Christian books, Christian faith, Christian worldview, Christianity, faith and doubt, God and suffering, NT Wright, problem of evil, Randy Alcorn
A focus of my blog has been on faith and doubt. The problem of evil, suffering and injustice in this world is an issue that can make people have doubts. Indeed, this may be the number one stumbling block to faith! If there is a God, why is there so much suffering? Why doesn’t God do something about it? Etc…
For a recent class, I wrote a 20 page paper on this issue – and I thought I’d share some parts of my paper in a series of posts. Ultimately, the question of suffering has no pat answer, and humility is needed as one approaches the issue. However, there are legitimate thoughts and real possibilities that can be shared, especially within a biblical, Christian worldview. Every worldview or system of belief (or unbelief) must provide a perspective or explanation on this issue. For myself, Christianity makes the most sense, and answers more questions than it leaves unanswered in regards to the problem of evil and suffering. (Note that I did not say that Christianity can answer every question.)
Three books I recommend on this issue are:
Evil and the Justice of God, by NT Wright. This is not one of Wright’s “academic” books, but one written for more everyday people. But that doesn’t mean it lacks substance! I greatly appreciate Wright’s big picture perspective in this book. It really helped me step back and remember how evil and justice ultimately fit into God’s plan for this world. I borrowed mine from the local public library, and wish I had my own copy for present and future reference.
If God is Good, Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, by Randy Alcorn. Please don’t let the length of this book (5oo pages) scare you! Although Alcorn covers just about every major issue and perspective on this complex problem, he does it in a highly readable way. He introduces some of the more academic issues in a way that an everyday person can understand. He also writes in a pastoral tone with genuine care and concern for those who endure suffering. I highly recommend this book. If you are local and want to borrow my copy, just let me know.
When God Weeps, Why our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes. Joni, who has been a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair for over 4o yrs, has “the right” to talk about suffering. She has endured it. But this book is more than just personal, as Joni and Steve Estes together delve into some of the tough issues regarding God and suffering. If you are enduring suffering, perhaps this book would be the best to start with…God does care. If you are local, I’ll lend you my copy.
Perhaps you’d rather not think about the problem of evil and suffering – but you need to! This is an issue you will eventually have to face in one way or another, and it is better to be prepared than unprepared! The neglect of this issue is a major problem in my opinion (more on that in another post).
This post was just a quick intro, and after this I will begin with a series of posts exploring various aspects of evil and suffering.
Thanks for the book recommendations- I’ll definitely have to check those out.
You’re right- this is an important topic that causes a lot of doubt, even among believers. All the more reason to not shy away from seeking answers.
Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Thanks for your comment. I just checked out your blog. I totally relate to the reasons you give for why you started blogging! Wow – you attend The Village Church! I’m not in the Dallas area, but working on a degree from a seminary in Dallas as an extension student. May God be with you as you begin mission work in Europe.
Thanks so much! 🙂
Hey! Been a long time since I’ve stopped by, but this post caught my eye. I would imagine that the books you recommend tend to deal with evil as a necessary consequence of our free will. But do any of them explain how Heaven could exist in that scenario? If we can’t have a utopia and free will at the same time, do we lose free will in Heaven? I’ve never seen a good answer to that question, but if one of these books deals with it, I’d be interested in reading about it.
Hi Nate! I was recently on your blog too, but only “lurked”. Excellent question. I know Wright and Tada did not cover it, but Alcorn may have. Alcorn covered much ground in his 500 pages, and I can’t remember all from it. I’m going to get the book out to look. I do want to share some thoughts in regards to your question…but debating whether to just share a few thoughts here in the comments, or make a whole separate post on it. Brevity is my challenge, so likely I’ll make a post.
Hi Nate! I decided to share a few thoughts here. I’m speaking as a Christian believer here…I believe there is an important “already but not yet” aspect to our salvation. When a person comes to Christ, they have salvation but it is not complete yet. There is a future component. Our salvation will not be complete until the new heaven and earth (“heaven”). On the new heaven and earth, we will have new hearts and be totally transformed people. It will be a perfect world, and better than the original world before “the fall”. I think our finite minds can not even grasp what it will be like. It will be better than the original world because God will live among us, and there will be no possibility of sin. I think we will have free will, but we’ll have lost the capacity to sin. We will make choices, but because our sinful nature will have been completely eradicated we will not choose sin.
This explanation honestly works for me, but I have a feeling it will not work for you. It probably sounds like “stepford Christians”? (If we can only choose one way, then we are not free.) I can understand that perspective. But somehow I see it differently. As transformed people with new hearts, things will just be different. We will be free….truly free…because we’ll no longer be marred by our sinfulness. Sin will no longer control us, as it often does now. In a certain way, one might see us as being more free in heaven than we are here now on the present earth.
That’s all I can think of to share. Thanks for the challenging question. Feel free to share any thoughts you have…
Thanks! As always, I really enjoy your posts and comments. You have a very humble nature that makes you easy to talk to, even when we don’t agree.
I think your comments above are well-reasoned, but they still leave me with some questions. I think the biggest issue isn’t whether God could create a place that’s perfect where no one would want to sin — let’s assume for the moment that he could do such a thing. Why didn’t he do it the first time around? Putting us in an imperfect environment has only led to pain and suffering… more importantly, it’s led many to Hell (according to Christianity). Why put us through all that if he could have done it differently? Secondly, if our new lives will be such that we have no sinful nature, I guess that means God gave us a sinful nature the first time around. But that idea presents some problems with the notion of God being perfectly good.
Anyway, those are the issues I see with the problem of evil. If it really is a necessary consequence of having free will, then I don’t see how Heaven will overcome it without removing free will altogether. Thanks for posting on such a heavy subject. Hope all’s going well for you!
Hi Nate! I appreciate your thoughts. Unfortunately, your comment that I have a humble nature has gone straight to my head and I am now feeling proud about it. ; )
I have touched on some of the issues you mention in parts 1,2, and 3 in this series. Feel free to check them out, although the arguments are likely ones you are familiar with already. It is really a never-ending discussion, as there are always more questions. Even as I provided possible explanations for some of these things, I realized that, alas, other cans of worms were opened! I don’t think I could be a professional philosopher because my brain could not take it. Christianity does not answer every question, but for me personally it completes more of the puzzle than the other options out there.
I did want to mention that…I don’t think God gave us a sin nature the first time around. I think God gave us the capacity to choose right and wrong (free will). When humanity chose the wrong, we then developed a sin nature. So I don’t think God is the author of evil, but God did make a world where evil was a possibility. (I flush that out a bit in a post.) But ultimately the answer to your question (“Why didn’t he do it the first time around?”) is that we just do not know.
It’s true that I do still see some big conflicts. But you seem to acknowledge those yourself. Ultimately, this issue (and several others) are too much for me to accept, but I can understand why others do. And since it seems like it’s working for you, I say carry on! 🙂 Thanks for the conversation.
For me, the problem for me with ‘free’ will is the notion that the ability to make moral decisions is somehow above influence from various causes.
Yet, the human will is as much in bondage to sin as the rest of our lost, fallen humanity.
We will probably only have truly ‘free’ will in Heaven!
We will be unencumbered by this cursed environment, weak biology and the indwelling influence of sin.
We read in Matthew 13:41-42,
“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom ALL CAUSES OF SIN and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.” (emphasis mine)
Sin and evil are not necessary as options inorder for us to excercise free will.
Imagine a restaurant that offers rat poison as a meal:
“Why do you have rat poison on the menu?” you ask the waiter.
“Free will!”, he answers, “The chef believes in the value of everyone being able to choose for themselves what they want to eat…even if it kills them!”
“So you believe in the sacredness of free will over the safety and well-being of your patrons?” you ask.
“We can have it no other way!” he proudly exclaims.
Absurd? Of course.
But what about the notion that the ability to sin is necessary for us to make true free will choices?
Hi Ellery! I appreciate your input. I like your point that besides our sin nature, we also suffer from weak biology and a cursed environment. We are encumbered, and only in heaven will we be unencumbered and have true freedom.
I’m wondering if this response is helpful:
Historically, Christian theologians have insisted that God has permitted evil in order to bring about “a greater good” than would have existed had evil not been present in the world. Thomas Aquinas argued on a broad scale that “the permitting of evil tends to the good of the universe… Philosophers have suggested that God gave “to the universe something nobler than anything that ever would have been among creatures except for this sinfulness” when He allowed sin to come into existence. 113 Therefore, in light of this biblical theological argument we cannot
…doubt that God does well even in the permission of what is evil, for He permits it only in the justice of His judgment. And surely all that is just is good. Although, therefore, evil, in so far
as it is evil, is not a good [in and of itself ]; yet the fact that evil as well as good exists, [on the whole] is a good. For if it were not a good that evil should exist, its existence would not be
permitted by the omnipotent God, who without doubt can as easily refuse to permit what He does not wish, as bring about what He does wish. And if we do not believe this, the very first sentence of our creed is endangered, wherein we profess to believe in God the Father Almighty. For He is not truly called Almighty if He cannot do whatever He pleases, or if the power of His Almighty will is hindered by the will of any creature whatsoever. [St. Augustine, “Evil as Privation of the Good,” Readings, 391] The reference is to the Apostle’s Creed, which begins with the words, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth….”