Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pastoring, Parenting and the Answer to the Problem of Evil

One of the biggest complaints that I receive about belief in God is the problem of evil.  As a pastor, I receive this complaint in two different ways. 

The first way is from atheists who look at all the evil in the world and posit:  If God were all powerful, why is there evil in the world?  Why couldn't God just prevent the evil from happening in the first place?

There are two major of fallacies within the context of this line of questioning. 

First, an atheist has no framework for evaluating good and evil and must therefore borrow that understanding from somewhere outside his/her worldview.  This is the easiest to see and there are scores of resources referencing this by both theists and atheists.  (I personally recommend Frank Turek's book "Stealing from God".) 

Second, the atheist makes a category mistake in confusing the nature of a human being with free will with that of a toaster oven.  If we look at a defective toaster oven, we assume that the fault belongs to the maker.  However, atheists smuggle in the argument that if there is something wrong with humanity, then it must logically follow that the Creator is at fault.  As a result, in the atheist's viewpoint, we are nothing more than over complicated toaster ovens (or as they might put it, the mere products of our DNA).  The fact that some of the DNA is faulty points to the lack of a Creator, or even the need for one.

As a pastor, I often experience this argument a different way.  It usually involves a person who is going through a crisis because of bad things happening in their lives or the lives of family members.  They make their way to my office and begin to ask the question:  "Why would God do this to me (or them)?"

What they are really asking is, "If God is all powerful, why are bad things happening to me (or others)?  Couldn't He have prevented those things from happening?"  Some, so distraught over the suffering they are enduring, turn their back on God and choose never to follow Him again. 

To help us properly understand this relationship between free will beings and a perfect God, God gave us the privilege of parenting. 

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici
 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Imagine talking to a mother or father distraught over the choices that their child was making.  They consistently taught them to save sex until marriage, not to do drugs and not get involved with people of questionable character.  They weren't lax in enforcing punishment to encourage this behavior, nor were they lax in heaping praise when the right decisions were made.  They were loving in every sense of the word.  And yet, here they are heartbroken, because their daughter has run away from home and hooked up with a druggie.

In a situation, such as this, who would dare blame the parents for the choices of their daughter?  All of us would acquit the parents of any wrongdoing and place the blame firmly on the daughter's shoulders.

For the majority of the people with whom I counsel, the problem is not with God or His power, but with their obedience.  Yet unlike the parents of the above situation, they blame God for the situation of suffering that they have caused for themselves through disobedience to His commands.

Here are a few of the most common situations that I face:

*They lived with (or married) a non-believer who is now going to leave her (and possibly her child) behind as he chases after greener pastures.  (Why would God cause me to be abandoned?)

*They have consistently chosen not to fellowship with believers (or share struggles with believers) and now in their time of need the body doesn't want to support them because they don't know them (or never knew their struggles, and now the situation is too big for them to help).  (Christians are therefore hypocrites and their God is unloving because they wouldn't help me in my time of need.)

*They continued to give into addictions, such as pornography, sexual activities including homosexuality, alcohol or drugs and want to be accepted for who they are.  (Why would God make me this way?)

These situations probably account for about 85% of all the counseling I do with walk ins (those outside the congregation) and a significant portion of those from within the church as well.  A number of them will end up blaming God for their situation thinking that God should have just prevented them from making any decisions at all against His will.

It was Jesus who said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words.  And the word that you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me."  (John 14:23-24 ESV)

Most people aren't struggling with the problem of evil, but rather the lack of love manifested through disobedience.  God just becomes a scapegoat for decisions that they have made against His will.  The consequences of their suffering because of their disobedience becomes a convenient reason to impugn the nature of God and disbelieve in Him so they will feel justified in living the life they have always lived without Him.

In the end, we are not truly struggling with evil coming from God, but rather evil that originates in ourselves.  Until we come to that realization, we will never see our need for Jesus and His solution to the problem of evil in our own life through His love for us on the cross.  When we do, however, our only proper response is love.  A love that manifests itself through obedience.

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