Rauser: Coming to Terms With the Problem of Evil

To quote Randal Rauser, in a post which made me think:


“If you want a simple and effective way to identify a Christian apologist worth listening to, ask them to share their thoughts on the problem of evil. If they keep their discussion of the problem in the abstract and if they suggest that it is a problem easily solved, you should keep looking. But if they instead take the time to describe the agonizing depth and breadth of the problem, and if they recognize that the problem is such that some people reasonably find their way to non-belief, then that is likely an apologist worth heeding in other matters.”

What are your thoughts on the authentic discussion of evil? The linked page shows a photo of a tricycle after the bombing of Hiroshima.

Biologos has good spots on this, too. https://biologos.org/articles/series/old-earth-or-evolutionary-creation-a-new-book-shows-fruits-of-multi-year-dialogue/evolution-and-the-problem-of-natural-evil



One of my struggles with using miracles to prove God’s existence is that the exception seems to prove the rule of suffering. God presumably loves the child in India who loses his mother to a wasting illness, as Rachel Held Evans noted, yet He reportedly performed the miracle of giving enough money to her church to repave the parking lot. One can argue that He’s not tame, and gives grace to certain people, but the pattern seems to consistently favor those who have money in the West.

It is, as Rauser seems to imply, by empathizing with those who suffer that we begin to understand better some of the really difficult questions.


I have written a fair amount on the source of evil in this world and how God is not the source of evil. My most popular post on Quora is on the origin of Lucifer, the source of the original evil.

One of the first comprehensive attacks on Christianity came from the Greek philosopher Celsus, who wrote The True Word, a polemic criticizing Christians as being unprofitable members of society. In response, the church father Origen published his apologetic treatise Contra Celsum, or Against Celsus , which systematically addressed Celsus’s criticisms and helped bring Christianity a level of academic respectability. In the treatise, Origen writes from the perspective of a Platonic philosopher, drawing extensively on the teachings of Plato. Contra Celsum is widely regarded by modern scholars as one of the most important works of early Christian apologetics. Ref: Wikipedia

So, as a scholar of Origen, I count myself to the Christian apologists. The evil in this world comes from the the fallen souls that have yet to fully reconcile with God. These are the same types that reformed Christianity to serve its purposes - bringing discourse to the world.

This is a great quote, both as humane advice and as a statement about the magnitude of the problem. One of the things I hated most about Reformed thought about evil–at least as articulated in general terms–was the emphasis on “The Fall” when discussing evil. (Fundagelical religion is very prone to this stuff as well.) This is not a “solution” to the problem of evil; for one thing, it is the kind of blameshifting that is considered morally childish even by teenagers, but more importantly it simply moves the problem around in a shell game. I would never say that a Christian is foolish or wrong to continue to believe despite the PoE. But I agree with Rauser, and would state it more strongly: someone who thinks the problem is “solved” by renaming it or by shifting the burden onto some naked people in a Babylonian garden is someone who doesn’t get it. At all.


I am somewhat confused - what is authentic evil and how is this discussed?

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Thank you. I may have been unclear in my wording. I meant “authentic discussion,” not “authentic evil”!

Rauser’s key is

I have been listening to Brad Jersak, “A More Christlike God.” I am not familiar with the details of Darwin’s life, but Jersak writes that while he did struggle in the abstract as an empathetic man with the finding of the Ichneumon wasp and other apparently unreasonable cruelties of nature, the loss of his little daughter really took away his faith.

It is having my own little children that has helped me reject Calvinism (at least, as I understand it). The idea that God would condemn my daughter or two boys for a tiny sin that they He created them unable to avoid–to Hell for eternity, no less–seemed completely unreasonable. It was absolutely in the opposite of what my own family was like, or of my ideas of Justice.

C S Lewis wrote, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.” He wrote this, initially anonymously, after the death of his wife.

Job is the book in the Bible that, I think, comes closest to discussing meaningless suffering, without giving an answer for it. It is not satisfying to me, though.

However, I have not suffered enough, myself, to be an authentic discusser of evil or suffering. Others on this discourse can likely do this much better than I.

I remember as a child in the 1980s, on an airport layover in the US, meeting an elderly couple of Holocaust survivors on their way to visit grandchildren in Israel. They had faint, blue tattoos on their shoulders or arms (I can’t recall which) which they told us, to our shock, were from the concentration camp. They avoided discussion of the experience, but kindly lent us sports magazines to read, which they were carrying to show their grandchildren. Frequently, my perception of evil is only this superficial–signs of a grief just under the surface, of people who continue to live despite their wounds I can not fathom. I need more maturity to listen and weep with those who suffer.


Thank you for clarification and considered response.

The question of suffering and injustice is both perplexing and troubling to all of us, and I would say this from my own life experiences, as well as hearing from others who have suffered. The question from theists is often, why does God allow it? I would say that my own personal response also includes the question, ‘why did God allow His Son to endure suffering?’

I do not claim to have a profound answer, and I leave it to God on this matter. What I think however, is that I try to accept responsibility for my mistakes and sins, and on that basis I deal as much as I am able, with the results of any evil that befalls me.

I reject utterly that God wants to see children suffer, and indeed I believe that God would not want to see anyone suffer. However, we are left with the assurance that He will wipe every tear from our face.


Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42)

The opposite is clear to me and directly from the Bible. Jesus tells us in His greatest hour of suffering that it is God’s Will. So, instead of denying this clear fact of life as human, I have spent my life trying to understand God’s Plan that makes suffering logical.

After a long search, it is no longer perplexing to me. Suffering provides the opportunity for spiritual growth. Suffering is also thumbing your nose at the king of this world, the source of evil. By suffering the hard path, and refusing to accept Lucifer’s reprieve, Jesus rejected Satan and chose His Father. This is the example Jesus left with us.

God’s will is that all are saved through Christ - and so Christ obeyed His will; but even then, Christ did not seek suffering, and this was inflicted on Him by unjust human beings.

If we endure in faith, we share in Christ and this strengthens our faith. This however, does not justify evil, and instead shows us the results of sin.

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Dear @GJDS, you do not seem to understand the battle that Jesus fought with evil during His life, not just with men influenced by evil, but directly with Satan. The Bible only says He was tested in the desert, but the essence of these tests is not revealed. Satan offered Jesus a way out of His suffering, if He would have forsaken His Father. By not accepting reprieve in His darkest hour, Jesus conquered Death (Satan) and died without sin.

In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 54

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final end of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy’d,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.


“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

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Yep this would get my respect big time.

Since I think of what gives rise to God belief as something distributed in the consciousness of humans, death and suffering isn’t on God. And the evil which only people can do still makes sense as estrangement from God.

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