Apologetics, Theology

Our Suffering Savior & the Problem of Evil

Jesus Christ Crucified

I was almost 9 years old when Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped. I distinctly remember hearing about this gut-wrenching news from my mother, who was in tears when she explained to me what had happened. My mind was immediately flooded with an array of thoughts and questions. I remember thinking how scary such a thing might be, and that this poor little boy must have been terrified beyond comprehension when he was maliciously taken at gunpoint by a masked stranger. I also asked myself why such things have to happen. Why would somebody violently take another human being from their family? Why would somebody kidnap a little boy who was innocently riding his bike home with friends? Why is there evil in the world? All of this flooded my mind when the event initially took place.

Almost 30 years later, the same questions I asked myself as a young boy about Jacob Wetterling’s abduction came flooding back to me when there was a new break in the unsolved mystery. A man in federal custody provided the authorities with information concerning the remains of Jacob Wetterling. The hope that Jacob might be alive somewhere in the world came crashing down when it was discovered that he was killed so many years ago. As a boy I thought of how terrifying it might be to be the victim of a kidnapping. Now, as a parent of 4 beautiful children, I was struck with a nauseating paralysis at the very thought of any of them being a victim of such a heinous crime. And if the mere thought of harm being enacted on my own children by a violent criminal can induce such a reaction, I cannot even begin to comprehend the feeling of loss Jacob’s parents, Jerry and Patty, must have felt throughout this entire awful experience. To have the hope they carried with them for three decades crushed by this news is as overwhelming as it is incomprehensible.

As sickening as Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping is, it is only a microcosm of the evil that exists in the world. If we sit back and reflect on the pervasiveness of evil that exists right here and now – whether it is individual, relational, economic, or political – it is enough to provoke the soul into hopeless surrender. Kidnappings, murder, rape, abortion, and physical assaults happen every single day. The total destruction and death of entire regions throughout the world due to unjust warfare is happening as I write this article. And this does not even take into account the difficulties experienced because of natural disasters. There is disease, famine, and starvation. The endless weight of these events quickly becomes too heavy to even think about, so it is tempting to push them from our mind and get on with our lives. At least this is often the option taken by those of us graced, and blessed with not having to experience evil on a daily basis as so many other people do throughout the world.

While a practical denial is tempting, I want to suggest that pushing the reality of evil from our mind is not an option for the Christian. Not only do we have to think about the problem of evil in our discourse with those who reject the faith, but also, we are called to oppose evil so that we might be the light of Christ to those who are suffering.

For the Christian evangelist and apologist, the problem of evil is as difficult as it is delicate to deal with when presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Intellectually speaking, it is difficult for a number of reasons, mainly because it immediately involves numerous other theological and philosophical issues that can become quite complex in their own right. It is delicate because a person who connects their unbelief to the problem of evil may have been a victim of a past abuse, or in the midst of experiencing immense varieties of pain, suffering, and loss. Despite these potential intellectual complexities, and the delicacy of the human psyche, it is possible to demonstrate that an all-powerful and all-loving Triune God exists at the same time as the existence of evil; that such a state of affairs is not contrary to logic or reason. A demonstration such as this is due to the fact that evil is not a substance existing along side the good in dualistic fashion. Instead, the Christian position is that evil is a sort of metaphysical privation of the good, that evil exists where good has been distorted by the sinful acts of men according to their free-agency. God created all that is, including man and woman, and declared it to be good. Evil exists because of the sin that we do.

This Christian intellectual approach to the metaphysical and logical problem of evil, however, does not bring much comfort to the concrete experience of evil. There is simply no amount of metaphysical argumentation or logical rigor that can adequately provide spiritual and psychological aid to those who are victims of evil acts. The concrete reality of events such as the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling cannot be flippantly hand waved away due to sound, consistent, metaphysical reasoning on the issue. In my view, this would be just as offensive as the many slogans people hear when encountered with tragedy and loss.

So what can the Christian offer people who are in the midst of true pain and suffering. Is an argument the best we can do? Are pathetic cultural slogans really what the Christian faith has to offer when tragedy strikes? The truth is that we have something much more powerful to offer.

What the Christian has to offer is a suffering Savior.

Jesus suffers with us and for us; he did not provide a theological or philosophical treatise on the topic.

Jesus experienced and defeated evil on the cross. It is the crucifixion of the Incarnate Christ that “solves” the problem of evil.

Jesus willingly chose to suffer and die for many reasons, and one of them is that we might unite our suffering to his; that we might be able to discover meaning in our suffering when we unite our darkest hour to his.

Jesus willingly experienced evil when he was betrayed by one of his own, when he was abandoned by those closest to him, when he was unjustly tried for crimes he did not commit, when he was spit on and beaten by his accusers, when he was mocked by entire crowds of people calling for his death, when his flesh was torn asunder by the scourging of the whip, when the flesh of his forehead was cut open by the crown of thorns, when he was ordered to carry the weight of his own cross to the location of his crucifixion, when he was stripped of his clothes and hung on the cross humiliated in front of his own Mother, when the nails pierced his hands and feet, and when he gave up his life so that he might defeat the very thing that causes humanity immeasurable anguish – the pangs of death.

It is because of Jesus Christ that we might say with St. Paul, “O death, where is they victory? O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[1]

Christians don’t have an ideal existing in the ether of a cosmic spiritual longing, we have a savior who took on flesh so that we might be united to Him in all the concrete pain and suffering we experience in this earthly pilgrimage. And not only do we have a suffering savior who loved us by willing our good to the point of an obedient death on the cross, he commands his followers to pick up their cross and die as well. We are to love one another as he loved us. To become Christ-like is to have the life of Christ being lived through our actions in this world. Christ suffered and died to heal a fallen world, and we are called to proclaim this truth to all of humanity.

Jesus did not offer an analytically rigorous argument explaining and then solving the problem of evil. He “solved” the problem and its scandalous effects upon the created order when he became the propitiation for our sin and the sin of the whole world.[2]

The only satisfying answer to the pervasiveness of the problem of evil cannot be located in a syllogistic argument; rather, it is found in the Divine Person who willingly suffered for us. It is because of Him, then, that we can participate in his life through the sacraments of the Church, and especially in the Eucharist – the sacrament of the suffering sacrificial Christ.

The problem of evil can only be solved by participating in the life of the One who defeated it.

Let us then gaze upon the Cross so that we might be the hands and feet of Christ in a world in desperate need of hope and love. Pray for those in need of help, and pray that God might use you as an instrument of love for those suffering under the weight of duress.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] 1 Corinthians 15:55-17

[2] 1 John 2:2

 

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