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Religion Library: Christianity

Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

There are other Christian responses to evil that do not claim that evil is part of God's divine plan. Some Christians believe that God disciplines us just as a human father might discipline his children. Our suffering, therefore, is God's punishment, and is a sign to us that we should repent. Others believe that God uses suffering to test our faith in divine providence and that suffering is an opportunity to make faith stronger and more constant. Another belief is that our suffering in our earthly life is only temporary and will add radiance and joy to our eternal life.

Others might say that evil is nothing but the absence of good, a strong reminder to us that we should work harder to bring good into this world. Still others might argue that God's connection with the created order is so profound that God has bound divine providence and omnipotence to the human experience. God's activity in the affairs of creation, then, is powerful, but not directive or controlling. contemporary approaches to evil include the argument that evil is not a problem for Christian faith. In the Old Testament, the Psalms regard creation as a revelation of God's goodness. Evil, also a part of God's creation, must reveal that inherent goodness as well, if we know how to look. Recently some Christians have stopped viewing evil as an existential problem, and begun viewing it as a practical problem. Some, like Alyosha Karamazov, the character in Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov, believe that the evil in our midst requires that we act to end it. Explanations or justifications of evil's existence are only secondary to this call to action, or are not at all meaningful.

Psalms 13:1-3
How long will you forget me, O Lord? Forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul,
     having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O Lord my God!

In all cases, Christians have been heard to cry out with the Psalmist, "How long, O Lord?" One response, uniquely Christian, is the belief that God suffers too. Through Christ's suffering and pain on the cross of crucifixion, God submitted to the same evil that torments so many. This response does not explain or justify evil, but it helps Christians to bear it. They trust that, even in their pain, God is with them. In the meantime, Christians hold onto the hope that ultimately God and God's good purposes will prevail, permanently defeating Satan and evil.

Study Questions:
1.     Why do Christians struggle with the problem of suffering?
2.     How is suffering manifested?
3.     How does suffering become a vehicle to a closer relationship with God?
4.     What are the contemporary approaches to the problem of evil?


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