By Any Other Name

I am not sure that anything has ever encroached upon my faith like the problem of evil. It can affect every level of theology, and whenever suffering wraps its fingers around my life or the lives of those I care deeply for, the question takes on new meaning, attacks with greater ferocity, and trumps all of the pat answers I have scrambled together. Injustice pounds on the door constantly; the worst part about it: we as human beings tend not to display much anguish until evil or suffering has met us face-to-face.

The funny thing about suffering is how we measure it. We have established a hierarchy based on a scale of insignificant to severe pain. We drag God into the discussion about the time some big, natural disaster strikes or some person commits an inconceivably inhumane crime. Yet, in our smaller, seemingly surmountable circumstances, no one evokes the name of God—no one, that is, except the person encountering the trial. Even with the more widespread sufferings, we do not really grasp hold of it unless pictures or video accompany the story. Without visual evidence to stir our senses toward empathy, suffering that takes place on the other side of the globe takes place in another world.

Reconciling evil, logically, within a worldview can be quite the feasible thing. There are pastors and religious philosophers who can provide compelling intellectual answers for the problem of evil. Yet, amidst the weight of genuine suffering, such responses generate little sustenance. Evil, its real presence that inflicts torment, only aggravates the feelings of hatred toward God when intellectuals offer analytical solutions. Of course, people are different. Some wrestle with evil as a concept, struggling to piece together the idea of malevolence with the theory of a God who is supposed to be good and strong. That struggle can be deep; it can (and usually does) involve a great deal of emotion.

Still, an ocean separates the head from the heart. We can feel like we have things figured out, and then catastrophe hits. Evil inflicts its damage, delivers its confusion, and infringes upon the desire to see things done rightly. Most importantly, it affects every one of us personally as we walk around this planet. That’s what disturbs us the most, I feel. Ultimately, nothing else really matters in trying to understand this curse we walk around in. Even for those of us who want to disregard any conception of moral absolutes, we still cannot escape this sensation of evil that encroaches upon our desperate attempts to do away with it. If we purify our perceptions from the taint of morality, we still get taken down by suffering and agony. Though we strive to remove the simplistic, binary outlook of “good” and “evil,” it can be difficult to speak about cancer using any other terms. The cure is good. The sickness is evil.

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