Monday, September 24, 2007

The Reason Why the “Problem of Evil” is Such a Problem Today

By C Michael Patton @

Recently, I was watching the “local” news and was overwhelmed by the burdens of bad news that I had to take on within just a few moments. There was a shooting and someone died. There was a brutal stabbing of a realtor while she was showing a house. The details were gruesome; she was stabbed over seventy times. There was a kidnapping of a young girl with no significant leads. My heart sunk as I looked into the faces of the parents as they plead with the kidnappers to return their little girl. There was a car crash where a young teen died as he was racing one of his schoolmates. Then there were the updates on unresolved crimes and tragedies of the past few weeks that were reviewed. I turned to Fox News and it does not get any better. The burdens continue to mount. A shooting that took place in Florida just off the highway with no leads. There was the continuing coverage of a tragic shooting where several young girls were shot by a disturbed father who then shot himself. (I have two girls who are in school. What do I do?). As well, news of Iraq war is not good. Many are still dying. Many parents would be getting the news that their sons had died.

All the news was bad news. Not only this, but it was bad news about people I did not know and would likely never meet. At my local church (where I do know the people), there was more bad news. Not too long ago a twelve year old girl hung herself—twelve years old. Her parents are heavily involved in our church. We also had four other funerals within a two week period. Then, in my Sunday school class, there were more needs. A prayer request about a mother who had an aneurysm, a father who had cancer, and a baby who was in danger of being born prematurely. My own family has troubles of its own that we add to the list. My mother is not recovering from her stroke. My wife’s uncle is near death. Many in my family are very depressed from the heaviness of my mother’s situation and lingering pain of my sister’s death. Not to mention my friends who need salvation, relocation decisions, and various other issue.

With this much evil, what is one to do?

Paul tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). The “law of Christ” in this context seems to be to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39). How am I to bear all of these burdens? Are all these people my neighbors? There is that question again—”who is my neighbor?” To be a neighbor, do I bear all of these burdens? How? It is too overwhelming. Once I attempt to bear them all, they in turn become less significant and I become apathetic. I place my hands in my head and simply say “maranatha–come Lord Jesus.”

News can be overwhelming. Evil reports are discouraging, depressing, and disillusioning. I believe that in our world today we are blessed with valuable technological advancements in communication that would have seemed nothing short of supernatural until one hundred years ago. In the day of Christ, to think of those in Jerusalem being able to have on demand and immediate access to the happenings of people on the other side of the Roman Empire would have been unheard of. In order for one in Jerusalem to find out what was happening in Rome they would have to wait weeks or months to get the information. And even then, the information may not have ever reached your ears had you not been in the “need to know” audience. Certainly, people would have heard if Rome would have been sacked, if there was a severe famine in a certain part of the world, or if the Emperor had died or been replaced, but you would not have heard any non-significant information that did not pertain to you. You would not have heard about kidnapping of the daughter of the everyday Roman citizen, a stolen chariot, or a robbery-murder that took place on the Ephesian Way. This kind of information, if it did reach your ears, would have been irrelevant and, at most, part of a minor rumor mill that died out very quickly. At this time, a person would limit the “headline” news to that which happened in their own neighborhood. Worries and anxieties would be limited to the here and now. For the most part, worries and anxieties would have come from the possibility of future happenings to you, your family, or your immediate community. Your daily news would have come from your community within a certain vicinity. Within this limited community (your family, neighbors, synagogue/church, your work place), you would have had a balance of good and bad news. For the most part, this news would not have been too overwhelming or disillusioning. If there was someone who had a daughter who died of suicide, it was probably the first time you had been exposed to such an occurrence and it would seem very tragic. If you were a good neighbor who was desirous to bear the burdens of the other, you would have been with the parents that day with your arms around them. The biggest problem you would then have is to worry about the future. What is going to happen tomorrow? What if one of my children does the same thing? What if my child dies of this disease or that ailment? What if I lose my job as so-and-so did? What does the future hold?

It is in this context in the great “sermon on the mount” Christ brings perspective:

Matthew 6:31-34 31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

“Each day has enough troubles”? This does not sound too encouraging. I would rather have heard Christ say, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. God is going to take care of you.” Or “Don’t worry about tomorrow; for today has enough joys to keep you occupied.” I don’t really like “Today has enough troubles of its own.” Even worse is the King James translation. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” The Greek does not get any better. The word used to translate “trouble” is kakia. The Gingrich Greek lexicon defines this word as “badness, faultiness in the sense of depravity, wickedness, and vice.” Most particularly in this context it carries the idea of “trouble or misfortune.” Ouch. I don’t like the word misfortune or depravity. I especially don’t like it connected with the word “today.” In essence, Christ is saying that each day had enough burdens to bear. Within the culture of the day, with the limited news that they had, their troubles were sufficient. According to Christ, a person cannot and, indeed, is not expected to take on any more than they can bear. This includes future evils. “Do not worry about tomorrow.” The theological principle is this: people should not and cannot take upon their shoulders the evils of the future. More broadly, this would teach that people can only take so much burden. If this is the case, while the burdens of the future are major temptation and cause people great worry and stress, so also is the case with the burdens of those outside our community.

We, as individuals, have a responsibility to take on the burdens of those around us. When we begin to take on the burdens, the evil report, of those whom we have never met and will never meet, we become so discouraged that we cannot even take on the burdens of those close to us any longer. We throw our arms in the air and cry “What is the use? What can I really do?”

Now lets apply this to our current situation of our day. This is the postmodern plight that we find ourselves in today. I believe that it is the primary cause for today being called by many “the age of despair.” We have access to so much information it creates an overload of knowledge concerning the state of affairs that goes beyond our own community and responsibility. We feel as if it is part of our stewardship to pray for, cry for, and give an answer for the evil report of the entire world. We feel as if we are doing something good if we have a good day and are able to do this. But this is not often the case and it will eventually make us useless in bearing any burdens and dealing with the problem of evil at all.

At this point, we can easily become disillusioned by the problem of evil in an unnatural and imbalanced way.


  • I am not saying that everyone should quit watching the news, but be careful. If it causes you to worry, become disillusioned, and go into despair, maybe you should consider slowing down or stopping. Just be careful what and how much you take in, it can alter your worldview.
  • Your primary stewardship is with your immediate community which is made up of those who you actually know and have a relationship with. Always seek to bear their burdens.
  • This does not mean that we don’t care or do what we can for those on the other side of the world. Paul went from church to church seeking help and relief for others. I think we have a responsibility for those who live in impoverished nations and catastrophe stricken states. We need to do what we can to help relieve their suffering and pain. But, at the same time, we need to keep focus on the stewardship that God has given us in our immediate context. There is only so much you can do.
  • Keep in mind that today does not have more bad news or evil report than any other day in the history of the world, we just now have more access to this bad news. Don’t lose perspective.
  • For every evil report, there are countless reports of heroism, joy, success, comfort, and redemption that are taking place all over the world. The “breaking news stories” that the local and national news deems worthy of reporting are not balanced (and I don’t know how we can expect them to be–so don’t use this blog to go picket CNN!). They won’t tell of the countless children who did not get kidnapped and the billions of people who survived the car crashes. They most certainly are not going to tell of the redemption of countless people who have accepted the truth of the Gospel or who found the way out of depression through the loving gracious arms of others. There is neither a news station who has access to the heavenly realm where the report will be made that God is still on the throne and has a plan for everything that happens. They are not going to tell us of the angels rejoicing when a sinner repents. Don’t let the news dictate your understanding of the big picture–no one has access to it outside of Scripture.
  • How long is your prayer list? Many times we feel that we have to pray for every problem that we hear about. When this happens, the result will be a mix of insincerity and apathy like I described concerning my friend above. Because of this, we will stop praying so much for others and as a result be weighed down with undo guilt. I am not saying to stop praying for others as God leads, but to keep your prayer list responsible and realistic.

Let us read the words of Christ once more:

Matthew 6:31-34 31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I could be wrong, but I believe that the reason why the “problem of evil” is more significant today than it has been in the past is because you and I have information overload concerning the evils of the world.

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