The problem of evil

Preparing for a short talk tonight as part of our course for people with questions about God, tonight’s the big question. Theodicy. A posh way of saying, “Justifying the existence of God in the face of evil and suffering in the world.”

On February 15 1947 Glenn Chambers boarded a plane bound for Quito, Ecuador to begin his ministry in missionary broadcasting. He never arrived. In a horrible moment, the plane carrying Chambers crashed into a mountain peak and spiralled downward. Later it was learned that before leaving the Miami airport, Chambers wanted to write his mother a letter. All he could find for stationery was a page of advertising on which was written the single word “WHY?” Around that word he hastily scribbled a final note. After Chambers’s mother learned of her son’s death, his letter arrived. She opened the envelope, took out the paper, and unfolded it. Staring her in the face was the question- “WHY?”

That is the big question: people are asking it all the time. Today my city mourns the senseless death of another 16 year old boy in some awful pub shooting.

Some of the people who are asking why are Christians who puzzle over the question of the existence of a good God side by side with evil and suffering as a consequence of it. They’re standing by a hospital bed somewhere right now praying, ‘Why God? Why did this happen?’

Other people are genuinely asking the question because tragedy and pain, but they don’t have such a clear faith but tend to articulate it in less reverent tones, ‘God- if you’re there at all- why don’t you do something to help?’

And there are those groups of people who use the question as an atheist bombshell against belief in God. A man called Pierre Bayle coined the phrase ‘the argument from evil,’ as a philosophical stumper; that if there really were an all-loving, all powerful God, surely he would destroy evil. Since evil is not destroyed, God must not exist.’

For some people, the creation of a world where even one child dries in pain can never be justified in the light of a loving God’s existence. The equation “God = good + omnipotent [yet] evil exists” just can’t add up. They see it as inconsistent and positively irrational, so they justify unbelief.

Dr. Billy Graham once famously declared, “I know my own heart and its deceitful power. I know that outside of the restraining grace of God, there is no evil act I could not commit within thirty minutes of leaving the platform.”

We bewail the evils of world terrorism, global greed, environmental destruction- rightly so. But what about the evil resident in our own hearts?

The film Nuremberg, is about the infamous trials of former Nazi leaders by the International Military Tribunal. In one powerful scene, Nazi defendant Hans Frank is attempting to explain his actions to an Army psychologist.

Frank explains, “I tried to resign as Governor General of Poland. I did not approve of the persecution of the Jews. Anyone reading my diaries, they will know what was in my heart. They will understand that such things I wrote about Jews, the orders I signed, they were not sincere.”

“I believe you, Frank…. yet, you did do those things. How do you explain it? I don’t mean legally; I’m not a lawyer or a judge. I mean how do you explain it to yourself?”

“I don’t know,” replies Frank. “It’s as though I am two people: the Hans Frank you see here, and Hans Frank the Nazi leader. I wonder how the other Frank could do such things. This Frank looks at that Frank and says, ‘You’re a terrible man.'”

“And what does that Frank say back?”

Frank, appearing to plead for understanding, replies, “He says, ‘I just wanted to keep my job.‘”

Nobody would justify such atrocity, while recalling the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

It’s a strong word isn’t it? Evil. Some will read it and say, “Speak for yourself, I’m a good person.” If I were the standard of goodness then you’re probably entitled to say that, but what if the standard is the holiness of God? A God who commands our love and obedience, and self-sacrificial love for our neighbour? A God who has put himself on record as declaring that if you or I break just one commandment once, it’s as though we’ve broken them all!

People are now rightly angry at the debacle of MPs troughing at expenses and ripping off the tax payer. The revelations continue each day. Outraged letters bemoan their lack of example.

For a prank, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote to several of his friends the note, “All is discovered! Flee while you can!” All but one left the country.

Despite all this, we can know a God who passionately loves us, forgives and restores us. Do you know him? A God who went to a cross himself to pay the price for every wrong or shameful thing we’ve ever done, thought or said. Do you know him? A God who knows us at our worst loves us better than any human being ever loved us. The only God who can give us strength to resist temptation, deception, fear and guilt. Do you know him?

Someone said, “Jesus didn’t come to rub sin in, he came to rub it out!”

He doesn’t wait to condemn you. He wants to love you. Just like so many ordinary people in our city of Manchester who are discovering these truths, I invite you. Come and know him.

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