Framing the Problem of Evil

The following is based on the book UNSPEAKABLE: “Facing up to evil in an age of genocide and terror.” By Os Guinness

A five week study of seven questions raised by evil in our world.

For the next five Sundays, I’ll lead us in a discussion on the Christian’s understanding and response to evil (head, heart, and action). We’ll do this through the eyes of the writer, Os Guinness and his book, and wrestle with evil as Job did. Understand evil will take into how other faiths deal with evil (or simple don’t) and a realization of why the Christian faith has the strongest reaction to evil. And, I believe it will lead to a place of strength in our walk with Christ.

There are no easy answers to the problem of evil. No “one liners” to explain it. In fact, when confronted with raw evil, we are often left speechless, lost for words and explanations. The title of this book describes that response. Like Job’s friends, who thought they knew the answers, their responses were often cruel. When we look into evil, we stare into a mystery that none of us will be able to answer this side of heaven. But our response can be one of realism and compassion.

Job 2:13 – What was the first thing that happens when Job’s friends came to visit him after Job’s tragic events?
• They sat down with him for seven days and didn’t say a word
• They saw how great his pain was.

What are evil’s potential effects on faith? (Loose or strengthen faith in God)

(Not qualified to speak, never been overseas to Africa, and too young to have lived through WW2. Radio/ TV = evil events everywhere, in our church, homes, lives)

About Os Guinness
• Grandparents were Medical Missionaries in China in late 1800s.
• They witness 50 years of grinding cruelty, rape, random murders, false accusations, unjust trials and executions, brutal repression and religious prosecution.
• Os was Born in China.
• Lived under the Mao Tse-tung regime.
• His two brothers were killed in China (one from famine) and he and his parents were almost killed several times.
• Lived in China when the Japanese killed 20 million people during the policy of three: loot all, kill all, burn all.
• Lived in Nanking, China when 300,000 Chinese were killed by the Japanese (it even applied the Nazis who were present). Called the Raping of Nanking
• He grew up first hand with terror.
• Today, he has a global view on terror having lived in three continents, Asia, Europe, and America.
• This book is in response to a weaken view on evil in the world in the post modern, 20st century. As in William Golding book, Lord of the Flies, after the boys have survived the nuclear holocaust and they take flight to an island for themselves, they become aware of a deep and sinister force inside themselves. They become afraid of themselves. For OS Gusiness, we are not nearly afraid enough.

What is Secular Humanism?
(= world getting better = illusion of the 20th century. It’s not, and the spread of evil rapid then ever been.)

Experience of W. H. Auden, English Poet (p 213)
• Not a religious believer prior to 1939.
• Before 1939, religion was “nothing but a vague uplift, as flat as an old bottle of soda water.”
• He was secular humanist, following Freud and Marx – a belief in the natural goodness of humankind – finding solutions to human problems (political, education, economic) would lead to the happiness of humanity.
• Eagar to follow the events of WW2, in 1939 he watch at a theater a documentary of the Nazi invasion of Poland, “Sieg im Poland.” When Poles appeared on the screen, members of the audience cried out, “Kill them! Kill them!” Auden was horrified.
• As he watched the SS savagery onscreen and heard the audience’s brutal response, Auden lost his belief in the goodness of man. He knew that he was encountering evil and that it had to be condemned categorically. That is, without any moral or theoretical doubt.
• This was his first realization. His second realization is what hit him the hardest. There had to be some reason why Hitler was utterly wrong. The problem was not only to account for the evil, but how to justify the absolute condemnation of it.
• In Humanism, there are no absolutes. To judge anything absolutely wrong is naïve and impossible. Judgments are only relative to the culture. The English intellectuals have no Heaven to cry out to against Hitler.
• Auden’s conclusion is that faith in the Absolute is the remedy.

“Either we serve the Unconditional
Or some Hitlerian monster will supply
An iron convention to do evil by.”

CS Lewis, in A Pain Observed, call evil God’s megaphone to get our attention. What is CS Lewis saying? That evil, in a strange way is telling us something or better yet arousing something in us. Once our emotions and anger have settled down, we can ask, “What does evil tell us?” Better yet, “What questions does evil raise?”
• Why is this happen?
• Is God responsible?
• Why doesn’t He stop it?
• Where is man?
What were some of the questions Job asked?
• Why me? Why? Why? Why? Why?

In summary, it really begs two questions:
• How can humanity be so inhuman (inhumanity of humanity)?
• Where is God in all this (God’s responsibility)?

And these questions raise other questions, and these ones we will focus on:
• Where on earth does evil come from?
• What’s so right about a world so wrong?
• Are we really worse of just modern?
• Do the differences make a difference? and Isn’t there something we can do?
• Why can’t I know what I need to know? and Isn’t there any good in all this bad?

Do we live in a time when our response to evil is weaker?

Here are some current facts on evil in the 20th century:

Scale of Evil:
• 20th century has been the bloodiest in all of recorded history
• 100 million killed in wars, and another 100 million killed in genocide.
• 20th century framed by genocide in the begin and end: 1.5 m killed in Ottoman massacre of Armenians in WW1 and Rwandan and Sudanses massacres in 1990s of almost 3 m.
• 20th century has been most murderous including Ukraine terror famine, Auschwitz, the rape of Nanking, the Burma railway, the Soviet Gulag, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian killing field, and the massacres in Bangladesh and Yogoslavia
• The paradox is that today, we save more and kill more!
• The Rwandan bloodbath was one of the fastest massacres in history – 800,000 Tutis in three months, 3x the speed of Hitler’s exterminations, or equivalent to more than two World Trade Center slaughters every day for 100 days.

The Weakening Response to Evil
• Today, it possible to know when atrocities are happening
• Even thought we know as they happen, we still respond slowly. Often we are bystanders.
• In 1994, when the Tutsis cried for help, not a single country went to their rescue.
• This is the response of the generation that coined the word genocide, trumpeted human rights, and built Holocaust Museums so that we might never forget.
• “Never again” should be more like “you never know.”

Our Declining Definition of Evil:
• To speak of evil is seen as simplistic and old fashion, a view of life shaped more by fairy tales then by science.
• Evil is not a moral term of absolutes and using it in public life (i.e politics) would lead to self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and the politics of fear.
• The 9/11 response was to call it an act of terror, an evil attack, which it was. However, as the casualties among Iraqi civilians topped the number of New Yorkers killed, moral indignation was replaced with moral equivalence. Saddam Hussein’s brutalities were evil, America’s were expedient.
• The abuses at Abu Ghraib prision were dismissed as “fraternity antics” and “emotional release.”
• Today, America is confused about evil even though it has the strongest view of evil at its core embedded in the separation of powers in the Constitution. The example above illustrates that current view of evil are weak, hesitant, contradictory, and not shared by all.
• Evil, instead of being defined under God as sin, has softened to evil defined before the law as crime and among some professions has degraded to a low self esteem.
• Evil has been replaced by Utopian view of human goodness.
• Represents a loss of moral certainties of the mind to understand and judge evil.

Other Disturbing Realities
• The worst modern atrocities were perpetrated by secularist humanist regimes, led by secularist intellectuals, and in the name of secularist beliefs.
• Monetheism is not the Axis of Evil. Rather it is the single most influential and constructive belief in human history.
• More people in the 20th century were killed by secularist regimes then in all the religious persecutions in Western history.

DQ One: “Where on earth does evil come from?”

• Bodies – Death is the ultimate insult – Does our fragility make the human life futile or worthless? What is our reaction to human frailty? Do we exploit it? (ie Hutus calling the Tuties “cockroaches;” the military calling death collateral damage; a culture of beauty that denies our vulnerability)
• Nature – Henan famine of 1942 to 43 killed 5 million – it was sudden, people were helpless and it was chaotic. Does nature make human life worthless? Are we at “home” in this universe? It nature just a stay of our execution?
• Other human beings. The journalist Stump comments on the Bosnian war where a young Muslim mother was raped in front of her husband and father with her baby screaming on the floor. When the tormentors were finished, she begged to nurse the child. In response, one of the rapists swiftly decapitated the baby and threw the head in the mothers lap. This is a taste of real wickedness. It’s shocking. These are our fellow human beings. However, the lesson we avoid is that when we talk of them or the other, we are talking about ourselves. They are part of our species, man. It’s a terrible comment on man. It’s the dark side of who we all are.

Why is the question important?

• Realism
• Compassion

What was God’s response to Job?

• Job 38; 40:1-7; 42:1-6


One thought on “Framing the Problem of Evil

  1. Hi Murray,

    I have just come across your blog on evil. You mentioned that for the next five Sundays, you’ll lead in a discussion on the Christian’s understanding and response to evil.

    I am interested to do something like that in our church.

    How did it go?

    What are some of your points or headings for those five sessions?

    I would be interested to see how you conducted them and how people responded.



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