Presence Over Principles

We don’t limit evil to negative things such as death and disease. We also perceive the effects of evil in higher concepts such as justice. When we see corruption and oppression, something within the human spirit ardently desires to see the perpetrators face discipline. Such gumption seems difficult to explain using naturalistic explanations without trivializing these ideas, which have been admirable virtues throughout the course of human history. This is what I mean when I say that evil affects us deeply: it rails against our most cherished features of ethics. These elements have been something that people have often distinguished as not being natural to humanity. For even though we desire these higher virtues, we don’t seem to generate them instinctively.

Indeed, a simple, naturalistic approach to humanity would indicate that survival, an inward focus, should be paramount since it promotes personal survival. Even so, we don’t praise people for merely acting in a way that allows them to thrive, especially when those actions come at the expense of others. In fact, theories like humanism and Marxism explicitly condemn such behavior. When we speak of such things as being evil, we have started talking about something entirely distinct from mere pain (though they do generate anguish). We have begun to traipse in a completely different realm, one that naturalism seems ill equipped to navigate.

Authors rarely discuss evil in such terms, but they frequently refer to a metaphysical entity in order to discredit the supernatural without using their own language to explain the significant concept of evil. I’ve found that evil causes a problem for everyone. Theist or atheist, no formula exists that can solve it. That there is no formula, however, seems to be especially disappointing for naturalists since they want to be able to explain everything.

Since any explanation for the problem of evil does little good for those ensconced in its throes, we have an extraordinarily quizzical issue to deal with. The Judeo-Christian perspective, though, provides an interesting approach to the problem. Though there are several approaches and explanations for the problem of evil that can be drawn from the Bible, one of them stands out above the others. The book of Job, which caters most specifically to the issue of suffering, portrays a character who responds to his calamity by saying that he “would seek God, and to God would [he] commit [his] cause” (Job 5:8).

Many theists attempt to respond to the problem of evil by arguing that God has a purpose behind his allowance of evil. Oftentimes, those people describe the reasons as beyond our understanding, but the Bible seems to establish Job as a standard of what our attitude should be in dealing with tragedy. There are no clear-cut answers, but neither does God condemn those who ask questions. Instead, he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Heb. 11:6). From what we see in Scripture, it seems like God does not always provide us with answers because attaining all knowledge was not his original purpose in creating us.

We want to be able to understand every little detail about this existence, but that’s not what God offers us. To be sure, his hand does not withhold knowledge from us; the fact of the matter is that he has presented to us something that is worth so much more. Answers do not console us in our moments of desperation. We are creatures designed for relationship, for intimacy. When we are hurting, we may ask why, but more importantly, what we need is presence. We need someone to be there with us, and that closeness affects us to our core, providing more than pragmatic understanding. That we scramble for answers demonstrates that we have forgotten that we are more than simple rational persons.

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