In his memoir entitled Night, Elie Wiesel reflected on the horrors of the Holocaust.
As a boy around age 12, Wiesel witnesses one of the most evil massacres in the history of the world.
Even as a young boy he questioned God’s places in such a horrific event. In Night, Wiesel wrote:
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God himself. Never. “
Imagine if you can, witnessing the deaths of innocent men, women, and children. How can a believer witness this level of evil and still believe in n all-powerful, all-loving God?
This is what’s commonly referred to as the problem of evil.
It is labeled a problem because believers in God, and particularly in Jesus, maintain that God is all-powerful and all-loving. Yet, they must recognize that He allows evil and suffering.
The problem is legitimate. It is nothing to wave off or take lightly.
In response to the problem, Christians often claim “God has a plan… Just trust him… Pray about it” or something along those lines. While those responses are well-intended, they often do little to nothing to comfort the grieved.
But there is good reason to believe that God and suffering can be reconciled. In fact, we can go as far as saying evil is actually proof of God’s existence.
But before we can get there, we must differentiate between two different responses to the
problem of evil. The issue can be summed up as either a matter of the heart or of the intellect.
There is an intellectual response to the problem of evil but it may seem cold or disconnected from the heart or our emotional state. There is an emotional response to the problem of evil but it may seem disconnected from reality or fact. The best approach to this problem is an integrated approach that involves addressing the mind and the heart.
To address hurting hearts with both intellect and empathy requires wisdom. It comes down to timing.
If you are hurting right now because of the loss of a loved one or a tragedy, you may not need a philosophical explanation of God’s role in your pain. It may be best to take your time grieving.
If you know someone hurting, sometimes the best thing to do is just be there for them. Don’t worry about giving good reasons for God allowing tragedy. In fact, allow that person to express their frustration with God.
Trust that there are no words you can say that will the pain go away. Rushing someone through grief has terrible consequences.
Once you have had time to grieve tragedy (if it’s traumatic it could take anywhere from 6 months to several years) then you can deal with the intellectual problem.
An integrated approach to the heart and mind involves waiting on the right timing. Once the dust has settled so to speak, you can sort through a loving and powerful God that allows evil and suffering.
Over the next few weeks we will discuss the Problem of Evil and God’s role in suffering. We will approach the problem with empathy and intellectual substance.
Stay tuned this month for more on the problem of evil!