When people talk about The Problem of Evil, they are usually asking this question: How can God be all-seeing, all powerful and wholly good when evil exists in the world? Either he doesn’t care, or is powerless to combat evil, or doesn’t exist at all.
I have always been mystified by this line of reasoning. I think it fails to take into account that we live in a created world. After all, we rarely draw these conclusions when we talk about other created worlds – the ones we know in novels, plays or movies.
Take, for example, the world Shakespeare created in Hamlet. The story ends tragically. Almost everyone in the story dies, the just and unjust alike.
- Question 1: Did Shakespeare know Hamlet, Ophelia and the rest were going to die? Yes.
- Question 2: Could he have prevented their deaths? Yes again.
- Question 3: Does Shakespeare care about them, does he love them? Yes again. We know that authors do not reward the characters they love most with long lives or happy endings. He rewards them by making them whole, rounded and true.
- Question 4: Is Shakespeare good?
We don’t really know the answer to this last one, and can’t learn the answer by looking into the play. We can only observe that Shakespeare has created a world that has captured our imaginations for 400 years. His characters may have cursed Shakespeare, had they any inkling he existed. (Although I don’t think they would have blamed him. As with all really good stories, the outcome flows inexorably from the choices of the characters themselves. Shakespeare, like God, is no puppet-master.) But we know, intuitively, that if everyone in the Court of Denmark had lived happily ever after, the play would be somehow less important, and less true.
We know, because we are Shakespeare’s fellow humans, and see Hamlet’s world from the creator’s perspective. But when we are the characters in the story that God has created, the meaning is not obvious. We have glimpses of the meaning – and that is the great gift God gives us when, in the form of Jesus, he enters his creation as one of the characters. But in many ways we take it on faith that, as Yann Martel says in Life of Pi, “God is the better story.”
For me, the real Problem of Evil is this: Why are we such suckers for evil? Why do I cave into pride, or fear, or envy or numbness, when they sap my soul and give nothing in return?
St. Paul describes the phenomenon when he says, “What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” (Romans 19) But he doesn’t really explain it. Margaret Atwood has a witty explanation in her comic essay, “Unpopular Gals,” where the evil women in fairy tales make their case. As the Wicked Stepmother says, “I stir things up, I get things moving. . . . you can’t get me out of the story. I’m the plot, babe, and don’t ever forget it.” But I think fairy-tale evils are much more entertaining than the besetting evils of middle-class Canadians like me. My sins don’t get things moving. They sink them in timidity and torpor.
So friends, I’m turning to you. When evil comes knocking, why do we open the door? What makes us blind to evil, so that when we see it around us, we think it’s normal?
Take a risk, and add your comments below.