Suffering and the Problem of Evil
Written by: David Buschart
The Baptist tradition, along with other traditions of Christianity, acknowledges the existence of evil and the reality of human suffering. At the same time, however, the Baptist tradition clearly affirms the goodness of the sovereign God. Hence, Baptists wrestle, both intellectually and existentially, with belief in both a good and sovereign God and the reality of evil.
God is the Creator and all that God created was good (Genesis 1-2). Evil and suffering were not part of God's original creation, and are not an inherent (or necessary) part of creation. They are, rather, a corruption of the creation.
This corruption--that is, evil and suffering--entered the world not through the work of God but through the free choices made by beings God created. An angel rose in rebellion against God, becoming Satan (or the devil) by opposing God's sovereignty. The apostle John cites this opposition in his explanation of Jesus Christ's coming into the world, namely "to destroy the devil's work" (1 John 3:8). Unfortunately, Satan is not the only one who exercised his free choice by rebelling against God's will. Some of the angels followed Satan and his lead, becoming "fallen angels" or demons, agents of evil. And, also under the influence of Satan, human beings fell into rebellion against God, and thereby became corrupted and agents of evil (as well as of goodness).
Because God is perfectly good, God could not let this violation of the created order go unaddressed. So, God responded with holy judgment on both Satan and human beings. Furthermore, reflecting the fact that the created order is an integrated whole, the effects, including suffering, of rebellion against God extended beyond these free-will agents to the entire created order (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 8:19-23). Thus, Baptists believe, on the basis of the Bible, that the entire created order has been corrupted by evil.
Human suffering is the most profound, though not the only, result of evil's entrance into the world. Evil, and the corresponding human suffering, is sometimes understood under two major headings: suffering as the result of natural evil and suffering as the result of moral evil. The former refers to suffering that results from the corrupted (by evil) functioning of the natural world (which, technically speaking, because of its corruption is no longer purely "natural"). Examples of such evil and suffering are the pain and losses associated with cancer or Alzheimer's disease, or the death and destruction that result from a tornado. Moral evil is suffering caused by the actions of moral creatures, namely human beings. Examples of this include the suffering resulting from physical brutality or murder, or the chronic starvation and poverty that result from corrupt business or government policies. (The line of distinction between natural and moral evil is not always easy to draw, and, in reality, some events are the result of a combination of the two.)
The Baptist tradition holds, however, that this is not the end of the story. Baptists believe the biblical teaching that eventually God will triumph over sin, death, and the devil--in short, over all evil. The same passages that speak of the entrance of evil into the world and of the current evil corruption of the created order also contain words of divine hope and promise that God will triumph over evil (Genesis 3:15b; Romans 8:20-21).
This confidence that God will eventually conquer and destroy evil is held in combination with the recognition of the existence of evil and suffering in the present. Baptists recognize that the problem of evil is not only an intellectual and theological problem but that it is even more poignantly an existential problem for millions of people. And, this recognition is part of the reason why Baptists seek to minister to people in both body and spirit, addressing both physical and spiritual suffering.
1. According to Baptists, when and how did evil originate?
2. Who is Satan? What harm has he caused on earth?
3. How is evil categorized? Describe each category, and provide examples.
4. How will evil be overcome?