|Image by dullhunk via Flickr|
Recently, I had the same experience when a friend presented me with this very simple offer of choices: how can you believe in a good, all-powerful God in a world of suffering? Either a good, all-powerful God and no suffering. Or suffering without a good, all-powerful God.
My response was to politely disagree with the framing of the issue. The mystery of evil in the world is not solvable by a simple binary, multiple-choice trap that is both simplistic and, frankly, crude.
The mystery of evil in the world is an issue that we can only approach through the Jericho Method described in the blog post below. In other words, it is an issue that we must patiently circle around, hoping upon each circular pass to acquire some greater bit of insight and sensitivity that can shed some light on this mystery.
Ultimately, the Christian response is this: the virtually naked man hanging on the wooden instrument of torture used by the Romans on the lowest of the low in their social scale testifies that Christians--especially those who display crucifixes--do not skirt at all the issue of the suffering of the innocent. The Christian response to such suffering is to point out that God became man in the form of a slave and voluntarily exposed himself to unimaginable torture. So, to the mystery of evil, we must add the mystery of God becoming a victim. To that mystery, we must add other dimensions--the dimension of free will, which leads to bad choices; the dimension of the growth, maturation, and wisdom that emerge from suffering; the dimension of the promise that God will ultimately set all things to right.
Thus, the problem of evil is one with multiple dimensions, over which the most intelligent thinkers of many traditions have wrestled for centuries. It is not a simple multiple-choice question as the leading philistines of contemporary atheism would have us naively believe. A sort of crude, self-assured atheist fundamentalism is alive and well and missing the boat entirely in its crude oversimplification of the mystery of suffering by blithely ignoring the work of so many thinkers.