Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tough Topic Tuesday: The Problem of Evil, Pt. 10

As we conclude our series on the problem of evil, we wanted to offer some helpful tips in dealing with the emotional problem of evil.  The emotional problem of evil "concerns people's dislike of a God who would permit suffering."1  It also may include those who are angry at God for allowing an event to happen in their life.

Philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig contends that "for most people suffering is not really an intellectual problem but an emotional problem."2  This is important to remember when discussing this problem with others.  Further, we should still go through the intellectual responses to the problem of evil when necessary because, as Craig once again explains, "...by working through it we can respect their opinion (that their problem is intellectual) and help them to see the real problem."3

As I shared last weekmany times, the person who puts forth the problem of evil and suffering is suffering or has greatly suffered. We must not minimize this. So when the problem of evil is brought up by those to whom we are talking, we must proceed with caution and tread lightly.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Many times, words don’t help.  Sometimes the person just needs you to sit and listen to them or cry with them.  I recall once hearing a story of a man who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and lay dying in his bed.  People would visit him and tell him God had a purpose for his suffering or share Bible verses with him and while they meant well, it left the man cold.  Then, a stranger, whom he didn't recognize, entered the room, sat beside his bed, and wept.  Then he got up and exited the room. The man said this offered him more comfort any words someone could have shared with him.

2. If you decide to share a Bible verse, be discerning.  Unfortunately, I have heard many well meaning Christians share a Bible verse with someone when they are in the midst of their suffering as if it is a magic pill that should take their pain away.  Bible verses can be very encouraging at times; however, when someone has just found out their spouse has cancer, looking at them and saying, "Just remember, the Bible says, '...that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them'"(Rom. 8:28) may not be so wise.  I believe that verse is true; however, sometimes flippantly offering a Bible verse instead of holding the person's hand or providing for their needs sometimes can appear insensitive.  Should we share verses with others to encourage them?  Absolutely!  We just need to make sure we prayerfully do so!

3. Sometimes people suffer because of their own sinful choices.  I know I have.  In these situations, it is imperative that we point out our brother or sister's sin; however, we should not kick them while they are down.  We need to point them in the right direction, but also hold them up and encourage them.

4. One of the biggest mistakes someone can make is to try to have a rational conversation when the person is not being rational.  Sometimes this is the case with someone who is suffering.  When they are "in the pain," they can't hear our words or benefit from our advice.  In situations such as these, it is best to let the individual know you are there for them when they are ready to talk and you understand they are hurting.  When it comes to suffering, sometimes people just have to get through the hurt and anger before they are ready to talk.  That is okay.  Just be there for them.  Your presence offers more comfort than you realize.  Staying calm and not losing your patience with them demonstrates you will love them even when they are at their worst and is a powerful witness for Christ.

5. Pray for them and with them if they are willing.  If they unwilling, do not force them and let them know that if they change their mind, you will be happy to pray with them.

6. Finally, for the Christian, remember that the God who is allowing the suffering had the guts to take His own medicine. In other words, look to the cross of Jesus Christ.  Craig puts it well:

"On the cross Christ endured a suffering beyond all understanding: He bore the punishment for the sins of the whole world.  None of us can comprehend that suffering.  Though He was innocent, He voluntarily underwent incomprehensible suffering for us.  And why?--because He loves us so much."4

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

Courage and Godspeed,


1. William Lane Craig, On Guard, p. 153.
2. Ibid., p. 169.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., p. 170.

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