What does it all have to do with evil and suffering in human life? Actually all people consider suffering, pain , torture , war as evil and all this evil is done by man. To a great extent this creates the misery of living together in the society of sinners and it takes away the certainty and stability of life. The suffering coming from the natural causes like diseases, old age, sickness and death are also part of the evil confronting man after his fall and rebellion against God. It all has to be accepted as part of growing in this life towards complete absolute trust in God no matter what happens. Only this strong faith in God in spite of misery and tragedy will make man strong enough and acceptable to God who is love Itself.
Leo Tolstoy one of the most talented Russian writer in his fifties experienced a deep doubt about the meaning of life and felt a growing desire to commit suicide . He was hiding any guns and knifes visible around afraid that he will kill himself . He says that the desire for ending his life became more powerful than his joy of living. He learnt from the simple peasants who lived in poverty but were happy to exist and live. Tolstoy concluded that life no matter how difficult must be meaningful.
Man according to Christianity has an immortal principle (soul) and therefore death is not really such a great tragedy and horror as it may appear in the eyes of an atheist. For a Christian death is a transition from this life in space-time, into eternity.
The Judgment implies not only eternal salvation in heaven but also the possibility of hell. One cannot say much about the judgment of God. All knowledge about it comes from the teaching of Christ who very often mentioned the reality of judgment and man’s eternal destiny. For many there appears the difficulty to reconcile the loving and forgiving God with existence of hell . Hell is existence in complete isolation from God and others in eternity without possibility of any change. This seems to many absolutely unacceptable and too cruel, it seems ridicules and absurd part of Christian teaching. How can God who is love and who wants salvation of all men throw someone into hell knowing human limitations and mistakes even when the sinfulness is clear like deliberate murder, torture , exploitation of others and even intended extermination of millions of innocent people. After all when Christ was dying on the cross did He not pray to the Father: “… forgive them for they don’t know what they do?.. All this is true. However one should not approach the problem of hell on emotional level only but try to see facts as they are. Suffering is the very center of the human condition in a world of fractures, conflicts, dichotomies and tragedies. Suffering is therefore inscribed into the very core of human existence. This fact is recognized by most religions of the world and also stressed by the ancient writers like Sophocles in the story of The Blinding of Oedipus. In Buddhism, which some consider a religion, life is suffering and the human soul is gradually liberating itself from it through a number of reincarnations until it attains the state of complete bliss in Nirvana.
In Christianity man’s condition is infected with evil mainly of man’s own doing. Man is a person and therefore responsible before God for his acts. The objection against existence of hell is based on the unimaginable decision : I want to go to hell and be eternally miserable ! Nobody consciously would make such a decision because he would have to be his own enemy and in love with misery rather than happiness . However every day hundreds of small decisions are made. Those decisions accumulate through a lifetime and they form the character of the person and the direction of life. If therefore man is completely dedicated to the values hostile to the commandments of God and lives in this way for longer time he becomes completely alienated from God. When a person dies in a state of hostility towards God there is a possibility of eternal loneliness and that is hell.
Christ, the Son God became man to show human beings how to live in such a way as not to end in this final rejection. People do not willingly choose to go to hell but man cannot escape from decision making for to decide not to make a decision is a decision also. God respects human freedom even when it becomes evil. The following Christ’s parables illustrate possibility of hell
1.The parable of the dragnet, 2. The parable of the great feast and 3. The parable of the last judgment ( which is not only a parable but a description of fact).
The dragnet catches all kinds of fish, and the fishermen make a selection. The bad fish are thrown away .
In the story about the great banquet a rich man sends his servants to his friends with an invitation to come. But all of them find excuses not to come. One says that he bought a piece of land and he has to inspect it. The other says he bought a pair of oxen and must try them and the third one says he just got married and therefore he cannot come. The Lord of the banquet gets angry and tells his servants to invite anyone and everyone so that his place will be filled with guests. However when the Lord of the banquet observes one who is not dressed properly for the feast he orders his servants to throw him out. There is nothing wrong in buying a piece of land, a pair of oxen or to get married. The excuses however show that the invited friends do not value much the invitation nor do they show respect for the Lord of the banquet. The usual activities of the day are more important for them.
In the story of the last judgment ( Mt. 25) the judge , Christ himself ,divides all people into two groups. The group of “ sheep” on the right. Christ turning to those on the right says : come you blessed of my Father and inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from all eternity – for I was hungry and you fed me , I was naked and you clothed me , I was in prison and you came to me. And the people ask: “ Lord when did we feed you, or clothed you or visited you in prison? Christ answers : ? “...Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did it to me....”
Those on the left are rejected. They did not show any love or concern for others and when they asked the same question : When did they not do service to Him? They receive the same answer: “Whatever you did not do to my brethren you did not do to me.”
The services mentioned by Christ are not necessarily very spiritual in nature : food and clothing are very material services and it does not matter to whom one serves them. One simply helps the person in need without any gain for oneself. It does not matter who the person is or what position he has in the society.
In the parable of the compassioned Samaritan the same truth is stressed. The merchant did not know the wounded man lying in the ditch . It was not his relative, but on the contrary as a Samaritan he was an enemy. He not only took care of him but he took him on his beast and brought him to the innkeeper , paid money for the care of him and promised that additional expenses he will pay on his return. .God is always ready to accept anyone if he honestly and sincerely tries to turn away from evil. The father of the prodigal son was waiting day by day and searching with his eyes the horizon until one day he saw still far away the son coming slowly back to him. He did not say anything but full of joy embraced his son and told servants to give him the new robe, sandals and a ring on his finger. There was feasting and singing. The older son who was in the fields heard the music and asked what is going on. He was told that his brother returned and father was extremely happy to have him back. The father knew only one thing : This son was lost and he is found again, he was dead but is alive. It is proper to celebrate such a joyous event. To the proud Pharisees thinking themselves to be very good people and having God’s favor already, Christ said that publicans, tax collector and prostitutes will be first in heaven. Why ? Because they repented of their sins and therefore the first will be last and the last will be the first. God’s judgment is not very much like human judgment.
Man therefore is his own quasi-creator of his own future and destiny . Imprisoned in his sinful attitudes man needs help and liberation from his condition. This is salvation brought by the incarnation of the Word becoming Man. Christ calls Himself often The Son of Man, because He suffered as the Son of Man and was identified with humans. He became the Savior and Liberator from human bandage and slavery. Every action of God towards man is always a gift of freedom in some form or another.
Evil is always parasitic on good . Every being is good because it is being and evil is always some reduction of being. Evil does not have any meaning by itself. It is always a limitation of good required by the nature of the being involved. That is why Thomas Aquinas calls evil: privation of good . Human life from the Christian view point is a great opportunity to learn to know God and strife towards Him within a difficult human situation infected with evil. The personal God in Christ became identical with human beings in all except sin and lifted sinful man to the level of childhood in relation to God. That is why the most important prayer in Christianity begins with the sentence : Our Father who art in heaven… A Christian does not pray for himself only but always for his brethren. Suffering and evil are part of the human fallen condition but they also can be meritorious, conciliatory and saving as long as they are accepted in faith and loving obedience to God. Humans live in an unpredictable and dangerous universe . There are many tragic accidents, sudden reversals, diseases aging and dying. This is not a static and quiet universe.
Christ never promised an easy life for those who will decide to follow Him, neither did He promise that all people will accept His offer of salvation. That is why Christ stressed that anyone who decides to be His disciple would have to carry his own cross in life.
The parable of the sower makes it clear that the word of God is very often falling on an unfruitful ground : on a shallow ground where there are no conditions for strong roots and the word is wasted. In many situations the word is neglected or simply forgotten.
(a) There is mental laziness some people are so lazy that they refuse to think. Socrates found this out. He wanted to make man think , and he went about the streets of Athens with his questions until man thought of him as an nasty gad-fly and because they did not want to think they sentenced him to death. Tennyson in the poem the Lotus Eaters tells the story of the sailor’s Ulysses who came to the island where the Lotus flower grew , Who ever ate that flower never wished anymore to make any effort but desired only to lay and sleep. In that land there was always afternoon.
But we are thinking creatures and not to think is to shut the mind to God’s truth.
(b) There is mental arrogance: the man who thinks he knows everything already and he has nothing to learn it’s attitude of the Pharisees who believed they knew already all and they did not listen to the message of Christ
(c) There is mental fear. It is the attitude of those who deny the existence of God not because they are convinced that God does not exist but they don’t want him to exist . In Christianity it is always necessary to think things out. It is not easy to be a Christian but unless we go on to think things out, whenever some storm comes our faith will collapse.
Jesus was telling man to count the cost of following Him. Mathew Chapter 10 describes what does it mean to be a disciple . The good ground on which the word falls is the person who (a) understand the word that is he not only hears what is said but tries to comprehend it’s meaning . (b) the good ground is the person who accepts the word and keeps it . It becomes a part of his thoughts and life and (c) the good listener holds to the word.
Nevertheless when the word falls on a good ground it produces fruit thirty, sixty, or hundred percent. The good ground is the person who develops strong belief and incorporates the meaning of the word into everyday life. Such person becomes the light of the world and the salt of the earth. The basic vocation of the new man in Christ is to be a witness ready to pay any price in any situation in life no matter how hard it may be. Physical death loses it’s sting because for the Christian death is a transition from the life in space and time , suffering and frustration into eternal presence of God.
Christianity is a religion of resurrection which is the central promise of Christ for all those who decide to follow His teaching . The destiny of man is eternal life as participation in the life of the Holly Trinity.
When Christ was teaching, his brothers and mother wanted to talk to Him. Christ refused and said those who listen to the word of God are His brothers , sisters and mother. The Son of Man completely identified himself with humans
The answer to the problem of existence of evil and the good God can be summarized as follows: God is the Creator of the universe which is precisely constructed, and in the process of which life , consciousness , personality and humans as moral agents appeared. All this was good, there was no evil at the beginning (compare the first chapter of Genesis.) Human beings were given God’s directions for their lives. However they were free to choose obedience and loving relationship to God or to choose their own way and their own destiny .
Humans rebelled against the plan of God. Evil , deception, lies and murder entered the history of humanity. This evil gradually became part of the nature of man who became literally a slave of evil and hostile to God and His fellow humans.
God did not change the plan for man and gradually in different times and circumstances liberated man from physical slavery ( the Egyptian slavery of the Jews) and spiritual degradation and emptiness.
In proper time God became human in the person of Christ of Nazareth, who as Son of God, and also Son of Man through His complete loving obedience to God, the Father reconciled the fallen humanity with God and offered through His suffering and death a new possibility of eternal life for man as a glorified image of His Maker . Christ’s sacrifice proved that God is Love.
Man is free and can reject the offer of eternal happiness given freely to him by God. God respects human freedom even when man rejects Him definitely for eternity. Man after Christ’s coming has the power and the ability to conquer evil thoughts , intentions and actions. However he does not have to . The evil which man produces by his hostility to God and other humans is existentially final. The above is addressed to people who are passionately interested in truth and have the courage to face reality no matter what and are also ready to pay the cost of being witnesses to God’s love.