Sunday, November 23, 2014

The premise of the problem of evil and suffering

In his short book [“True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World,” UPenn law professor David] Skeel touches on a variety of eternal questions—from the mystery of human consciousness to the relationship between law and justice. He addresses the problem of evil in an especially compelling way—not by “solving” it in some philosophically air-tight way, but by questioning its premise.

The “problem,” of course, is that the presence of evil in human affairs seems to suggest that God, if he is there, is either malicious for causing it or powerless to stop it: In either case, he isn’t “God” in any traditional understanding. Mr. Skeel points out, however, that in order to make the argument, terms like “evil and “malicious” must be imported from a worldview that assumes God’s existence. ...

[Atheist Christopher] Hitchens hotly denied that his suffering had any moral significance but found it hard not to describe it in moral terms—writing of the cancer’s “malice” before catching himself: “There I go again.” At another point: “To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?” ...

The Christian God does not simply allow or disallow suffering—he himself suffered, in the person of Jesus Christ, and uses suffering to renew his children’s character.

The most captivating chapter in “True Paradox” deals with the afterlife. No one who achieves great things, Mr. Skeel argues, really believes those achievements are pointless, destined to fade into nothingness. In a similar way, he suggests, our work on earth will somehow find its fulfillment in heaven. Indeed, the afterlife of the Christian tradition has little to do, he contends, with the commonplace images of men and women playing harps in the clouds. The Bible strongly implies, rather, that the Christian’s life in eternity will extend his earthly life’s complexity, only without failure and rebellion against God. The Christian, then, if Mr. Skeel is right, is able to do his work believing what the materialist wants to believe but can’t, quite—that the significance of that work will not only last but last into eternity.
--Barton Swaim, WSJ, on Christianity and meaning