Addressing the Emotional Problem of Evil: Why Christians Hope
By Mary Jo Sharp
After recently teaching an apologetics seminar on how to engage others in conversation, a gentleman from the audience pulled me aside and spoke with me about a family member. He said, “My son-in-law is angry with God. He doesn’t understand why God took our daughter, who was his beautiful, kind, and loving wife. He tells us that it should have been him, not her. Now he says he cannot believe in God because of this evil, this great loss of life. What should I say to him?” His question is one that I receive many times each year. What can we do when someone has suffered greatly, and out of that suffering is born disbelief or doubt?
Indeed, many of us can think back to a time when a family member or friend has suffered greatly and that sufferer began to doubt God’s existence or at least to question God. These are the times when I wished just one of my philosophical arguments could make everything better. Yet I know that even a great philosopher, if facing the practical outworking of the problem of evil, cannot cure his own suffering or speed his grieving.
C. S. Lewis faced this problem. He wrote a theodicy on evil in his book, The Problem of Pain, but then suffered greatly at the loss of his wife from cancer. After her death, he kept a journal, later titled A Grief Observed, through which we catch a glimpse of Lewis’s agony: “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid but the sensation is like being afraid.”1
Since it is a safe generalization to say that every person who has ever lived has experienced evil in some form or fashion, including pain and suffering, answering the problem of evil is a formidable task. In his book, Hard Questions, Real Answers, William Lane Craig asserts, “Undoubtedly the greatest intellectual obstacle to belief in God—for both the Christian and the non-Christian—is the so-called problem of evil.”2 Due to the breadth and depth of the effects of evil, I believe the problem of evil is not only the number one intellectual obstacle to belief in God, but it also rules as the number one emotional obstacle to belief in God.3 The emotional problem of evil, an aversion to a God who would allow suffering and evil, is even more difficult for me to answer due to the power of the emotional objection.
Christian philosopher Dallas Willard describes the influence of our emotions…
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