The God I Don’t Understand 3: Evil

Chapter 1 of Chris Wright’s The God I Don’t Understand turns to the mystery of evil.

The problem of evil is a problem for Christians at every level since they believe in a good all-powerful God.

In one hugely important sense there is no mystery here at all. Genesis’ diagnosis is unvarnished; human sin, either directly or indirectly, is to blame for the vast amount of evil, suffering and pain that disfigure our world.

Yet the human fall is a decision to become complicit with an already existant force of evil. And, as Wright puts it, it when we ask the question ‘Where does evil come from?’ we enter the arena of mystery. While the entry of evil into human experience is described at the Fall, where that evil comes from is left unexplained.

–          It is not of God – evil is not part of who God is

–          It is not of the human creation which is declared good

As Christians have long done, Wright traces its origin to the serpent / the Devil / the fallen angel – linking texts like Jude 6, 2 Peter 2:4 and Rev 12:7-9.

But to ask further where did this evil come from and how did it come into existence is to be confronted by silence. The Bible simply does not say.

Wright agues this is a good thing. Evil is beyond rational explanation. It does not ‘belong’, it cannot be understood, only resisted. There is a sense here that to look for the ‘sense’ in experiences of suffering and evil is to be met with silence rather than a comforting explanation.

I’m reminded here of what John Sanders the Open Theist said about so much human suffering being ‘pointless evil’, out of God’s purpose or foreknowledge. Now I’m not saying Wright and Sanders are saying the same thing! They are not. But there is some overlap here in that they are both saying, for very different reasons, that we may look in vain for ‘answers’ or ‘purpose’ in suffering and evil.

What do you make of this? In our own experience, and in caring for others, should we try to discern purpose and meaning for why God allows it to happen? Some Christians seem to find this necessary in order to deal with suffering. In pastoral care, this theology can lead to the sufferer being told God has willed it for some specific reason. The trouble is, how do we know this? It is purely subjective speculation and tends to come close to making God the author of evil.

Admitting that we can’t discern purpose, Wright admits, is hard to deal with. The focus of Scripture is what God has done and is doing to overcome and finally defeat evil, rather than offer philosophical explanations of where it came from. Yet saying this does not mean we accept evil or lamely accept it. No,  rather we lament, cry out, we long for a better day. And this brings us to the next chapter …


5 thoughts on “The God I Don’t Understand 3: Evil

  1. Whilst we may at times, or even often, look in vain for the ‘sense’ in suffering or evil,(particularly when we experience or hear of some horrendous activities) isn’t it also possible at times to discover a purpose or meaning? For example, it is sometimes the only way that God actually gets our attention, as many instances in the OT indicate or as C.S.Lewis describes it, it is in fact God’s megaphone to get our attention. In addition numerous NT passages suggest that suffering is to produce perseverance and maturity. Is that not a valid purpose or is the suggestion that a ‘good’ God should not adopt this method? Perhaps crucial to this discussion is our definition of ‘evil’ and the importance of distinguishing between ‘suffering’ and ‘evil’ Is it possible that sometimes our definition of what is evil is different than God’s? Isn’t suffering sometimes good, whereas evil can never be?

  2. Hey Normily – and Bump!

    Ruth – yes, evil is the antithesis of good. And yes, evil actions and ‘thorns in the flesh’ will never frustrate the good purposes of God. We’re heading into more discussion of these themes in the next couple of chapters, but for me the key point here is that God is completely good and opposes evil utterly – even to a violent death on the cross. It’s origin is not ‘of’ him or a tool he fashions just to show his goodness. I’m wanting to draw a line between God and the origin of evil. Sometimes it seems that some theologies come very close (even if indirectly) to attributing evil to God.

  3. I Love these questions… After many years of searching for meaning in the suffering in my own life i realised 2 things.

    1) to live like this gave me a distorted view of God. I belived that God sent suffering to cut off the rough edges – so that i could become a better person, or learn a particular lesson – i somehow lost the sense that God’s only desire for me even in suffering is that i would know him. I spent a lot of time trying to anticipate the lessons that God needed to teach me and learn it before God had to send suffering to teach it to me. when you think about it, this was all kind of messed up!

    2) one dark day as i demanded an answer to my ‘WHY?’ from God it occured to me that if God answered me in that moment with the best reason ever, it would never satisfy me, it would never make the suffering easier to accept or live with. It would never remove the pain. In that moment i realised that that i had been using my demand for an answer for suffering as a way to avoid feeling the pain of loss. In this moment i felt like God was finally God in this area of my life.

    all this waffling to say that yes in a sense i think it is in vain to search for meaning to our suffering and distorted to view suffering as origionating of God.

    • Transfarmer – a quote from a sacred and inspired text comes to mind:
      “Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content”. (Bob Dylan 🙂 )
      As Ruth says, suffering may not be good in itself (and is often due to evil) but God can work in and through it in ways transcend it and deepen faith and love.

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