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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian

Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Written by: Russell P. Dawn

There are a few specifically Anglican points that need to be addressed here.First, in its early years Anglicanism was heavily influenced by Reformed thought, and a prominent theme was that God did not merely permit the fall, but rather decreed it as part of God's own plan fully to show God's glory and mercy.The Reformed stream in Anglicanism continues today.However, many Anglicans stress instead the freedom of human choice in the fall.

Secondly, although there is variety on this subject, most Anglicans reject the belief that a specific natural evil is the manifestation of God's wrath against a certain person or group of people on account of his, her, or their sin.For instance, most Anglicans reject the portrayal of Hurricane Katrina as God's wrath against the people of New Orleans because of their sin.That some suffer a natural evil from which others are spared cannot be explained according to human reason, as the biblical Book of Job attests.

Thirdly, as in other areas of belief, there is tremendous diversity in Anglican theodical thought, and no single perspective (whether or not traditional) can claim to represent Anglicanism generally.Some theologians (not only Anglicans but Christians generally) are open to answers to the problem of evil that tend more toward monism or dualism than the traditional Christian answers.Some see evil as a necessary part of the world for the sake of human spiritual growth.Human nature, on this view, is not fallen from perfection, but rather ascending toward perfection, and evil within creation is not wholly negative but rather has a constructive purpose in the development of human beings into God's likeness.Others attenuate or even set aside the idea of God's omnipotence.In these perspectives, evil is explicable in that God does not control outcomes in the finite world.Still others doubt the relevance of abstract defenses of God's power and goodness, emphasizing the practical instead, whether present or future.Such thinkers may project their focus forward to the complete manifestation on earth of God's victory over evil on the cross, or look to the present and to God's solidarity with human sufferers as manifested on the cross of Christ.

In spite of this theological diversity, there is within Anglicanism a broad agreement on the need for the Church and its members to seek to alleviate human suffering.Anglicans worldwide are involved in efforts to bring healthy living conditions, freedom, justice, and the Gospel to the impoverished and the oppressed.

Study Questions:
     1.    How do questions of evil challenge the Anglican understanding of God’s nature?
     2.    Explain the Anglican understanding of evil’s introduction into the world.
     3.    How was nature altered by human corruption? What did this pave the way for?
     4.    Why, according to Anglicans, did God not prevent the fall?


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