Encountering Evil: The Problem of Pain and Suffering – Part 1

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

The recent mass shooting in Las Vegas was the worst in U.S. history. The volley of gunshots lasted only 11 minutes, and with 59 people murdered and more than 500 wounded, many ask, “Where was God during this horrendous act?” When tragedy occurs, questions often arise as to how an omnipotent God of compassion and love could permit such agonizing circumstances of pain and suffering.

The first response is not to be alarmed by the existence of evil. Scripture affirms that humanity is totally and universally sinful. Psalm 14:2-3 declare, “The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” As a result of this declaration, encountering the consequences of sin (such as pain and suffering) can be expected.

The Presence of Evil
The presence of evil in the world became apparent when Lucifer (and those angels who followed him) rebelled against God. Although the fallen angels were corrupted as a result of their rebellion, Scripture does not indicate any effects of their revolt upon the universe, such as a curse. The description of Lucifer’s rebellion is revealed in Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:11-15. Lucifer rebelled and became Satan (Heb. “accuser,” “adversary”), while the other fallen angels were committed “to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2 Pet 2:4; cf. 1 Cor 6:3), which means they have been removed from the presence of God and are currently restrained until the final judgment. Yet they continue to remain active in the world meanwhile.

Isaiah 14:12-14
The “taunt against the king of Babylon” (Isa 14:4) is ultimately against Satan, who is viewed as the actual, unseen ruler of the world (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). There are other instances in Scripture where Satan is addressed through a vessel other than himself. The foremost example is Genesis 3:15, where God addressed Satan through the serpent, proving that hidden from the reptile was a spiritual personality influencing it. In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus even said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matt 16:23).

Isaiah’s prophecy obviously transcends anything that could be said of an earthly king (Isa 14:13-14). Addressing the king of Babylon in superhuman terms, God calls him “star of the morning” (v. 12). The King James Version uses the equivalent Latin term “Lucifer” (Heb. “the shining one”), which generally has become known in English as a title for Satan prior to his fall (cf. Luke 10:18). The original beauty and power of Satan is evident in that Jesus is also called “the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16). The five “I wills” (Isa 14:13-14) spoken by the “star of the morning” represent the very essence of sin, as evident in the culminating boast, “I will make myself like the Most High” (v. 14). The king of Babylon may have exalted himself as a god (cf. Ezek 28:2, 9), yet Satan made this boast in the ultimate sense.

Ezekiel 28:11-15
Isaiah 14 is an obvious parallel to Ezekiel 28:11-15. Ezekiel viewed the career of Satan from his beginning to the ultimate judgment, whereas Isaiah depicted that legacy from its termination to the original creation. Satan was the personality and strength influencing the prince of Tyre (as with Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the king of Babylon). Indeed, such an interpretation corresponds with the context naturally, and is a natural transition from one personage to the other. The prince of Tyre is mentioned first (Ezek 28:1-10), and then Satan is introduced as the superhuman strength for the ruler’s power (vv. 11-19).

Contrasts between the two personages are evident, which proves that the depiction of verses 11-19 cannot be limited in extent to a mere earthly king. For instance, the “leader” (prince) of Tyre (v. 2) is differentiated from the “king of Tyre”  (v. 12). The first leader is called “a man” (vv. 2, 9), whereas the prodigious leader in the subsequent verses is addressed as “the anointed cherub” (v. 14) and “covering cherub” (v. 16). Furthermore, the superlatives used of the second personage (“full of wisdom and perfect in beauty,” v. 12; being “in Eden, the garden of God,” v. 13; “blameless in your ways,” v. 15) are sufficient for understanding Satan as the individual addressed in verses 11-19. Ezekiel described “the anointed cherub” (28:14) as prideful because of his beauty (v. 17), and “blameless” in all his ways until “unrighteousness was found” in him (v. 15). For this reason, Scripture warns against becoming “conceited” and succumbing to “the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Tim 3:6).

The Incoming of Evil
When the Lord God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the only prohibition was not to eat “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:8, 17). Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, which she did, and then encouraged her husband Adam to consume likewise. “Sin entered into the world” once Adam partook (Rom 5:12), and then humanity’s original parents had a fallen nature, which they transmitted to all their progeny. Whereas the fallen angels were corrupted because of moral evil, now that corruption entered the entire human race. Ever since Cain committed the first murder, now humanity throughout the centuries has perpetrated similar evils against fellow human beings.

The curse upon the ground is not merely to “thorns and thistles” growing (Gen 3:17-18); rather, it refers more specifically to physical evil affecting all nature. This includes the harmful effects of bacteria and germs that are epidemics for animal, human, and plant life. Diseases are transmitted from one generation to the next because genes are likewise affected. Scripture does promise that creation will one day be “set free from its slavery to corruption” (Rom 8:19), which is when God establishes His kingdom of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (14:17).

The Reality of Evil
Theodicy is a response to the reality of evil in consideration of God’s omnibenevolence and omnipotence. Leibniz originated the term “theodicy” (in his 1710 work Théodicée) from the Greek words theos (“God”) and dike (“justice”). A defense (apologetic) differs from a theodicy because, rather than attempting to provide an answer to the existence of evil, an apologetic seeks to prove that belief in God is rational despite the reality of pain and suffering. Nevertheless, the theodicist response and the apologist defense often coincide, and the term “theodicy” is often used similarly in reference to a biblical apologetic.

While the Christian faith admits the reality of evil, Buddhism seeks to eliminate desire, for it is the perceived cause of suffering. In other words, suffering is caused by the desire to exist, in part, as an independent self (samudaya). Buddhists are profoundly concerned with surmounting the reality that life is replete with suffering (dukkha), yet must deny the reality of pain and suffering to overcome it. Mind Science cults, such as Christian Science, teach a belief called monism (meaning “all is one”). Monism is a philosophical theory affirming that everything in the world is a component of or is reducible to one substance. There is only one true Reality, which is the essence of all goodness. Therefore, according to its true nature, everything that exists is already divine and perfect. Divine perfection is the only reality; therefore, any differing perspectives must be the consequence of erroneous thinking. According to the Mind Sciences, there is no reality of evil in the Divine Mind; rather, such perceptions are the result of fallacy or mental illusions. The closest parallel to the thinking of Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), who developed the ideas of Christian Science, is the Hindu concept of a solitary reality that accommodates all manifestations of that actuality, and thus the illusory nature of anything beyond it.

Judaism teaches that suffering is an inescapable aspect of physical existence, yet as a process of purification it can be redemptive. Islam denies that Jesus suffered death on the cross, for they believe an omnipotent God would never abandon a prophet to death. Jesus Christ confronted the reality of evil and was victorious over it by solving the problem of sin, which is the cause of pain and suffering in the world. Christians recognize that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).

If evil is a mere illusion, then questions still persist as to how one explains the appearance of evil in the physical world, in addition to the presence of pain and suffering. If one denies the reality of evil, there would not be any compelling reason for moral endeavor. For instance, there is no purpose in striving to live a moral life if evil is merely an illusion. Moreover, to deny the existence of evil is to live without correspondence to or in harmony with reality as it truly is. Are fatal diseases simply wrong perceptions of the mind? Certainly, it would be foolish to deny the presence of something life-threatening in the body, and equally absurd not to recognize what truly exists within the body. Scripture declares that evil is a reality, and it is a profound disservice to oneself to deny its existence. God encourages His people to acknowledge the reality of pain and suffering, which is why the psalmist could declare, “I believed when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted’” (Ps 116:10).

Midnight Call - 12/2017

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