Bishop Robert Barron did a fine job of outlining the “problem of evil” in a recent podcast. In case you are unfamiliar with this concept, it runs like this: God is good. God is all-powerful. Bad things happen. Therefore, either God is not good or God is not all-powerful.
I promised to discuss some of my thoughts on this in my last post. Understand, then, that this isn’t a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil, but some of my reflections that Bishop Barron did not cover.
First, I find it interesting that few people ever discuss “the problem of good.” God is just. God is all-powerful. We are all guilty before God of breaking his commandments. Good things happen to us anyway. Why is this not a counter-example against his justice or omnipotence? To me, it is just as valid as the prior argument.
The answer, it seems, is that we don’t mind unmerited favor, but we get really touchy about any possible unmerited disfavor. We are all selfish. Sit two children next to each other and give one 3 cookies and the other 4 cookies and you’ll see the objections fly from the first, but not the second unless you have an exceptional child.
Another observation: we tend to find what we are looking for. If I go through a day looking for things to complain about, I can certainly find a long list. But, if I am looking for things to be thankful for, I can generate a long list there as well. It is hard to find contentment when you are focused on all your sources of discontent.
Yes, every life has its share of legitimate suffering, some more than others. Some of this suffering is truly outside our control, while a good deal is self-inflicted, or is at the least made worse by us. I am no Pollyanna. I am a combat veteran who has watched people die. I’ve knocked on too many doors to tell someone their son or husband isn’t coming home anymore.
But I also wake up every morning. I see the world God has created around me. I have my family and friends. I have a roof over my head and food in my pantry. Life is good because God is a merciful and generous God, even to sinners like me.
Mine is not a pain-free life. I’ve felt my appendix rupture. I can’t run anymore because of nerve issues in my hip. But I can still walk. And I received medical care in time to keep my appendicitis from being fatal, like it would have been had it happened a century earlier.
The problem of evil is mostly “solved” by the existence of freedom that God gave us so we could choose to love him. That freedom comes with a risk, a risk that we will choose to not love him, a risk that we will choose to do evil, and we all do, to differing degrees. Yet, the sun rises in the east every day, the rains come, the crops grow, and our life goes on. God is ridiculously good to us.
If you have trouble seeing that, I recommend the one thousand gifts challenge. Ann Voskamp wrote a book a few years ago detailing her challenge to herself to list three things per day that she is thankful for, with no repeats, for a year. The math comes out to slightly more than 1,000 things.
It is a good exercise, one that my wife and I practice. Three things you are thankful for each day. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. They are all blessings that ultimately have their source in God.
It may be that we can solve our problem of evil, at least to an extent, by being thankful for what we have.* There is one other thing we can do as well, but I’ll save that for next time.
* This is not to say that we shouldn’t work for justice in our world and seek to alleviate others’ suffering. Of course we should. We are commanded to do works of mercy.