about God?
By Brian Lowther
Editor’s Note: Over the past few weeks here on the RWI blog we’ve been exploring Ralph Winter’s Four Seeds of Destruction. Today, Brian Lowther begins a three-part series exploring Seed #1: The Seed of the Problem of Evil.
I’m convinced one of the main reasons people lose their faith is the Problem of Evil, which asks, if God is all-good and all-powerful, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? But, as I’ve considered the Problem of Evil, I recognize that not all evils cause the same amount of suffering. Chicken pox causes suffering, but not nearly as much as if a child is kidnapped. Chicken pox isn't likely to cause someone to lose his or her faith, but if someone's child is kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered, well that's another story.
Four Types of Evil
In my way of thinking there are four types of evil. First is human evil such as war, hatred, murder, lying, corruption, etc. Second is spiritual evil such as demons and demonic possessions. Third is natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and fourth is violence in nature, such as animals hunting and killing each other or parasites eating their host from the inside out while the host is still alive.
1. Human Evil
Now, in regard to human evil, do you know anyone who has lost his or her faith in God because of the amount of lying human beings engage in, or because of corruption, or because they are hated by another person? In my opinion, these evils cause people to lose their faith in humanity, not God.
Having said that, we can all imagine someone who would say, “I walked away because God could have prevented that person from killing my loved one and he didn’t.”
Along these lines, a close friend once asked me, “Why does God allow the church—his representatives on earth—to perpetrate so much evil?” He was referring to debacles such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Catholic Child Abuse Scandal of the last few decades, and dozens of other examples. I had to agree with him that the pages of church history are pretty ugly.
His question brings to mind two of Jesus’ parables about seeds and birds from Matthew 13. First is the parable where Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed that grows into the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree so that the birds come and perch in its branches. This is a pleasant picture – birds perched in the shade of a tree. But when read in the context of a parable that precedes it, these birds take on a new meaning. One of the preceding parables describes a sower spreading seed that is quickly devoured by birds. The birds are later identified as Satan. And, while the mustard seed is commonly understood to represent the progress of the body of Christ from small beginnings, it is easy to see how the birds that perch in the branches could symbolize demons led by the prince of the power of the air who have continually tried to infiltrate the Church throughout its existence.
2. Natural Disasters
Undoubtedly natural disasters are blamed on God. Think of insurance policies protecting against ‘acts of God,’ or how the governor of Tokyo said the 2015 tsunami was divine retribution for national egoism, or when an American Christian broadcaster explained that the 2009 earthquake in Haiti was provoked by the Haitians' "pact to the devil," or when people said Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on New Orleans for embracing gay pride events. If natural disasters are thought to be from God, it seems perfectly logical to me for people to lose their faith. Only a vicious, arbitrary and severe god would do such a thing. Who wants to trust in a god like that?
3. Spiritual Evil
Many of us in the West don’t take much notice of the spiritual evil that swirls around us. But I’ve heard numerous missionaries describe how demonic activity is taken much more seriously on the mission field. Whatever our cultural background may be, when we do encounter demonic activity such as terrifying nightmares or paranormal occurrences, I think most would assume it comes from a malevolent source, and not God. Because of this, I don’t think this is a main reason people lose their faith.
4. Violence in Nature
The common assumption is that violence in nature is normal and necessary. A pride of lions mercilessly hunting down and killing an elephant calf as it whimpers for its mother is called the “circle of life.” We’re used to it. Animals have to kill each other to survive. They don't seem capable of making a choice NOT to kill. We’re so accustomed to it that we assume that this is the way God created things. I can completely understand a person wondering, if God designed all this violence and cruelty and suffering, is he really worthy of my allegiance?
But here’s my hunch: I think God has called us, commissioned us, and prepared us to battle these four types of evil. When we do, I think that says something about God. I think it says that he is not the source of these evils, that he does not condone these evils, and that he is actively and visibly opposing these evils through us. My belief is that if someone could be convinced that God is not the source of evil, and if he or she were acquainted with numerous examples of God’s people attempting to overcome the roots of evil (and not just the fruits of evil) as a demonstration of God’s will, he or she would be far less likely to walk away from the faith.
In my next installment, I’ll explore a few examples to substantiate that hunch.
Brian Lowther is the Director of
the Roberta Winter Institute