My daughter is struggling with the problem of evil

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JimmyH

Puritan Board Senior
I'm not sure if there will be any comfort for your daughter in this dissertation by R.C. Sproul, but it is possible that she may benefit from seeing/hearing it.


And one more that may be helpful ;

 
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py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I think there are some simple points that are worth bearing in mind. It's wise to acknowledge that this is an old, universal, and very difficult problem. There's nothing wrong with having questions or concerns, or struggling. Job comes to mind, and so does Jeremiah. Arguing with God about drought is one form of wrestling with this problem.

Second, what's the alternative? Either we take up the standpoint of Paul, that we trust God and look to the judge of all the earth to do right, indeed, to define right and wrong, or we take up the absurd standpoint of passing judgment on God as though creatures could judge the Creator. If we do that, then we have an inexplicable problem of good. Is it better to have a system where good is basic and evil is the conundrum, or a system where good is the conundrum?

Third, whether we can understand the Lord's decisions or not, we can affirm that he didn't dodge the consequences of his own decisions. The curse that God pronounced in the garden fell on the Son of God on the cross. Evil is a problem; but it's not a problem God shuffled off onto us.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I think there are some simple points that are worth bearing in mind. It's wise to acknowledge that this is an old, universal, and very difficult problem. There's nothing wrong with having questions or concerns, or struggling. Job comes to mind, and so does Jeremiah. Arguing with God about drought is one form of wrestling with this problem.

Second, what's the alternative? Either we take up the standpoint of Paul, that we trust God and look to the judge of all the earth to do right, indeed, to define right and wrong, or we take up the absurd standpoint of passing judgment on God as though creatures could judge the Creator. If we do that, then we have an inexplicable problem of good. Is it better to have a system where good is basic and evil is the conundrum, or a system where good is the conundrum?

Third, whether we can understand the Lord's decisions or not, we can affirm that he didn't dodge the consequences of his own decisions. The curse that God pronounced in the garden fell on the Son of God on the cross. Evil is a problem; but it's not a problem God shuffled off onto us.
Yes, this point seemed to gain some headway with her. The problem of evil IS, indeed, a problem, but is a Christian problem. If life is meaningless, then pain has no meaning and there is nothing redeeming about it. So she sees that atheism or nihilism is not a preferable solution. Without God there really is no objective good or evil, but she affirms that there is good and evil. She just has trouble with an all-good God allowing this much and this degree of evil.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
While I am not a rabid fan of John Frame, he does have a helpful illustration here in his Doctrine of God. We can think of God and humanity as operating on different levels, much like Shakespeare and a character in one of his plays, say, Iago, to pick a particularly villainous character. Is Shakespeare responsible for the evil of Iago? Well, on one level, Shakespeare wrote the script. On the level of Iago within the play, however, Shakespeare is in no way responsible for the evil. Iago does not feel like he is part of a script (unless his part is read poorly!). Now, of course, all illustrations break down when pressed too far. Iago is a fictional character, whereas humans are not. And what is more, Shakespeare never becomes an actor in his own scripts, whereas God does transcend that divide and bears the evil of the world on His own shoulders. For me, the key point is that God and humans act on different levels. On God's level, He writes the script. Just because God wrote the script does not mean He approves of everything that happens in it, nor does He permit it to endure forever. On our level, we are responsible for our evil motivations. We do not blame Shakespeare for Iago's evil nature.

To continue the analogy a bit further in a way that can help us get a glimpse of what God is doing, when an author writes a work of fiction, he usually includes "good guys" and "bad guys." He also includes harrowing situations, fraught with all manner of evil, which the protagonist has to overcome. It makes for a better story. If someone were to attempt a novel in which nothing bad ever happens, and everything is without a cloud in the sky the whole time, it would be very challenging to make it interesting. Now God could have written the script that way. I am sure that He is up to that challenge, just as He will be in the new heavens and new earth where no evil exists. However, He chose to write the script in such a way that His glorious attributes both of righteousness and of mercy/grace receive far more attention and acknowledgment.

One last illustration along similar lines. One very effective way to hide a diamond is against a backdrop of something extremely similar, like water. If one wants to display that diamond, however, one puts it against a backdrop of black velvet, where the diamond will catch every ray of light that goes its way. Don't know if any of this will be helpful. I just throw it out there as some of the ways I have used to help people.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
Our kids periodically bring up this topic as well, asking why God allows there to be sin in the world.

I usually have a serious, solemn conversation something along the following lines, about why would we think we deserve anything less. All of us humans tend to get into the mindset that we deserve to be happy, to be entertained and never bored, to have all the food we want, and we forget that those things are blessings which we don't deserve at all. What we deserve is hell. Anything less is grace and mercy.

Why did God allow Adam and Eve to sin and bring this upon all of us? Well first, God is not to blame, Adam and Eve are. They freely chose to sin and they were the first, most perfect humans who ever existed so don't imagine that you or I would do anything less. Second, one possible reason is that it brings glory to God to be able to show his mercy on poor miserable sinners. There are many aspects to God's character and he is able to now show his pure and righteous justice against sin, and to show his mercy and compassion against those who repent of that sin.

Ultimately, in some way (and I don't claim to know the exact reason), this displays God's glory and attributes more prominently than any other way, and I can be content knowing that it is righteous and just even if I don't understand all the details. But I certainly don't deserve better.
 

dnlcnwy

Puritan Board Freshman
I don't know if she is old enough for this yet, but at some point you have to let her know that whatever evil she (or you) experiences in her life is only a small fraction of what she deserves and has willingly brought on herself (against God's expressed desires for her life). In a mysterious way that we do not understand, this in no way compromises God's absolute control over the created order, but it wasn't a necessary part of her first parent's terms of existence or her's. We slapped God in the face at the fall and she was every bit as present in Adam as Adam himself when he/we did it. It is only a grace of God that the entire created order wasn't given over to hell at that very moment and a supreme grace of God that in spite of our current discomforts the world is gradually being transformed into a not so bad place to live and a remnant will be transformed once again into a state of indelible perfection to spend all eternity with him. Let her know point blank that while on a certain level God does not desire it for you that you deserve to suffer for what you are and have done no matter how many good works you have to your credit and so does she. It is hard nosed, direct confrontation and acceptance of these truths that attracted me to the reformed faith in the first place. Maybe 14 is old enough. Speaking for myself, I couldn't handle these truths until I was about 30 and had my nose rubbed in the excrement of my own sinfulness.
 
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Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
@Pergamum

Much good stuff here, but one that has helped me, and may help your daughter, Perg, is that we see things, necessarily, as creatures and very close-up. Bahnsen illustrated this with the jarring sight of a father grasping his tormented son, who was struggling to get away from a piercing needle. Up close it looks like sadistic torment but pulled back, we see that the father has tears rolling down his face while he holds his son whose bad cut is being sewn by a doctor.

The point is that we lack perspective. Yes, there's evil in the world, yes it hurts, yes it's hard to understand from our vantage point. We can rightly say that it stinks, and it does to God too. At the same time, God has greater purposes than we can discern in any given situation and we err when we judge him, as Cowper says, "by feeble sense." That hymn, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" contains much wisdom, recognizing both the reality and pain of evil in the world, while understanding that it remains mysterious to us, who must, as creatures, "trust him for his grace."

BTW, one need not think that hymns should be sung in worship to appreciate the beauty and poetry of such a composition. This leads me to say about the Psalms: here you have an unparalleled expression of both horror at and prayer for relief from evil coupled with confessions of trust in God. Sometimes we just have to sit in darkness and wait for relief from Him (Ps. 88). There is nothing like the Psalms as a practical approach to the problem of evil.

Peace,
Alan
 
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De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
This is a very important and sensitive topic and one that I have struggled with even recently.

I think it is important to keep some things in mind,

1. Our wisdom, compared to that of God is like that of an ant compared to Isaac Newton, except the difference is infinitely more pronounced than that. Just as a little baby cries and screams when receiving a vaccine (for it's good) so are we when we question God's goodness.

2. God is just, and will in the final analysis, make all things right. At present there are many evils and inequalities and things that are not just, but they will all be rectified, and in the final analysis not a single person will be able to say to God "you didn't do well" or "you did not treat us right".

3. It simply has to be accepted that there are some things that we will not be able to know and/or understand until we get to heaven. Until, then we are left with a choice - is God good? The Bible certainly presents him as good. Consider the character of God - "father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". Does this sound like the words of a capricious deity? Etc. At the end of the day we have to be satisfied with the character of God as revealed in scripture. Meditate on God's character, especially that of his character as revealed in Jesus Christ. Remember, "he who has seen me, has seen the father". He is good, he his just - these are abundantly clear from scripture - therefore what I do not understand I will leave in his capable hands and trust him that he is wise and good.

4. If we set up the standard that God has to pass our moral smell-test, then we have made ourselves out to be the judge or arbiter of morality, which is in fact setting ourselves up as God. This in fact is a sin and ought to be repented of. God confronts our morality, and not the other way around.
 

Jason F.

Puritan Board Freshman
I recently finished reading the 1541 edition of the Institutes. The last chapter on The Christian Life may be helpful here.
 

Grant Van Leuven

Puritan Board Freshman
I humbly offer how I and my four covenant children coped with losing my first wife and their birth mother five years ago this September to colon cancer (she was 38 and their ages then ranged from 3 to 12). We studied a book on Heaven and kept submitting ourselves to God's will, "Thy Will Be Done", free to humbly acknowledge it wasn't our will and free to grieve openly and often as Biblical and with Christ's example before He raised Lazarus (we learned in our Western culture many avoid grief and death and so avoided us). I have since remarried and been blessed with two more covenant sons.

First, we simply must acknowledge God's sovereignty and bow to it without being able to answer "why"? This is one of the main lessons I've appreciated others have pointed out to us by Job: "Why" is never answered and God doesn't have to answer that. Rather than put Him to the test (for which we are forbidden) we must allow Him to test us and by His grace may He help us have the same resolve of Job especially early on but also learn the same lessons of Job and humble ourselves before our Maker and Redeemer. "Thy will be done" is what I prayed as I stepped forward to preach for and administer my first wife's burial service at her gravesite when all the children assisted me with throwing dirt onto her coffin before she was lowered into her earthy bed awaiting the resurrection. Submission to it though was where we got peace. And in the same way Jesus asked to have it removed but if not, "Thy will be done" as He gives us the example in the Garden but also in directions of the Lord's Prayer.

So along with considering the lessons from Job that wrestle with such concerns with God and getting to where God gets him (through the testing), we find our greatest resolve and peace with Romans 11:33-36: O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

Here are a few things we went through over time that helped us submit to God's will and have peace in His Word and promises:


(This one I volunteered I had read the book while on our healing respite after we buried my first wife and that I needed to keep studying it because I needed help to get to a place of contentment in it all: so we went through it on a Wednesday study and it did help, and the section about wrestling with God about difficulties and pain is the most listened to section by far).

https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=7182121532502 "Delight to Bend Your Will to God's Will" (with Christ's example prophesied in Psalm 40 as referenced in Hebrews 10)
(this was to help one of our ladies face cancer treatment recently, and she said she was quoting it in the hospital and it helped and gave a witness)

https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=2271711634 "Keep Changing the Way You Think"
(This is the first sermon I preached returning to Matthew after we lost my first wife after a long time of doing topical sermons to be able to handle the time; it was a very tough text to return to at that moment but exactly what we needed).

I would also volunteer that almost five years later while there is always grief and questioning when you submit to the Lord He takes you through it and you slowly get resolve and peace and hope. That is where we are now, especially because of the hope of heaven. And seeing how a seed buried in the ground produced new life. And by being able to do that we also had the courage to look for a new wife and Mommy and together do declare Proverbs 18:22 also to be true.

Also, I often was so concerned for my children, what this would do to them (I've though of sharing this related to a local church tragedy near us that has been spoken to on this site and some of cried over how the children would cope). I was greatly encouraged by something I read by Malcolm Gladwell: a high percentage of people who lose their parents in childhood become presidents and prime ministers: why? Because nothing worse could happen to you so anything else you can handle. Now, the other high percentage end up in prison. It is important for us as parents to pastor our children to Christ through the grief with their knees and hearts bowed before God and their eyes on heaven and the resurrection. It is important for them to see us openly grieve and struggle but also to submit before God and move forward for them to follow. I have often taken a child aside when great grief and questioning hit but I never left them there after helping them express their feelings: I always took them to God, submission to His will, and the Resurrection, and they always only had their peace by the entire process especially the last part. That being said, this sermon may be helpful to consider that Romans 8:28 really is true, including all the hard stuff including in our childhood including what we lose or see our parents lose: https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=72918155531 "You Can Bring Beauty Out of Your Burdens" inspired by the story behind "I Can Only Imagine" which shares statistics per above by Malcolm Gladwell.

One last thing (and I'm just remembering as I type a lot of ways I ministered to the church, my children, and myself through our great grief and weary knees): https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=61917051235 "Let Your Sadness Bring Others Gladness." I preached it again when I brought my four children across the globe to Australia and in the sermon mentioned I didn't actually want to be there at that time (less than a year since our loss): https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=72517163225 It helped a lot to meditate on 1 Peter 4:19 that I came across in devotions and found especially profound.

Hope some of this might be helpful. I think it's important to let the pain and doubt and grief be allowed: but also that it all be pointed to Christ and God's sovereignty and the hope of God using all things for good and the saving of many lives (as Joseph attested to of his brother's evil). Submitting to God, with Christ as our example, I believe is the only way to peace through difficult providences (a favorite phrase I often borrow from a seminary professor).

I also thing turning to the time tested standards as quoted above is very very wise and helpful.
 

dhh712

Puritan Board Freshman
My daughter is 14. She has not adjusted well to all of our moves after I got sick. From 2 different Asian countries and then the US now. She saw her dad try to serve God and almost die because of it and now is having trouble with the problem of evil (how can a good God allow evil. What sort of sick being ordains suffering for His own glory). She is finding the platitudes we use to "solve" the problem of evil to be cliched and offensive. God could have created a world with no evil and suffering and still have His Creation praise Him. She finds the idea of hell repulsive.

Any advice? Any resources for young adults? The John Piper line of explanation is not satisfying to her ("Don't waste your cancer" etc). Evil is....well, evil and the pains of the world are preventable by God and yet He not only allows it but all suffering is ordained by God.

First, pray for her, my Little Alethea. I would gladly die for her and I worry about her. Second, I also struggled with this same problem. Third, I need something that fully acknowledges the problem and does not treat it smugly or fault the person struggling with the problem of evil. It is a true problem...but it is only our problem for in atheism there is no moral good or evil but mere chance random meaningless suffering.

She asked a camp counselor and other pastors for explanations, but the answers were all surface-level and seemed to be a means to shut her up and not fully engage the problem. "Just have faith" drives her further from it and seems a cop out to her (and also me). I plan to eat sushi and ramen with her several times this coming week (daddy-daughter dates) and I hope she continues to talk to me (she talked 2 hours with me last week and seemed disappointed with me when I had to stop to pack for this latest trip for speaking.

God, please save my little Ali, my heart hurts for her and longs for her good. And I feel terrible that her worries about my own illness has helped her to question God's ways. I am still alive, after all, and God has not only delivered me from hell but also has allowed me the privilege to help others.
Hey Pergamum. I'm sorry to hear this. It is so difficult when a family member struggles in his or her faith.

I struggle with this idea myself. I really can't stand the suffering in this world. It tears my heart out when I hear about infants/toddlers being mercilessly harmed by another. Another thing I can't stand is the thought of is eternal torment. Both these things I must confess just makes me sick and disgusted.

What helps me is to know when I think this way I am thinking that I am more merciful and know better than God. And I KNOW that is not true. It sure can seem that way from my perspective. But. I am a really limited being! I also have a really nice life which God has mercifully blessed me with. These things can and do really distort my way of looking at the world and understanding it.

I think a good many nonbelievers may have the idea that God is just some super smart person that happens to know a whole lot more than any other person on earth. I think sometimes we can slip this way in our understanding of God as well; for me at least, it's like Why in the world can't it just be like [this] (this being whatever I've put in place of what I don't like about the way God is doing something or what he has revealed about himself). I think though it might be helpful to really think about how vastly different God is from us; yes we are created in his image, but a somewhat not-so-great comparison might be comparing an old black-and-white photo to the actual living three-dimensional person. No analogy can really convey the enormous chasm which exists between us creatures and our God, but maybe this might help in understanding a bit.

It doesn't solve the problem really; I think I'll struggle with the problem of evil and be sickened at the the thought of eternal torment until the Lord finally calls me home to dwell with him in peace forever. But I think it might be a start. Just to understand how small and finite our limited minds are compared to the perfection and infinity of the wisdom of God. We really can't compare. We don't have even a candle to hold up to the light of God; our minds wouldn't even give that much light though we must think surely we must be a little bit closer to that, maybe a really bright flashlight compared to the sun--surely that would be a better comparison. But I just don't think it's that way.
 
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