In the last post we considered a number of definitions for evil – both what it is and what it isn’t. Carrying on, some contend evil is undeserved and unnecessary suffering by a sentient being. Here the challenge regards who determines whether suffering is either deserved or necessary. Further, the concept of ‘how much’ . . .
suffering now comes in to play. Perhaps pneumonia would be understandable, but losing a lung? How was that either deserved or necessary in a given situation?
Unfortunately, an all too common Christian response at this point is that given our fallen human nature, any iota of suffering by any human is always deserved. In fact, in this view, undeserved suffering simply does not exist. And even when the example of a four year old raped, tortured and brutally murdered is raised, some ultimately justify God’s permission of that act and steadily affirm God’s goodness due to her depravity.
And it is at this point that the world rises up in horror and wants nothing to do with the God of these people, with the Christian God, with this ‘moral monster.’ With the propagation of this view of God it is no wonder he is maligned in culture. It is at this point that theodicy receives a steady barrage of rejection and condemnation from the a-theists and becomes a serious threat for numbers of believers.
I believe evil and suffering can be both undeserved and unnecessary, i.e. that innocent suffering exists. I believe there are answers for undeserved and unnecessary evil that do not malign God’s character, but first, let’s finish considering what evil is and isn’t.
For some, rather than an absence of the good, evil is a deviation from or a not choosing of the good, i.e. God’s will. Hasker opines that “it is the nature of evil to actively oppose that which is good – it seeks to damage or destroy or corrupt the good.”1
N.T.Wright says that “evil is what you get when the mind is twisted out of shape and the body goes along for the ride.”2
David Bentley Hart writes, “[w]hatever else human evil is, it is – considered apart from any religious doctrine – a cosmic constant, ceaselessly pouring forth from hidden springs of brute impulse and aimless will, driven by some deep prompting of nature as we know it.”3
Evils, and the theodicies with which we respond, are often categorized as being either moral or natural in nature. While I understand this distinction, I do not believe natural evil exists. Natural events can cause immense suffering, but that does not make the act that caused the suffering evil. My view is that evil by definition involves the will and so is only moral in nature – evil is either inflicted or suffered (see Blocher, ‘Evil I’ post)
One final note. Evil is technically only a ‘problem’ for theists as they are the ones holding to belief in God as both omnipotent and loving. However, the problem of evil is often used by a-theists as the basis for rejection of God (although a-theists first need to ground their definition of evil).
1 William Hasker, The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2008), 218.
2 NTWright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 1: Chapters 1-8 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 25.
3 David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 37.