Yesterday I received an e-mail that sought to answer a common question about the problem of evil, and the title of the message itself was based on a book by a noted contemporary gnostic writer who believes that the problem of evil is God’s problem. The result of this particular religious group, from what I could read at least, was a serious effort to justify the ways of God to mankind, to justify why it is that God allows evil. What I wish to do is something different. God is not in the dock facing the judgment of mankind, needing to come up with a clever defense or have someone else come up with a defense on His behalf. We are in the dock facing God’s judgment seeking mercy and grace, and the sooner we deal with our own fate and position, the better off we are.
What is the problem of evil, anyway? Often the problem is viewed as the question of why bad things happen to good people. Leaving aside the problematic nature of mankind considering itself to be good, for the moment at least, let us ponder the sort of bad things that happen to humanity. Generally speaking, man is to blame for why things happen to mankind. When people are abused, they are abused by other people, generally speaking. The same is true when mankind suffers violence. Interestingly, when we suffer from diseases, those diseases often come from cells like bacteria, viruses, or cancer cells, that have suffered damage and degradation that has made them harmful to mankind rather than an original and healthy form that would not have been so hurtful to us. There is a saying that hurt and damaged people hurt and damage other people, but it seems that a great deal of the damages we suffer in this life, even beyond that which human beings are responsible for, are the result of the damages suffered throughout the world in which we live. And, it bears repeating, this damage is generally the fault and responsibility of mankind.
When we suffer, we suffer sometimes due to our own faults, sometimes due to the faults of others, and sometimes because we live in a world that has been damaged by the behavior of ourselves and others. Often assessing the blame is not useful, because the state of the world is something that we have to deal with, and wasting our energy on trying to blame is often counterproductive when it comes to dealing with the reality and overcoming it. Blaming God for the problems is especially unproductive since it is His help and resources that we are dependent on to a great extent in coping with and dealing with reality, as well as the source of what additional power and resources we would want in order to deal with such issues.
What responsibility does God bear in this? When God directly sends judgment to mankind because of our sins and those of our neighbors and associates, God is blamed for being harsh and judgmental. When God lets mankind sort out its own business, and the inevitable suffering follows, God is blamed for being uncaring and uninvolved. When we make ourselves out to be the judges, we are often led to believe, incorrectly, that we are to decide if God’s reasons for acting and not acting are good enough to suit us. In reality, though, the situation is that it is we who ought to be seeking a defense for the judgment that we face. God is not on trial for how He has dealt with humanity. Any graciousness we have been treated with is far more than we deserve, and so we have no cause to complain in the first place.