The Problem of Evil
Today’s Gospel lesson speaks to us of evil in the world including the mention of the unforgivable sin – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This blasphemy is when people were saying “He has gone out of this mind”; and the scribes were saying that “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons” (a reference to an ancient Caananite god); and Jesus reminds them of the comments, again about himself when they said, “He has an unclean spirit.” All statements of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – the unforgivable sin.
Now, since the dawn of human thought, religion has struggled with this problem of evil and sin. For primitive religions, evil was a divine by-product. Earth gods had fought each other and left a messy battlefield to humanity; or, heavenly gods had a bash and let the dirty dishes fall to earth. Either way, neither set of gods cared all that much.
Now, the classical gods were cleaner but no more lovable. They were too good to be involved with evil. They bore humans no grudge. They might even wish them well, but they were loath to associate with them.
The Jewish God was different, however. This God seemed to revel in the human beings that this God had created. This God found newborn Israel in the desert, made them clean, dressed them in white, and married them. This God’s favorite king, King David, was a voyeur, an adulterer, and a murderer.
Not only was this God comfortable with other people’s evil, the scriptures variously describe this God as angry, lazy, spiteful, and vindictive. Yet, those same scriptures never doubt God’s absolute goodness; nor, in spite of the fact that God’s plans sometimes backfired, do they doubt that God is always in charge.
There is also the underlying suspicion that, even though everything is in constant and total chaos, God could straighten everything out if God wanted to.
Even the Son, of this Jewish God, was a textbook study about this problem of evil. That must be why his life story is so sad. Surely, in real life, there must have been some joy – nobody can be that beleaguered!
He must have gotten, at least, a chuckle when he changed that water into wine.
Wouldn’t he have gotten a charge from raising his friend back to life?
Shouldn’t he have felt a little giddy walking on water, a little smug in feeding the 5,000?
There had to be some advantage to being the Son of God!
But, none of the gospels record even one tiny smile. They are practically unrelieved misery, page after page after page, as Jesus is misunderstood, mistreated, and abandoned. His persistent failure drove him to tears in the garden, anger in the temple, and, at the end of the cross, into God’s hands.
Now, I wonder, was it all really that bad? Was there no mitigating pleasure? Or, is this just the Gospels’ way of showing how God handles evil?
Even if that is the way things are, the nagging question remains, “Is that the way it has to be?” Why is there evil at all? Why doesn’t God do something about it if God is so good?
Against such passionate attack, Christian theology has quietly defended God by insisting that God did not make evil. God made the world good and capable of continued re-creation. Therefore, it is imperfect, therefore liable to ill. God also made people good, like gods, but not gods, therefore imperfect, therefore liable to choose evil.
That combination of natural evil and human sin, compounded daily since creation, adds up to the present situation – right down to the smallest pain!
But, where does God fit in?
In a sense, God has nothing to do with evil. When God got involved with us, God held nothing back. God married us, too. And, like a loyal partner, God committed God’s self to us for better and for worse. God is no less God when it is for the worse.
A philosopher, named Jeremy Bentham, once charged that, because God either could not or would not, eradicate evil, God was not good. This could be an unforgivable sin! Perhaps.
Now, he was a fair philosopher – but a lousy lover. You see, God cannot destroy our evil without taking away our freedom. And, God will not do that because God loves us so much.
So, God is stuck with compassion – suffering with us. God is no absentee landlord; instead, God has cast God’s lot with us: our futures meet, our presents converge.
Jesus did not overcome evil more than 2,000 years ago and then quit. God is still doing it. The passion of Jesus goes on today whenever – and wherever – there is suffering. You and I, and God, are enduring our pain, our depression, our unemployment, our illnesses – together!
This is true through pastors who have been there over many years for others. This is true through laity like all of you who have been there at times of need for those you know and those you may never have met . . . through gifts of food and love at times of bereavement, through gifts to the homeless, through other ministries in this area – like Tyson House, through gifts and donations to Lutheran World Relief at times of disaster or crises.
The problem, then, with the Christian answer to “the problem of evil” is that it doesn’t answer all the questions. It leaves things dangling, as in our Bible Study last Wednesday.
On the other hand, the good thing about it is that, when we are hurting, the Christian answer really works.
Let me give you another example that actually comes from the turbulent 1960s and the height of the segregation storm in this country. It seems that at this time, the parents of a first-grader sent their daughter off for her first day at a newly integrated school. When the school day was over, the mother met the youngster at the door with the family car. “How did everything go, sweetheart?” she inquired.
“Oh, Mommy!” the little girl replied, “You know what? A little black girl sat next to me!”
Her mother, sensing that this might be a traumatic experience because of all that was going on in this country at that time, quickly asked her young daughter, “And, what happened?”
The little child replied: “We were both so scared, that we held hands all day long!”
The Christian answer to the problem of evil.