The problem of evil

"This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt..." Job 38.11


How can a thoroughly good and all-powerful God allow evil and suffering in the world? The obvious answers include: that they are a punishment for sin and that they are a consequence of our own bad behaviour. But these don't cover situations where excessive suffering comes upon those who happen to be more vulnerable and no less wicked than others who get off scot-free. Jesus himself ruled out assuming that natural disasters implied moral guilt and instead urged everyone to repent or risk the consequences of what they truly deserve.


The Book of Job is devoted to this most enduring of mysteries: why do bad things happen to good people? Its insights are consistent with the teachings of Jesus and other biblical sources:

  1. Evil and the suffering which accompanies it are real; they are not illusions

  2. Suffering may be random, although there are occasions where it is deserved or brought upon the sufferer by their own action

  3. God is neither absent nor impervious; Jesus' life and the manner of his death are testimony to that

  4. Suffering is not without meaning, though we may not be able to understand it from our perspective; Job himself did not have the access to the throne-room of God which the reader of his book enjoys

  5. When endured faithfully, suffering can be redeemed; there is no doubt that Job emerges a better person for his ordeal

  6. When they have served their purpose (whatever that might be) God will purge creation of suffering and evil.

Rather like the "sex talk" at school, one hopes for a magic solution to the problem which makes it all right when, in our heart of hearts, we know that if it was that simple somebody would have found it long ago! This should not necessarily stop us searching, as long as our searching does not distract us from living faithfully, as we ponder these and other mysteries. To put it another way, such dilemmas can either turn us away from God because they undermine the assumptions we have, or they can intensify our desire to know more of him and his ways. The former leads to despair, while the latter feeds our devotion.


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