What is evil?
3 Views on the Problem of Evil
Os Guinness | The Veritas Forum
The biggest question is problem of EVIL. Three families of faiths have very different answers.
I. The EASTERN View of Evil
The Eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism) is very, very realistic about evil. Buddhism is religion-sized answer to suffering and affliction and evil, what the Hindu calls “dukkha” (affliction).
But the trouble with the Eastern view: there’s no solution for evil, suffering, injustice and oppression in the world that we know it. The only answer is: renounce the world, detach yourself from the world.
What fuels everything is DESIRE, which leads to cravings, which lead to attachment, which binds us to the wheel. Problem isn’t just that we die, the problem is we’re reborn. Contrary to Californian idea that reincarnation is “groovy, man, groovy” (as we used to say in the 60’s)—reincarnation, we go round and round and round—maybe, Hindus say—35,000 times.
And the only solution is freedom FROM this world, from the wheel. So, in the East, freedom is NOT freedom to be an individual; it’s freedom FROM individuality. You can see, that’s a very radical view.
Buddha, when he was enlightened in Bodh Gaya, he didn’t say, “I am liberated!” He said, “IT is liberated!” He had reached the not-self. He called his own son “Rahula” which means “fetter”, impediment or “born chained”.
In other words, his family relationship was something that was holding him back from the renunciation of the world. And nirvana, which many people quote, actually means the “great deathless lake of extinction”.
So, Buddhism is the big gigantic NO! ever delivered to human aspirations. I think it’s a very poor answer to evil, although it has a very realistic view of evil from which we need to be delivered.
II. The SECULARIST View of Evil
We live in a meaningless universe, because everything finally comes from chance. There’s no meaning to be discovered in the universe. If we want meaning, we have got to create it ourselves.
Bertrand Russell gives us the picture of Atlas carrying his own universe on his own shoulders.
Now, the secularists do fight evil heroically. Ex. Albert Camus in his picture of fighting evil in The Plague, and the plague is the metaphor for evil. Dr. Rieux is heroic in fighting evil; he’s outraged by the plague.
But, Camus’ words: At the end of the day, he faces never ending defeat. Because evil is in the very existence of the universe with its absurdity, so we can never ever hope to overcome it.
Camus’s other famous picture is Myth of Sisyphus. The poor man is condemned to roll the stone up the hill, rolls down again, roll up, rolls down again, up again, down again. In other words, NEVER ENDING DEFEAT.
So, we defy the universe, but there’s a forlorn, hopelessness about it. Camus’s compatriot, Jean-Paul Sartre remarked: Atheism is a cruel, long-term business. I’ve been through it to the end.
It’s always carrying atheism to its logical end that creates the problem.
III. The BIBLICAL (Judeo-Christian) View of Evil
The Trilemma (dilemma, a challenge with 2 horns; trilemma, 3 horns). From Epictetus (1st century writer, of Jesus time) to David Hume, and modern atheists like J.L. Mackie, the trilemma has always been this: How can Jews and Christians believe that evil is very evil, God is all good, and God is all powerful?
The obvious way out is to relax one of those, and that’s what Rabbi Kushner does: God is not in fact all powerful.
But the Bible doesn’t do that, and Christians don’t do that. We hold all three: Evil is very evil; God is all good; God is all powerful. But the Bible turns the challenge into a profound reassurance.
1. Evil is very evil.
Is evil evil? The Bible says: Evil is terribly evil. And God sees it as evil, too. BUT, it should have been otherwise; it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
For atheists, existence is the error (as Schopenhauer, as Samuel Beckett said), and we have no hope in overcoming it, it’s natural to the world as we know it.
For the Christians, evil is alien; it’s unnatural; it’s a party-pooper; it’s a gate-crasher. When Jesus was at the tomb of his friend Lazarus (read John 11), who died prematurely, it says “Jesus wept.” More importantly, it said 3 times, “Jesus was furious”. He and His Father had made the world “good”, but it has been marred by sin, by human evil. So, evil is evil, but it should have been otherwise. And when we’re shocked by bad news, or outraged by injustice, or crying and grieving because of sorrow, we’re actually seeing the world the way God Himself sees it: it should have been otherwise.
2. God is all good.
Is God all good? The Bible says: Yes, ALL good. You can’t have shadows in some part of God’s character, otherwise no one can ever trust Him. You would never know what was good and what wasn’t good. What the Bible says (in the Old Testament and the New Testament): God cares, God comes, God acts.
In the Old Testament, the supreme poem of the Suffering Servant who comes to do God’s work on behalf of us humans, who is tortured and hideously disfigured, and killed, on our behalf.
This Isaiah 53 passage is who Christians believe that Jesus is.
Dostoevsky went through a hell-fire of doubt, in his words. The turning point for him, trusting God, putting his faith in God: he saw a picture in Switzerland of the descent of Jesus from the cross after His crucifixion; Dostoevsky looked at it for 4 hours, at the end of it, he said: I do not know the answer to the meaning of evil, but I do know LOVE.
And that’s what Christians believe, that we see God in Jesus, on the cross, for us and for humanity, no one can go so low that our Lord has not gone lower, and we can trust Him and know Him that He is GOOD.
3. God is all powerful.
Is God all powerful? Why are things happening: cancer in my wife’s family, the Haitian earthquake, Auschwitz, etc—how you can trust God if you don’t really know what He’s really doing? Is He all powerful?
Answer to this deep question by Basil Mitchell in the Parable of the Resistance Fighter in WWII in France: Imagine I come to you in a bar one night and said “I gather you want to join the resistance. I am the local resistance leader. We’ll talk for 2 hrs. tonight. If you put your trust in me and join the resistance, we’ll never talk live; it’s too dangerous. Sometimes, you’ll know exactly what I’m doing (it’s obvious); sometimes, you won’t. I might be in Gestapo uniform arresting one of our own, you won’t know that I’m in disguise releasing him out of sight, because he was about to be arrested by the real Gestapo. But at the end of the war, when the codes are broken, and all of the secrets are explained, then we’ll know why everything happened."
In other words, you need to know why we trust the resistance leader. And that is the Christian faith in the world of today, which C.S. Lewis described as “enemy territory”.
The 2 big questions are these:
1. Do we know that God is there? – His existence.
2. Do we know that God is good? – His character.
And for followers of Jesus, both of these are answered IN JESUS.
In Jesus, if God is the Father of Jesus Christ, I am sure God is there. If God is the Father of Jesus Christ, I am sure God is all good.
So, I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know “why?” about Auschwitz; I don’t know “why?” about the Southeast Asian tsunami, etc. But I know why I trust God who knows “why”. So, faith is not irrational: we can trust God in the dark, simply because we’re not in the dark about God.