The Problem of Evil

Last Wednesday night, my heart fell as I read the notification on my phone that Russia had invaded Ukraine. Yet again, we are confronted by injustice, by greed, by fear for the well-being of others and for ourselves. Of course, Russia’s actions don’t exist in a vacuum—we ought to be reminded that this is a familiar story, told over and over again throughout human history, including our own history as Americans. What are we to make of this recurring reality?

First, we must keep in mind that human beings are morally responsible actors in this world. That is, if we are to deal honestly with the problem of evil we mustn’t hide from the fact that it is often human decision that leads to pain and suffering. No one made Putin invade Ukraine. No one forced Stalin or Mao to massacre their people. No one compelled U.S. states to forcibly sterilize those they deemed “unfit” to reproduce. More personally, no one compelled you or me to say or do that thing that hurt our children that time, or that unfairly placed my good over that of another person. If we are to confront evil, we must deal with it honestly and humbly, holding those responsible accountable, but remembering our own errors.

Second, we must acknowledge that suffering can lead to good. I hesitate to write this because it is all too easy to become like Voltaire’s character Candide, who essentially excused any evil by his conviction that he was living in the best possible world. Nonetheless, it is profoundly true that suffering shapes and fashions human character in amazing ways. Another Christian pastor once said somewhere that the worst prayer we can pray for our children is that they will be protected from all harm. We know this to be true, because the moments of greatest growth in our lives often occur as the result of great pain. And of course, the great hope of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; the ultimate proof, if you accept it, that rather than simply halting evil, God loves to transform evil to good. So if we are to pray and hope in the face of evil, perhaps the best we can do is to ask for strength to do what is right, to endure suffering, and work for the defeat of evil.

And what are our great tools in the defeat of evil? Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in nonviolent resistance, and he famously explained it by saying, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The human impulse is to strike back when you are struck, which merely begets a cycle of violence. Only love and forgiveness break this cycle, only light can drive out darkness. Yes, there are times that nations will go to war, fulfilling their Romans 13 mandate to restrain evil. But “restrain” is the operating term; violence will never cure violence, only curb it temporarily.

My friends, the news is discouraging, but the answer is to overcome evil with good, to overwhelm death with life. The best part is kindness and love don’t require special equipment or training. Anyone can do it!

Ian Hodge is pastor of the Lemon Cove Community Church in Lemon Cove. He may be reached by calling 559-597-2249Prays Together is a rotating faith-based commentary and advice column among the pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Exeter, Church of Christ of Exeter, Nazarene Church of Exeter, Church of God of Exeter, the New Life Assembly of God and Rocky Hill Community Church as well as the Lemon Cove Community Church. 

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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