For the last 5,000 years, the problem of evil has been discussed in spiritual literature. Throughout the ages man has asked how can an all-loving God and evil coexist. Why do innocent people drown in floods, die of starvation, perish in accidents, and die of illness? Why are blameless people raped, murdered, and crippled? The problem has troubled many, including Rabbi Harold S. Kushner and Charles Templeton. When Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s son died of Progeria (also known as the Hutchinson-Gilford Syndrome or the “aging disease”), he changed his opinion of God, now believing Him to be more limited in power.
During the 50’s, the two major North American evangelists were Charles Templeton and Billy Graham. It seemed the Canadian, Templeton, was destined to surpass Billy Graham, but in 1954 troubled by doubts in the existence of a loving God, he resigned the ministry. If it is difficult for philosophers and religious leaders to reconcile good and evil, it must be even more so for us. No wonder church attendance is down and growing numbers of us are looking elsewhere for answers.
Not everyone agrees there is a problem, however. Many Christians argue that God so loves man that he has given him a free will. And it is man’s abuse of free will that is the source of evil, not God. Here’s how the brilliant C.S. Lewis expressed the argument: “Free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” Admittedly that’s a good argument for the case against moral evil, but it doesn’t explain natural disasters, accidents, and illnesses. What difference does it make if someone’s child is killed by a murderer, tornado, accident, or cancer? Isn’t the result the same (death)? Isn’t the parents’ pain the same? If murder is evil, why isn’t cancer?
Before we ask WHY evil exists, shouldn’t we ask WHETHER it exists? It may seem like a strange question, but, frankly, I’m not so sure it exists. Perhaps it’s a matter of perception. Could it be we find what we look for? Or is it a matter of distorted perspective? For example, if I were to show the word “LIVE” to someone with dyslexia, they may see “EVIL” (LIVE spelled backwards). Is that what it boils down to, finding evil where there is none? Let me illustrate my point with a few examples.
Holding on to Tommy’s hand, Sandra was leading her five-year-old son through the mall. Tommy stopped in front of Dairy Queen and said, “Mommy, I want ice-cream!” “No, Tommy,” Sandra replied, “it isn’t good for you, but let’s get some nice, cold orange juice instead.” “No! I don’t want orange juice; I want ice-cream.” he shouted. As Sandra gently tugged Tommy away, he could be heard yelling, “I hate you, mommy; I hate you!” Did Tommy misperceive reality? Did he misinterpret his mother’s loving intention as evil? If so, he can be excused; after all, he is only five.
Cathy was disturbed by her 15-year-old daughter’s announcement that she planned to go steady with Eddy. Cathy forcefully explained, “I won’t allow it, Cindy! Eddy is a dropout and a pothead that already got three teenagers pregnant. You deserve something much better than that. Besides, I want you to concentrate on schoolwork now. You’re too young to be going steady with anyone.” Cindy ran to her room crying, slammed the door shut, and screamed, “I hate you!” Is this another case of misperception, seeing evil where there is, in fact, love?
What about you and me? Do we behave any differently? When our Creator gives us a challenge so we may grow stronger, do we thank Him for the opportunity, or do we complain about evil? What about the recent accident that took the lives of John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette. It is always tragic to see people full of potential die prematurely. However, because of this accident and its publicity, tens of thousands of pilots may now exercise greater caution by refusing to fly when it gets dark, unless they are qualified to do so with instruments. In other words, the tragic deaths of J.F.K., Jr. and his companions may result in saving the lives of thousands. If so, can this accident be called evil?
The paralysis of movie superstar, Christopher Reeves, is another example. He confesses that he never thought about the plight of wheelchair bound people before. However, as a result of his accident, he has set up a foundation to help find a cure for spinal cord injuries. Much more research is now being done in this area because of his efforts. From this vantage point, can we label his tragic accident as evil?
But what about mass murders, vicious dictators, and hired killers? Aren’t they evil people? I don’t know. Are they evil or misguided? As Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, “No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness.” I have never seen an evil infant. They are all loving, happy, and free of prejudice. For a short while they are all equal, but when they leave the hospital, each child is molded by a different set of circumstances. Different neighborhood. Different education. Different parents, peers, and pressures.
Yes, we have free will and can make choices, but early on our choices are limited by our circumstances and understanding. How can we make the right choices and reach our potential without guidance? Have you reached your full potential, or have you stumbled along the way because of poor choices? If you, who are blessed, have made mistakes, how many more mistakes must be made by the unfortunate. Are there evil people? I don’t know, but if I must choose, I choose to believe in a positive world, a world free of evil. I’m not denying the existence of pain, suffering, and sorrow, but merely doubting that they are evil. Perhaps, the only thing worse than evil is the inability to bear it.