The late Christian philosopher Ron Nash called the problem of evil and suffering the most perennially difficult issue Christians have to face. And as much as we might like to ignore the problem, events like what transpired in that Aurora, Colorado movie theater Thursday make that impossible.
Ignoring evil is a fundamentally wrong approach for Christians. Christianity is a worldview that claims to explain the world as it actually is, and the only world you and I have ever lived in is the one that is deeply and broadly impacted by evil.
Plus, to remain silent in the midst of events like this is to ignore the conversation that the culture is having with—or about—God right now. C.S. Lewis thought that suffering was God’s “megaphone,” and it’s true.
Of course, this conversation about God’s existence and goodness in the light of evil is not easy. Simplistic platitudes like “time will heal” or haphazardly lobbing Romans 8:28 grenades can be like rubbing Christian-ese salt into gaping, emotional wounds. Remember, Job’s friends were pretty helpful for their suffering friend: Until they opened their mouths.
It’s important to remember that while Christianity offers an explanation for the existence of evil per se, when Christians offer specific reasons for specific evil, they over-speak their biblical and theological qualifications. Applying logical answers for the existence of evil to the emotional and personal struggles associated with a particular evil is to miss how Jesus Himself confronted it.
In the face of His weeping friends whose brother had just died, Jesus wept too. In fact, He wept despite knowing that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and turn the family’s weeping into celebration. Why would He weep if He knew all this? Because it was the world He had made and the people He had fashioned in His own image that were broken.
To paraphrase the title Neal Plantinga used for his book on the impact of human sin, this world is “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be.” And because we live in a world that often veers so distinctly from the good design and order given it by God, trying to offer a tidy explanation for this evil or that evil is futile.
And at the same time, it’s quite valid to ask why we recognize evil as such. Why do we recognize the actions of the gunman as disordered but honor the three men who lost their lives by shielding their girlfriends? Or 21-year-old Stephanie Davies, who chose to apply pressure to her friend’s severe wound rather than save her own life?
You see, if ours is merely a world “red with tooth and claw”—that is, if ours is a creator-less world that arose by chance, and nature has no rhyme or reason—then heroic acts would be indistinguishable from despicable ones.
But no. Our ability to recognize evil as evil reveals something about how we are made.
And still the final word we Christians can offer is one we must offer: God is not absent. He is present in the world of human suffering, and He Himself suffered too. Here I quote the English minister Edward Shillito, after seeing the carnage of World War I:
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now; Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars; We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow, We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak; They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God's wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.