Useful Things | January 31, 2020
We hope you enjoy this complimentary article from the January edition of The Worldview Bulletin. Paul Copan tells the story of a pastor who confessed to him that he was planning to leave the ministry because he was unable to make sense of evil.
Walking Away from God Because of Evil: Part I
Introducing the Problem
by Paul Copan
In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, the Scottish skeptic David Hume (1711-1776) raised challenges concerning what has come to be called “the logical problem of evil.” He writes:
Were a stranger to drop, on a sudden, into the world, I would show him a specimen of its ills, an hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcasses, a fleet foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence.
He then asks: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but, not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”
In her work on “horrendous evils,” the late Christian philosopher Marilyn McCord Adams adds what she calls “paradigmatic evils” to the list:
I offer the following list of paradigmatic horrors: the rape of a woman and axing off of her arms, psychophysical torture whose ultimate goal is the disintegration of personality, betrayal of one’s deepest loyalties, cannibalizing one’s own offspring, child abuse of the sort described by Ivan Karamazov [a mother who beats her seven-year-old girl, a five-year-old boy forced to sleep outside and eat excrement], child pornography, parental incest, slow death by starvation,…participation in the Nazi death camps, … having to choose which of one’s children shall live and which will be executed by terrorists…. I regard these as paradigmatic, because I believe most people would find in the doing or suffering of them prima facie reason to doubt the positive meaning of their lives.
In November 2018, a Colorado pastor raised just one such example of evil from his own ministry experience—an event so shattering that it led him to make this decision: “I am withdrawing” from serving in the church. I quote most of his (virtually unedited) letter to me here:
…I have some questions regarding the pervasiveness of evil and why does God put up with letting Satan have his way? Especially in light of His love for children why does He allow child abduction and sexual abuse? And the list goes on ... So when does God intervene on behalf of the saints and the defenseless? And is He really nearby and motivated by our prayers that seem to go unanswered?
I was an ordained elder for a local evangelical church….. I was a student of Bible and theology at _____. I loved serving in ministry, reading and teaching God's Word and was a champion of the gospel message for all those years.
Then about 5 years ago a 10 year girl … was raped and brutally murdered (her body dismembered) by a demented high school student who lived in the same neighborhood. She was a guest of our church … whose neighbor across the street brought her to Sunday school with their daughter and was told she trusted in Jesus as her savior one of those visits. The girl’s mom was invited many times but wasn't interested in checking out [our church]. After her death we memorialized her death and visited with her mom many times to try to comfort her but to no avail.
She wanted to know where was God to protect her precious daughter? We didn't have an answer. It was then that my faith began to question many things about God's presence or lack of it, having the same question that she had. All my training and study of His Word has left me wondering: Why doesn't God feel like we do? Why isn't [He] more active battling evil in the world? Why does He allow Satan to have control for so long? What is the greater purpose for all of this suffering?
I'm well aware and in awe of Christ's suffering…. And I am forever grateful that the Lord reached out of heaven to reveal Himself to me and saved me by His grace, through faith after believing in his message of salvation. But I am withdrawing from serving because I don't have these answers and wonder what kind of God would let this little girl die like this? And so many others like her throughout the world every day. Can you help me, Paul, see what is clouding my faith? Thank you, brother.
In the next several issues of the Worldview Bulletin, I want to address the question: Is it actually intellectually advantageous to walk away from God because of the problem of evil? What I want to argue is that the atheist’s or skeptic’s key argument against God becomes an even more difficult problem without God.
Of course, every worldview must grapple with the problem of evil. It isn’t just a burden that Christians or theists more generally must address. All of us must ask, “Which worldview presents us the best resources for addressing the problem(s) of evil?”
In this series, I will follow the insight of G. K. Chesterton—and even earlier, the apostle Peter—to address this question. Chesterton asked: When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from Him; but in heaven’s name, to what? Or, after a number of his followers turned away from Jesus, he asked whether or not the disciples would also leave. Peter replied to him: “To whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68).
 Marilyn M. Adams, “Horrendous Evils,” Readings in Philosophy of Religion, eds. Linda Zagzebski and Timothy D. Miller (Oxford: Wiley, 2009).
— Paul Copan is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Learn more about Paul and his work at paulcopan.com.
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