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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian

Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Written by: Russell P. Dawn

The existence, and indeed prevalence, of evil and suffering in the world raises the question of the source of evil.A monistic answer posits a single ultimate source of both good and evil.A dualistic answer posits a battle between distinct forces of good and evil.Christianity, and Anglicanism within it, has taught neither of these, affirming that there is one God who is both all-powerful and all-good.Thus, the problem of evil has been acute for traditional Anglicans and other Christians, for the very existence of evil seems to indicate a God who is incomplete either in power or in goodness.Would not any parent, the proverbial question asks, prevent the suffering of his or her beloved child if he or she could?

There has never been an official Anglican teaching on theodicy, a term of 18th-century origin referring to the defense of God's power and goodness given the presence of evil.Traditionally, though, Anglicans have affirmed western theodical teachings, which hold that God created the world and all creatures, and created them good.God did not create evil.To some creatures, however, God gave the freedom to choose--to choose relationship with God or, on the other hand, to exalt self over God.To choose self over God is to reject God and, because God is wholly good and the source of all goodness, to reject goodness.Evil, therefore, is merely a corruption of the good, with no positive essence of its own.

This corruption, traditional Anglicanism continues, occurred when the first human beings (who had been made in God's image) rebelled against God, exalting their own desires over God's command.They fell from their created perfection, and evil entered the world--which is to say the complete goodness of the world became corrupted.The nature of things changed.

Humanity's nature changed from being in perfect communion with God (and therefore sharing in God's goodness) to being severed from God and naturally inclined toward evil.All people sin.Consequently, moral corruption will always taint, at times to the point of obliterating, human goodness toward one another.This is why moral evil pervades humanity, why all human relationships suffer, in some cases with horrific cruelty.

The nature of the rest of creation also changed.The consequence of human corruption was the corruption of nature itself.Nature is no longer whole and good, but broken and marred.Therefore disease, drought, flood, famine, lethal storms, and the rest of what are known as natural evils also entered the world through the rebellious exercise of human free choice.

Why, it is often asked, would God have permitted the fall, knowing (as an all-knowing God must) the incalculable suffering that would follow?The traditional answer is that to create and to prevent the fall would not adequately have demonstrated God's love and glory.On the other hand a rebellion and an undeserved redemption, with the ultimate consequences of rebellion borne by God in Jesus Christ instead of by the rebels themselves, demonstrate God's love and glory more fully.For this reason Christ is said to have been "glorified" in the crucifixion.


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