The problem of evil

Question: 

1. What is evil? 2. Where does evil come from? 3. If God is omnipotent, why does God permit evil? 4.1 Is God omnipotent? 5. Are we permitted to use violence?

--Irked in Edmonton

Answer: 

Evil is defined by the philosophers as the absence of good. They indicate that there is something missing in the action to make it right. (For example, taking another's property.) This is wrong if the owner does no wish to part with it, or the person who takes it has no right to do so. It could be wrong if the person is very needy and takes what he needs for survival (e.g. food) or if the owner would gladly part with the object were he asked, etc.

God does not positively will evil. He is good and wants goodness for all his creatures. However he created a world in which evil exists. This can be seen in the laws of survival written into the nature of animals. Human evil is of a special kind because human beings have knowledge and will. They are not driven by instincts alone. Their actions are the result of free choice.

God is all-powerful (omnipotent) because he is divine. All of God's attributes are perfect. Omnipotent means he can do everything he wills to do.

Violence is the use of force. The term usually implies something negative, i.e. using force/power beyond what is necessary. Many religions (Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism) see the use of violence as immoral. Though there are many Bible stories in which violence seems to be justified in the Bible, modern Jews would interpret the Bible as describing the times rather than justifying the same kind of violence today.

Christians, for many centuries, used the "just war theory" to say that people may go to war for a just cause. Today there are many Christians who believe war can no longer be justified because of its ravages, especially on civilians.

Part II

My own reflection on the subject would underscore that evil remains a mystery. It is very difficult to understand and fathom. We know it exists, there is daily evidence of it. How and why God would create a world in which such evil exists cannot be fully understood. This encompases the evil of natural disasters, war, ethnic cleansing, and the personal sin which ranges from the criminal and "social structures of sin" to the very private "peccadillos" of individuals.

The Christian interpretation of this matter is that God allows sin to exist as a testing ground. Those who develop faith and trust of God, believing in his great love as Creator and Redeemer of humankind, are rewarded by God with eternal life, a share in God's own existence, and this sharing in his life and love will continue forever.

In the Lord's Prayer we ask "deliver us from evil" (in some translations "from the evil one") and it is by God's grace and strength that we hope to stand fast against the forces of evil in the world.

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