Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Problem of Evil

The following is the greatly extended version of a paper written for my apologetics and ethics class, with a good deal more detail and long quotations. As you will notice, it is heavily influenced by an amazing little book, The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart, which is one of the most strikingly cogent and sensitive treatments of the problem of evil I have encountered.

"How can a good, all-powerful God allow suffering and evil to exist?" This simple question, posed innocently and not-so-innocently innumerable times by children and philosophers alike, is undoubtedly the hardest one the Christian apologist has to grapple with, and a major reason for nonbelief among skeptics. If history has taught us anything, it is that this all-too-brief work will certainly not settle the question once and for all. But perhaps I can at least steer the conversation onto a slightly more constructive, edifying track.

Stating the problem

The Greek philosopher Epicurus was one of the first to state the problem: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"1 Philosopher John Mackie presents a similar argument in the form of a logical proof: "good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a good being always eliminates evil as far as it can, and...there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. From these it follows that a good omnipotent thing eliminates evil completely, and then the propositions that a good omnipotent thing exists and that evil exists are incompatible."2 This is the logical form of the problem of evil, which seeks to argue that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with God's existence.3 The softer evidential form only seeks to demonstrate that evil renders God's existence unlikely or unbelievable, or that "pointless evil" (which probably exists) is incompatible with theism.4 "Natural evil" (evil that does not appear to be due to the actions of free, morally responsible beings5) is an especially convincing example of "pointless evil", since there is no obvious agent to hold responsible for it except God the creator.

But entirely aside from its philosophical form, the problem of evil exists even more powerfully as an emotional/pastoral problem, the cry of a heart anguished by suffering and demanding to know why God allows tragedy, much of it apparently senseless to befall us.6 A father who lost his children in a tsunami, a woman who has just learned her cancer has returned, a man who suddenly loses his job and is unsure how he will provide for his family—these people are probably not making a philosophical argument against God's existence, and they certainly don't want an explanation of why God allows evil. They may even believe in God, but as the one who apparently stood by and allowed terrible tragedy to befall them. We must never so close ourselves off to the plight of others that we allow ourselves to discuss the philosophical form of the problem of evil in isolation; it never exists in such a pure state.

An even stronger form of the problem of evil is stated in Dostoevsky's classic novel The Brothers Karamazov, by the skeptical rationalist Ivan. Ivan's argument is striking for its deeply Christian background: he accepts God's existence and acknowledges that "all suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage ... something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men—but though all that may come to pass, I don't accept it. I won't accept it."7 Though he accepts God, Ivan cannot accept the world he has made or the terms of the salvation that he offers to men. Even though he concedes a future harmony that will justify all evil, in light of the sufferings of children Ivan rejects that harmony because of its monstrous, unjust cost: "It's not worth the tears of that one tortured child...if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price."8

Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart comments: "What makes Ivan's argument so novel and disturbing is not that he simply accuses God of failing to save the innocent; in fact, he grants that in some sense God still will 'save' them... Rather, Ivan rejects salvation itself, insofar as he understands it, and on moral grounds. He rejects anything that would involve such a rescue—anything that would make the suffering of children meaningful or necessary."9 His objection is thus a powerful rebuke of attempts to logically justify the existence of evil, whether by appealing to a "greater good" or by arguing that the possibility of suffering is inherent to a world that supports life. Dostoevsky’s genius is that he sees not only that the history of suffering and evil is not morally intelligible, but "that it would be far more terrible if it were."10

If this is the case (as I am convinced it is), then a good deal of Christian theodicies fall on their face, insofar as they try to show that there is some divine plan that justifies the existence of evil, renders it meaningful or purposeful. If we are to learn anything from Ivan Karamazov, it is that suffering and evil are, must be, meaningless, purposeless, that there is no divine reason for their existence and that they are ultimately accidental to God's plan. God does not have the slightest need of evil to accomplish any of his purposes. This is because evil is not simply a tool in God's box of means, "but is only a shadow, a turning of the hearts and minds of rational creatures away from the light of God back toward the nothingness from which all things are called."11 Thus there is no way that evil can supply any deficiency in God's goodness or power.12 God does not will evil for anyone, nor does he will that anyone should perish. (Ezek 33:11, 2 Pet 3:9) Ivan's mistake, subtle though it may be, is assuming that evil and suffering are somehow necessary to bring about the future reconciliation, or that they contribute to it in any way.

Created freedom

What can be justified, then, is not the actual existence of evil, but the possibility of evil. This is the point of the "free will defense"—free will makes evil possible (though not necessary), but it is also indispensable to God's purposes for us.13 God created us from dirt, in his image, to enact his benevolent rule over the creation (Gen 1:26-28). Though we should be wary of peering too deep into the mind of God, we see throughout the Bible that he made us to know him—from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses (cf. Exo 33:11). The greatest miracle in the Biblical narrative is God taking on flesh and becoming one of us, to adopt us as his sons and daughters (Gal 4:4-7) and to know and be known by us (Gal 4:9), which is eternal life. (Jhn 17:3) "God has fashioned creatures in his image so that they might be joined in a perfect union with him in the rational freedom of love."14 I believe that God created us simply to love us and to be loved by us, as a father loves his children.

But the genuinely loving relationship God desires with his creatures requires that there really be someone to love besides himself—that there be not simply passive recipients but active reciprocators of his love, like him and yet other than him. So Isaac of Nineveh: "In his great love God was unwilling to restrict our freedom, even though he had the power to do so. He has left us to come to him by the love of our heart alone."15 In classical Christian teaching, one major consequence of the image of God in which we are created is that we share in his freedom, as the church father Irenaeus says: "Humanity was free from the beginning. For God is freedom and humanity was made in the image of God."16 And Gregory of Nyssa: "He who created human beings in order to make them share in his own fullness so disposed their nature that it contains the principle of all that is good, and each of these dispositions draws them to desire the corresponding divine attribute. So God could not have deprived them of the best and most precious of his attributes, self-determination, freedom."17 This freedom is what makes it possible for us to return God's love and realize the purpose for which we are made, but while we are not yet made perfect in faith and love (cf. 1 Jhn 4:16-19), it also makes it possible for us to separate ourselves from God as well as submit to him.

Yet because of the genuine other-ness of the creation from God, we cannot blame him for this misuse of liberty or hold him responsible for it—we can only blame ourselves. In the patristic and medieval understanding, evil is a privation of the good and a descent into uncreation and nonbeing, movement away from God, rather than something with positive existence. How can God, who calls to all men through the created order and the primordial longing for himself he has placed in our hearts, be blamed when we reject this call and turn away from him? Gregory of Nyssa, responding to this charge, states this in better words:
Thus God cannot be held responsible for evil, for he is the author of what is, and not what is not. It is he who made sight, not blindness ... And that without subjecting us to his good pleasure by any violent constraint. He did not draw us toward what is good against our will, as if we were an inanimate object. If when the light shines very brightly ... someone chooses to hide his eyes by lowering his eyelids, the sun is not responsible for the fact that he cannot see it.18
Thus evil is not a "cost" of creaturely freedom that is justified by the "greater good" it produces. For it to be a cost would mean that it naturally or necessarily follows from freedom, which it does not. The loving union of free creatures with himself is essentially part of his purpose for us; sin and death are "a contingency and an absurdity"19 and do not contribute to this purpose in any way. Is this freedom worth the risk? It is presumptuous and beyond our finite minds to set ourselves up as judges of this. So "the rejection of God on these grounds cannot really be a rational decision, but only a moral pathos," such as Ivan expresses.20

Divine freedom

Some may argue that the view of creaturely freedom I have set forth compromises God's sovereignty over his creation. But this is to confuse God's sovereignty with his being the only free agent in the universe. The existence of genuinely free creatures does not in the least threaten God's status as all-powerful creator or providential, sovereign sustainer. In fact, it is ironically arrogant on our part to suggest that we could have such power over against God in the freedom he himself has given us. Is it not limiting of God to deny that he can "at once create freedom and also assure that no consequence of the misuse of that freedom will prevent him from accomplishing the good he intends in all things"?21

A discussion of God's absolute sovereignty is incomplete without also keeping in mind his absolute freedom and absolute transcendence. Remembering God's freedom is important first of all because it reminds us that our own freedom is only a finite reflection of the infinite freedom of the one whose image we bear. His transcendence (as most effectively expressed though the apophatic tradition that is unfortunately largely obscure to the west) is just as essential, for it reminds us that his ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isa 55:9), and that it is foolish for us to try to confine God to the same web or logic of causality as his creatures.

Divine transcendence is what allows God's freedom and sovereignty to coexist with the limited freedom and sovereignty of his creatures. Such is his absolute, transcendent freedom that "in his omniscience, omnipotence, and transcendence of time, [he] can both allow created freedom its scope and yet so constitute the world that nothing can prevent him from bringing about the beatitude of His kingdom."22  Simply affirming God's sovereignty without equally affirming his freedom and transcendence means denying both of these things by holding him responsible for absolutely everything that happens, with the catastrophic moral consequences that Ivan (along with numerous church fathers) glimpses. As Hart says:
When any meaningful difference between will and permission has been excluded, and when the transcendent causality of the creator God has been confused with the immanent web of causation that constitutes the world of our experiences, it becomes impossible to imagine that what God wills might not be immediately convertible with what occurs in time; and thus both the authority of Scripture and the justice of God must fall before the inexorable logic of absolute divine sovereignty.23
If this view of things seems logically impossible, then I ask you to consider whether you have fully submitted your logic to the claims of God, or whether you make your concept of God subject to a system as constraining as that of the Jews who could not accept an upside-down kingdom inaugurated by a crucified Messiah or the Greeks who scorned the resurrection of the body as a pointless absurdity. Why should God's freedom or transcendence (not to mention love) be any less absolute and unconditional than his sovereignty? If your conception of God does not allow all of these things and more to be realized  to their utmost without being conditioned or limited by each other, then it is too small. In fact it is always too small, and the only appropriate way to affirm any proper theology is as the incomplete speculation of a finite image-bearer still being made perfect in faith.

In fact we must affirm the possibility of this view to guarantee the certainty of redemption but avoid making the creation in all its beauty and decay into "the work of one all-determining will",24 and sin and death into instruments of God rather than enemies. It is squarely against this kind of theodicy that Ivan's objection is raised: "the moral rationality of Ivan's rebellion remains entirely unassailable...when it is set against those forms of theological fatalism that, having failed to understand the difference between primary and secondary—or transcendent and immanent—causality, defame the love and goodness of God out of a servile and unhealthy fascination with his 'dread sovereignty'."25 The "solution" of ascribing the force of divine volition to everything that befalls man—even his eternal destiny—flatly contradicts the universal scope of redemption as set forth in verses like 1 John 2:2 and 1 Tim 2:4 and the goodness of God visible throughout Scripture. If the sovereignty of God is so meticulous that double predestination is true as claimed by Calvin, then his freedom, transcendence, and goodness become meaningless:
God would be the author of and so entirely beyond both good and evil, or at once both and neither, or indeed merely evil (which power without justice always is). The curious absurdity of all such doctrines is that, out of a pious anxiety to defend God's transcendence against any scintilla of genuine creaturely freedom, they threaten effectively to collapse that transcendence into absolute identity—with the world, with us, with the devil. For, unless the world is truly set apart from God and possesses a dependent but real liberty of its own analogous to the freedom of God, everything is merely a fragment of divine volition, and God is simply the totality of all that is and all that happens; there is no creation, but only an oddly pantheistic expression of God's unadulterated power. ... such a God, being nothing but will willing itself, would be no more than an infinite tautology—the sovereignty of glory displaying itself in the glory of sovereignty—and so an infinite banality.26
Hidden within Ivan's objection to the world God has made is the prophetic voice of a truer, deeper, more subversive Christianity, a voice that cries out against all the injustice and absurdity manifested in death and evil. God is not worthy of worship simply because of his raw power or terrific glory, but because of his goodness and his divine love that direct his power and make his glory one to be ecstatically adored rather than dreaded. And all of these attributes are always fully expressed to those able to discern them, without impairing or qualifying each other. "For if indeed there were a God whose true nature—whose justice or sovereignty—were revealed in the death of a child or the dereliction of a soul or a predestined hell, then it would be no great transgression to think of him as a kind of malevolent or contemptible demiurge, and to hate him, and to deny him worship, and to seek a better God than he."27

It is also worth mentioning that the traditional Calvinist answer to the problem of evil—that there is no distinction between divine permission and willing, and that God in his sovereign will somehow ordains evil as well as good yet somehow remains free from its moral taint—works only at the most philosophical level. It is no comfort at all (and may in fact do more harm than good) to tell someone reeling from tragedy and loss that their situation is a part of God's inscrutable plan and that they should simply rejoice in his glory rather than question his council. Hart scathingly rebukes such a theodicy:
Words we would not utter to ease someone else's grief we ought not to speak to satisfy our own sense of piety. ... Most of us would have the good sense to be ashamed to speak such words [i.e. that tragedy and suffering are a result of God's eternal, inscrutable, and righteous counsels]; we would recognize that they would offer no more credible comfort than the vaporings of the most idiotically complacent theodicy, and we would detest ourselves for giving voice to odious banalities and blasphemous flippancies. And this should tell us something. For if we would think it shamefully foolish and cruel to say such things in the moment when another's sorrow is most real and irresistibly painful, then we ought never to say them; because what would still our tongues would be the knowledge (which we would possess at the time, though we might forget it later) that such sentiments would amount not only to an indiscretion or words spoken out of season, but to a vile stupidity and a lie told principally for our own comfort, by which we would try to excuse ourselves for believing in an omnipotent and benevolent God. 
In the process, moreover, we would be attempting to deny...a knowledge central to the gospel: the knowledge of the evil of death, its intrinsic falsity, its unjust dominion over the world, its ultimate nullity; the knowledge that God is not pleased or nourished by our deaths, that he is not the secret architect of hell, that he has condemned all these things by the power of the cross; the knowledge that God is life and light and infinite love, and that the path that leads through nature and history to his Kingdom does not simply follow the contours of either nature or history, or obey the logic immanent to them, but is opened to us by way of the natural and historical absurdity—or outrage—of the empty tomb.28
For if a Calvinistic theodicy were true and everything that happens is providentially willed by God for his glory according to the impenetrable mystery of his will, then why should anyone mourn or decry any evil at all? But rather, "blessed are those who mourn" (Matt 5:4), who raise a fist and freely shed tears at the absurdity of evil, suffering, and death, "for they will be comforted." If God himself is the one behind ours sufferings, then to whom can we pray for deliverance?

Other objections

In keeping with Ivan's objection, I have mostly addressed the problem of moral evil—what about natural evil? At this point the Enlightenment view of the universe as a finely-tuned machine, a "closed causal continuum",29 which is the only one known even by a good many Christians, makes understanding difficult. In the New Testament, the word kosmos, "world" or "universe", is often used to refer to the present "order" that enslaves the creation and is opposed to God.30 So the "world" hates Jesus (Jhn 15:18-19) and has been overcome by him (16:33); the devil is described as the "ruler of this world" (Jhn 12:31, 14:30, 16:11) or even the "god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4), which lies "in the power of the evil one" (1 Jhn 5:19). In the biblical imagination (and that of early and medieval Christianity), the world is not governed simply by fixed laws, but by spiritual powers (cf. Col 1:16, Eph 1:21), that is, angels.31 Yet some of these heavenly authorities have rebelled against God, and so the creation at large finds itself in a similar situation to humanity, fallen and longing for redemption, to be restored to its creator.

C.S. Lewis was a tentative proponent of this theory:
It seems to me, therefore, a reasonable supposition, that some mighty created power had already been at work for ill on the material universe, or the solar system, or, at least, the planet earth, before ever man came on the scene: and that when man fell, someone had, indeed, tempted him. This hypothesis is not introduced as a general 'explanation of evil': it only gives a wider application to the principle that evil comes from the abuse of free will. If there is such a power, as I myself believe, it may well have corrupted the animal creation before man appeared. ... The Satanic corruption of the beasts would therefore be analogous, in one respect, with the Satanic corruption of man. ... If this hypothesis is worth considering, it is also worth considering whether man, at his first coming into the world, had not already a redemptive function to perform.32
Ronald Osborn echoes Lewis' view and likewise considers it to be the historically orthodox one: "there is a clear sense throughout the New Testament that we are living in a time of temporary dualism in which God has permitted certain parts of his creation—and not humans alone—the autonomy of radical freedom and even defiance, which God himself must in some sense struggle against."33 Though strange and largely unknown to modern Christians, this perspective is not incompatible with the scientific one any more than rational and theological views on creation are with each other. Thus in the classical Christian understanding, there is arguably no separate category of "natural evil" that occurs apart from the actions of moral agents.

Another possible objection: if free will is essential to God's desire for union with us, and free will entails the possibility for evil, how can God promise a future paradise with no evil unless it is also devoid of free will? At this point an important distinction must be made between two kinds of freedom. We usually associate "freedom" with "free will": the ability to freely choose between alternatives. But a higher understanding of freedom is the freedom to become what we were made to be: "to be able to flourish as the kind of being one is, and so to attain the ontological good toward which one's nature is oriented; freedom is the unhindered realization of a complex nature in its proper end (natural and supernatural), and this is consummate liberty and happiness."34 This is the kind of freedom which God enjoys absolutely, and in which we progressively grow through deification. Compared to this, the freedom to choose is actually a liability, a power that, if misused, hinders our progression toward this higher kind of freedom. It is a reflection of our incompleteness, our nature as "an animal who has received the vocation to become God."35 In heaven, we will have no need to deliberate between possibilities; nothing will hinder us from enjoying God forever, which is true freedom.

This raises the obvious question: why did God not simply create us in this state of eschatological bliss to begin with and eliminate any possibility of evil and suffering? This may be the impetus for Ivan's false assumption: if God could have created a world without any evil but created this one instead, then evil must be necessary for his purposes somehow. This crucial question takes us onto very thin ice indeed. This is partly because there is nothing arbitrary in God's willing as in ours (as though his freedom meant, as it does for us, the obligation to deliberate and choose between an array of mutually exclusive alternatives), so it may not even be justifiable to speak about his actions in hypothetical terms.36
For God is infinite actuality, the source and end of all being, the eternally good, for whom mere arbitrary "choice"—as among possibilities that somehow exceed his 'present' actuality—would be a deficiency, a limitation placed upon his infinite power to be God. His freedom is the impossibility of any force, pathos, or potentiality interrupting the perfection of his nature or hindering him in the realization of his own illimitable goodness, in himself and in his creatures.37
Yet we can attempt to imagine God's reasons for creating as he did, while acknowledging that we are not in a position to pass judgment on what we do not understand, or constrain God's freedom by our rationalizing. Possibly (and very tentatively), if the creation were made in its final perfection, it would not really be other than God, but merely an extension of his will. Irenaeus, responding to the question, explains that by its very nature, the perfection God embodies and intends for us is the fruit of maturity:
It is precisely in this that God differs from humanity: God creates; humanity is created. He who creates is always the same, while they who are created must acknowledge a beginning, an intermediate state and a maturity ... They receive knowledge and progress towards God. For in so far as God is always the same, to that extent human beings founds in God will always be making progress toward God.38
Because of this limitation not of God but of our own nature, "it was possible for God Himself to have made man perfect from the first, but man could not receive this, being as yet an infant."39 He further says of the possibility of Adam and Eve being created perfect: "Their being good would be of no consequence, because they were so by nature rather than by will, and are possessors of good spontaneously, not by choice"40 and goes on to ask, "how could you be God when you have not yet become human? How could you be complete when you have only just been created?"41

The justice of God

Yet till now I have not been answering the question posed by evil in a truly biblical way. The Bible's response to evil is not to explain it (or even the possibility of it), but to exhort us to join God in his ongoing defeat of the powers responsible. A theodicy which does nothing but justify the way things presently are can only succeed in explaining "why paradise is not a logical possibility"42—hardly a praiseworthy end. The problem of evil cannot be resolved by rational explanation; the solution only becomes visible through the eyes of faith, when we learn to stop gainsaying God's works and to trust him (as in Isa 45:5-13), becoming part of the divine answer that is lived as well as believed. "Either one 'sees' that glory [even through horrific suffering and evil] or one does not—and in either case one may be moved by a love of the good. ... To believe in the infinite goodness of being, one must be able to see it, and this no mere argument can bring about."43

So the final answer to the skeptic's question, "Why did God create the world as it is, and us as we are?" is this: to know and love him, with a love that is stronger than death. So Maximus the Confessor: "When God, who is absolute fullness, brought creatures into existence, it was not done to fulfil any need, but so that his creatures should be happy to share his likeness, and so that he himself might rejoice in the joy of his creatures as they draw inexhaustible upon the Inexhaustible."44 Seeking rational answers becomes out of line if it keeps us from this divine vocation. It is terribly ironic for us to base our rejection of God on the fact that he made us able to reject him.

This is the challenge of the Christian: not simply to explain the world as it is, but to see and even dwell in the new creation that is emerging from the old by acquiring a merciful heart and learning to see the creation through the eyes of divine, universal love. "The Christian vision of the not some rational deduction from empirical experience but is a moral and spiritual aptitude—or rather, a moral and spiritual labor."45 This labor involves adopting a radically different perspective on the creation that overflows with love for all things; in Dostoevsky's novel, this perspective is exemplified by the saintly Father Zossima, who serves as a sort of living answer to Ivan's objection.46 A passage from the writings of Isaac the Syrian further describes this otherworldly love:
What is a merciful heart? A heart aflame for all of creation, for men, birds, beasts, demons, and every created thing; the very thought or sight of them causes the merciful man's eyes to overflow with tears. The heart of such a man is humbled by the powerful and fervent mercy that has captured it and by the immense compassion it feels, and it cannot endure to see or hear of any suffering or any grief anywhere within creation. Hence he constantly lifts up tearful prayers for God's care and mercy upon even unreasoning brutes and enemies of truth and all who do him injury.47
All this is in obedience to the Lord's command to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Mat 5:44) Hart comments,
To see the world as it should be seen, and so to see the true glory of God reflected in it, requires the cultivation of charity, of an eye rendered limpid by love. Maximus the Confessor taught that it is only when one has learned to look upon the world with selfless charity that one sees the true inner essence—the logos—of any created thing, and sees how that things shines with the light of the one divine Logos that gives it being.48
The Christian faith, in its truest form hidden within Ivan's objection, does not try to justify or make sense of suffering and death, but overcomes it. We are to carry within ourselves the paradoxical victory of 2 Cor 4:6-14 that does not only undo death but transforms it into the way to eternal life. In the victory of Christ death, the ultimate subversion of God's creation, has itself been subverted, "in order to change death, in whatever shape it comes, into an approach to life."49 The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ bring about the freedom and redemption described in Romans 8:18-23, which is such that Paul is able to say, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Again, this is not to say that evil and suffering in any way contribute to this glory. "The cross of Christ is not, after all, simply an eternal validation of pain and death, but their overthrow."50

Thus in the Christian gospel, the meaning of life (and meaninglessness of death) is found ultimately not in a rational explanation, but in the divine Logos (that is, meaning) who for our sake became man and tasted death in order to triumph over it. The comfort it offers in the midst of suffering is that "when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy."51 The gospel itself, as revealed in Jesus Christ, can be considered the most truly biblical answer to the problem of evil. Maximus the Confessor says powerfully: "Therefore the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word contains in itself the whole meaning of the riddles and symbols of Scripture, the whole significance of visible and invisible creatures. Whoever knows the mystery of the cross and the tomb knows the meaning of all things. Whoever is initiated into the hidden meaning of the resurrection knows the purpose for which God created everything in the beginning."52

As one of the most timeless and powerful objections to Christianity in history, the problem of evil is a heart check for Christians, a test of whether their faith is well-balanced or predominantly intellectual. The over-hasty answers of past apologists serve as a humbling reminder of our limited powers of explanation and the need active faith in God. It is a sort of "spiritual hygiene" that points to the subversive theology of the gospel and exposes inadequate visions of it for what they are.53 Though often disguised as a purely philosophical problem, it cannot be resolved simply by thinking and debating; it takes authentic faith to even glimpse the answer God has provided, which is why it will probably continue to be raised until Christ returns to put a final end to evil once and for all. In the face of the most awful evil, the most tragic suffering, and the nihilistic absurdity of death, we as Christians are called not merely to defend the justice of God, but to become it. (2 Cor 5:21)

  1. John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (Abingdon, Oxford, United Kingdom: Routledge, 1990), 310.
  2. C. Stephen Evans and R. Zachary Manis, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 159–160.
  3. Evans and Manis, Philosophy of Religion, 158.
  4. Evans and Manis, Philosophy of Religion, 169.
  5. Evans and Manis, Philosophy of Religion, 157.
  6. Evans and Manis, Philosophy of Religion, 156–157.
  7. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1995), 217.
  8. Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 225–226.
  9. David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 40–41.
  10. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 44.
  11. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 73.
  12. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 74.
  13. Evans and Manis, Philosophy of Religion, 163.
  14. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 82.
  15. Isaac of Nineveh, Ascetic Treatises 81 in Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from the Patristic Era with Commentary (New York: New City Press, 2014), 57.
  16. Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.37.4 in Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 81.
  17. Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Orations 7 in Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 81.
  18. Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Orations 5 in Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 86–87.
  19. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 68.
  20. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 69.
  21. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 83.
  22. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 83.
  23. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 90.
  24. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 68.
  25. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 89.
  26. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 90–91.
  27. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 91–92.
  28. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 99–101.
  29. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 49.
  30. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 64.
  31. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 48.
  32. C.S. Lewis, "The Problem of Pain" in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 632.
  33. Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 144.
  34. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 71.
  35. Words of Basil of Caesarea, quoted by Gregory Nazianzen, Eulogy of Basil the Great, Oration 43, 48 in Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 76.
  36. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 108.
  37. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 71–72.
  38. Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.11.2 in Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 87.
  39. Irenaeus, "Why man was not made perfect from the beginning", Against Heresies IV.38.1, <> (31 March 2015).
  40. Irenaeus, " Men are possessed of free will", Against Heresies IV.37.6, <> (31 March 2015).
  41. Irenaeus, Against Heresies IV.39.2 in Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 87.
  42. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 58.
  43. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 88–89.
  44. Maximus the Confessor, Centuries on Charity III.46 in Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 32.
  45. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 58.
  46. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 58.
  47. Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies 81 in Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 59.
  48. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 60.
  49. Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 42.
  50. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 80.
  51. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 103–104.
  52. Maximus the Confessor, "Ambigua" in Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 40.
  53. Hart, The Doors of the Sea, 43–44.

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