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The Rev. Rick Wright: “Suffering and Evil and God”

August 26, 2008

Speaking at the Falls Church, the Rev. Rick Wright gives a very good sermon on Suffering and Evil and God.  Surely all of us have wrestled with questions about why God allows suffering, and what He does about it; this sermon addresses such issues honestly and Biblically, I think.  This excerpt gives a good sample of the message:

If God is all good and all powerful, and he allows all this suffering and evil to continue; either he isn’t all good, or all powerful, and he must not exist. The first response to this challenge deals with where this question is coming from. Often it is posed by someone who is an atheist. Their belief system says that there is no God, and everything is due to evolution and chance. Therefore, there is no basis for a moral system; chance and natural selection are how things work. “Nature red in tooth and claw.” Evil, violence, and suffering are really just the way things are, and one is no better than the other. There is no moral basis for saying that suffering and evil are bad. The Hindu and Buddhist religions understand this, and don’t fuss over the question of evil and suffering; they are just karma. Why does the Western atheist often object? It seems that it may be because they actually do have a sense of moral right and wrong. Where does that come from; why does it persist? There is no philosophical justification for objecting to suffering and violence and evil if there is no God at all. Hitler then was just acting on the principle of the selection of the fittest; if there is no God that is not evil or wrong, it is just the way things are. Who is to say that there is right and wrong, and on what grounds is it defined if there is no God? So the problem of suffering and evil is not just a challenge for us, or for theists, but also for the atheists: how do they deal with suffering and evil in their philosophical system? Why should they care? They actually have the harder challenge, they don’t have a personal God to turn to, just a myriad of different, competing, and conflicting individual viewpoints.

However, there is a second response to the challenge of this argument, and that is to bring into the light a couple of presuppositions inherent in this line of questioning. Let me put the argument this way, adding in the presuppositions. If God is all good and all powerful, and God did have a reason for allowing suffering and/or he did something about it, we would know it and understand it. Since we don’t know or understand God’s reasons, he can’t possibly have one, and therefore he can’t exist. Once you put the presuppositions into the argument, it changes it a bit.

If someone asked me any one of the following questions I would have to say I don’t know or understand the answer. “Can you please explain calculus to me?” “Do you understand Euclidean geometry?” “Why is your car making that funny noise?” “Who understands the U.S. tax code or the federal budget?” “Dear, would you please program our DVD player to record the TV show tomorrow night?”

Just because I don’t know the answers to those questions doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer. The presumptions in this challenge are that we are capable of knowing and understanding the answer, and that since we do not think we know or understand the answer, there must not be one. But why should someone who doesn’t understand calculus assume they would know the answer to the question of evil and suffering? That is a big assumption. And why should we assume that God doesn’t have an answer to that question? Who is to say whether God has an answer to that question? Would that not be God? Is it possible that we’re not capable of understanding the answer, but that it exists, and that God understands it? As for God doing something about evil and suffering, I would assert that the cross and resurrection of Christ is exactly that, accomplished publicly in history.

I highly recommend this sermon; note this is a PDF file.

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