Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Problem of Evil and Suffering

Hello All, Here is my research paper on THE PROBLEM OF EVIL, SUFFERING IN RELATION TO KARMA AND CHRISTIAN VIEW OF SIN’ happy reading.

DATE: JULY 26, 2013.

evil


 The reality of Evil and Suffering:

There’s hatred, war, pain, famine, floods, rapes; murders and so on, existing in our world today.  Pain, suffering and evil are indisputable realities for everyone. What is the source of it? How can there be an all-powerful loving sovereign God that permits such events?1  Our first challenge is that the presence of evil equates to the extinction of God. The argument goes like this:

  1. There is evil in the world.
  2. If there was a God, he would have done something about it.
  3. Nothing has been done about it.
  4. Therefore, there is no God.

This is how the argument has been made traditionally by Atheists. Another approach by theists goes like this–

  1. Yes, there is evil in the world.
  2. If there is evil, there must be good.
  3. If there is good and evil, there must be a moral law on which to judge between good and evil.
  4. If there is a moral law, there must be a moral lawgiver (God).2

Previous argument supports nonexistence of God and the latter supports the existence of God. We will look into it with respect to few worldviews i.e. Atheism (Buddhism), Pantheism (Hinduism) and Monotheism (Christianity).

A) Common Buddhist belief and reality:

The good thing to know about this belief is that they recognize there is evil and suffering in life. The essential teachings of the Buddha comprises of the following Four Noble Truth:

i. The Noble Truth of Dukkha (suffering, dissatisfaction, stress): Life is fundamentally oppressed with suffering and disappointment in every way.
ii. The Noble Truth of the Cause of Dukkha: The cause of this dissatisfaction is craving in all its forms.
iii. The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha: An end to dissatisfaction can be found through the relinquishment and abandonment of craving.
iv. The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to Cessation of Dukkha: There is a method of achieving the end of all suffering-namely, by following the Noble Eightfold Path that involves the practice of it.

There are also, three aspects common to their beliefs and reality about life. Those are suffering (dukkha), non-permanence (annica), and non-soulishness (anatta). The root cause of all the suffering in life is craving or desire in all its form. There is a method of achieving the end of all suffering and pain by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path. Here is the list: – right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. One must cultivate all those skills in order to bring the enlightenment. Therefore, this view validates the law of karma or the law of the cause and effect. If one has done bad things in life, the result will be bad and vice versa.3

The problem with this view is that they see the essential diagnosis of life as full of evil and suffering and it fails both the philosophical and pragmatic tests. Philosophically, if everything were suffering, we would not know it to be suffering. Pragmatically, Buddhism fails to appreciate the actual existence of positive aspects of life thus turning out to be a pessimistic proposition. In addition to that, while the cause of suffering is rightly identified as craving, its abandonment as the solution seems to be impractical. The human difficulty seems to be one of incapacity to follow such discipline. The problem is that we as humans know what is right but repeatedly find ourselves in the undesirable position of not being able to do what we know is right. A finite universe could not have come into existence except nonphysical, non-temporal cause outside of the universe. As the universe contains intelligence and moral tendencies, the First Cause (God) has to be infinite, all powerful, intelligent, and just.4

 B) Common belief and reality of Hinduism:

If you imagine the system of belief that comprise Hinduism as a straight line, at one end of the line is the belief in a number of finite personal gods. It involves worship and devotion to one or more than 330 million gods and goddesses. The key reason of existence of evil and suffering according to Hinduism is karma (works). If you sow evil, you will reap evil and vice versa. In this view the quality of life is determined by one’s action. Therefore your suffering in this life is the consequence of your actions in a previous life. Buddhism holds that suffering is the product of egocentric desire and can be overcome through ending of the self that has those desires.5 The Hindu believes that the soul (jivatman) of the deceased returns to be born into another form-human, animal, vegetable or mineral—depending upon the good works (karma) in the earlier life.  It teaches the paths for one to be free of suffering and obtain moksha which means freedom or liberation which is the ultimate human goal.

The moksha according to Hinduism can be obtained in three ways:–

i. Way of knowledge (Gyana Marg): Salvation is attained by knowledge that is intuitive and spontaneous of oneness with the divine.
ii. Way of Devotion (Bhakti Marga): Salvation is gained by devotion.
iii. Way of Good Works (Karma Marga): Salvation is earned by good works; these can contribute toward a better/higher birth in the next cycle of reincarnation or eternal communion with god, not very different from what Christians aspire for.6

The problem we face as human being is that just having Knowledge (Gyana) cannot save us from suffering because we cannot grow to have the knowledge which is equal to the divine. Instead, we will always have a new revelation of the divine as we learn about him. Devotion (bhakti) has to be offered to the One who is thoroughly deserving of it and not to anyone who shares the same frailties as humans. We see in this view that since they have many gods and goddesses, the same devotion is been shared among all. And by our own good works, we cannot be saved because the standard expected by God can never be achieved by any human being, moral or immoral. And we’ll never be able to reach that place where we are totally free from sinning or doing wrong so according to karma our bad deeds will bring bad results so it’s not going to be the solution for the evil and suffering. In Hinduism you get your punishment through reincarnation. If you act badly in this life, you may be a cockroach in the next one.

C) How, then, are we to be saved?

For most religions, man must take the active role.  Hinduism and Buddhism offer solutions that are remarkably similar: Through meditation we confront our selfish desires and recognize that the “self” is the core of the problem. So we strive, in various ways, to eliminate this self and achieve its extinction. In effect, we seek to become nothing. We can advance toward this goal not merely through meditation but also through disciplined self- renunciation: renunciation of possessions, renunciation of sensual pleasure, and so on. This is a supremely difficult project. Among Buddhists only the monks claim to even approach nirvana. I believe the awareness of the chasm separating holiness from human weakness has produced, in Hindu and Buddhist cultures, their distinctive fatalism. Many Hindus believe fate will decree whether they reappear as a prince, a dog, or a flea in the next life.7

Let me go back to the beginning of our argument and put another theist’s view here:

l. There is evil in the world.
2. There is also the reality of freedom to choose; and where there is freedom to choose, evil will always be a possibility.
3. In fact, concepts of love and goodness are unexplainable unless there is freedom to choose.
4. Since love is the supreme ethic, its possibility necessitates freedom.
5. Where there is freedom, there will be the possibility of evil.
6. This is precisely the paradigm of creation by God in the Bible.
7. Therefore the biblical model of a loving God, who creates for the possibility of the supreme good, may be defended on reasonable and existentially persuasive grounds.8

We have the world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions), more valuable, an else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness.9 The denial of an objective moral law, based on the compulsion to deny the existence of God, results ultimately in the denial of evil itself. The Christian view recognises the horror of evil and seeks to offer a morally justifiable reason for God to allow suffering. Let us turn to the Christian view to it.

D) Christian belief, reality and the Problem of Sin:

There is something fundamentally wrong with the world which is hard to avoid. Every worldview recognises that. According to Christian worldview our biggest problem is called sin. Many people think that sin is primarily breaking the divine rules laid by God. The very first of the Ten Commandments from the Bible is “to have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:3). So the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but making of good things into ultimate things that is making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship with God. In other words, sin is not simply doing bad things; it is putting good things in the place of God.

The moment we abandoned living for God and enjoy God as our highest good–the entire created world became broken. When this happened; disease, famine, natural disaster, death, war, violence, crime etc. came into existence as the result of sin.10

While the argument from evil is often used to challenge God’s existence, in a strange way the same argument can be used as evidence for that existence. Consider this: why do we experience suffering and evil as unjust? We know that evil is real and we know that it is wrong. But if evil is real, then good must be real as well. How else would we know the difference between the two? Our ability to distinguish between good and evil, and to recognize these as real, means that there is a moral standard in the universe that provides the basis for this distinction. And what is the source of that moral standard if not God? But Christianity is not a religion in this sense. Christianity holds that man, no matter how hard he tries, cannot reach God. Man cannot ascend to God’s level because God’s level is too high. Therefore there is only one remedy: God must come down to man’s level. Scandalous though it may seem, God must, quite literally, become man and assume the burden of man’s sins. Christians believe that this was the great sacrifice performed by Christ. If we accept Christ’s sacrifice on the basis of faith, we will inherit God’s gift of salvation. That’s it. That is the essence of Christianity. “Christ offers us something for nothing,” C. S. Lewis writes. “He even offers everything for nothing. In a sense, the whole Christian life consists in accepting that very remarkable offer.”11   that’s the gospel, we are talking about. Let me explain the gospel in another way:–

i. In the person of Jesus–God emptied of himself of his glory:
Jesus, the promised Messianic King and the divine Son of God was born into the world in a stable as poor, humble, and moral man. He took upon himself a moral nature and the life of a servant. He spent his entire life serving others–feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raisig the dead, preaching and teaching.

ii. Through the work of Jesus–God substituted himself for us:
Sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, serving as our own Saviors and Lords, putting ourselves where only God deserved to be. in Jesus God substituted for us. He made full atonement and obserbed the punishment our sins deserve, putting himself where we deserved to be. This secured justifcation and acceptance is freely by grace.

iii. At the return of Jesus–God will make a new world:
At the beginning the Triune God created the world to be a community, peace and joy. Sin brought evil and suffering into the world. But the end of the history, God will restore this material creation destroying death, disease, injustice and suffering of all kinds. It will be a world in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.12

We are all the time searching for the answers for the evil, justice, love, and forgiveness. Only on the cross of Jesus Christ do love, justice, evil, and forgiveness converge. Evil, in the heart of man, shown in the crucifixion; love, in the heart of God who gave his Son; forgiveness because of the grace of Christ; and justice, because of the law of God revealed. That is at the heart of the Christian story. Thus God in his mercy has to intervene and offer his son, Jesus Christ, as the sacrifice for human wickedness (Rom 5:8 But God –demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.) Moreover the significant fact that all ancient religions including Hinduism have practiced systems of animal sacrifices lends strong credence to the necessity of this belief. Christ has paid for our karmic debt, so to speak!

The core of the Christian view posits a way that by all estimates has been a unique and matchless expression in the face of evil. Jesus described his journey to the cross as the very purpose for which he came. His death in that manner brings a message with double force. It demonstrates the destructiveness of evil, which is the cause of suffering and, in Jesus’ example, the ability to withstand suffering even though it is undeserved. Suffering and pain did not spare the very Son of God.

Looking at the cross, evil becomes a mirror of fearsome reality. But by carefully looking into the cross, we discover that it is not cloudy but shining, and we are able to glimpse true evil and victory over evil through it. The suffering of Jesus is a study in the anatomy of pain. At its core, evil is a challenge of moral proportions against a holy God. It is not merely a struggle with our discomfort. God has done something about evil. It is too profound for our simplistic answers to understand. Jesus struggled with the burden of having to be separated from his Father in that momentary event of his crucifixion, as he bore the brunt of evil. He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Matt 27:46). The incredible truth was that at the very moment his Father seemed farthest from him, Jesus was in the centre of his Father’s will. That is precisely what an understanding of the cross means. Only when one comes to the cross and sees both in it and beyond it, can evil be put in perspective.

God is the author of life. God is not merely presented as good, but holy. If God is the author, then there is a script. There is a story. We either let God’s purpose be freely expressed, or we reject that purpose and the floodgates of evil swing open. Skepticism by its own admission does not know the script or the story. You repeatedly hear, “‘We must come up with this ourselves.” The wide range from egocentric humanism to nihilism provides the options for them. Violence and evil with these options can become not just legitimized but fundamental to the process.13

Finally, yes, there are evil, hatred, war, pain, famine, floods, rapes; murders and so on, existing in our world today. Pain, suffering and evil are indisputable realities for everyone. Suffering is not the cause of meaninglessness in this world. God is just and his justice demands full reimbursement. So how can a salvation be reconciled with divine holiness and justice? This is posing the question in the right way. The Christian answer is that God decided to pay the price himself for human sin. Not just this sin or that sin but all sin. God did this by becoming man and dying on the cross. I want to reflect for a moment on God’s incredible sacrifice. I am not referring to Christ’s crucifixion. I am referring to God’s decision to become man. No other religion can even conceive this. The Bible says that salvation is the gift of God. The only person who we know made it to heaven is the repenting thief hanging on the cross by Christ’s side. “Lord, help me,” he said, “for I am a sinner.” And Christ replied, “This day you will be with me in paradise.”

What an encouragement this is for us, because once we have confronted our pride we realize that we don’t have to do anything to earn our heavenly reward. In fact, there is nothing that we can do to earn it. What is denied to us by effort is supplied to us through grace. So when around us we see the decay of our life, when every earthly hope of redemption has failed us, when those whom we love cannot help us, when we have tried everything and there is nothing else to try, when we have tossed our last log on the fire and all the sparks have sparkled out, it is at this point that God’s hand reaches out to us, steady and sure. All we have to do is take it. This is the uniqueness of the Christian message.

Bibliography

The reality of Evil and Suffering:

  1. Timothy Keller in The Reason for God (New York: Riverhead 2008), 25–27 also see Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zachariah (Nashville, Thomas Nelson 2008), 178–182.
  2. See Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zachariah (Nashville, Thomas Nelson 2008), 180–184.

A)    Common Buddhist belief and reality:

  1. L T Jeyachandran from Beyond Opinion, ‘Challenges from Eastern Religion’ (Nashville, Thomas Nelson 2008), 89–93.

B)    Common belief and reality of Hinduism:

  1. L T Jeyachandran from Beyond Opinion, ‘Challenges from Eastern Religion’ (Nashville, Thomas Nelson 2008), 79–85.
  2. Dinesh D’souza from What’s so Great About Christianity (Washington DC, Regnery Publishing), 167–168.
  3. L T Jeyachandran from Beyond Opinion, ‘Challenges from Eastern Religion’ (Nashville, Thomas Nelson 2008), 79–85.

C)    How, then, are we to be saved?

  1. Dinesh D’souza from What’s so Great About Christianity (Washington DC, Regnery Publishing), 174–175.
  2. Ravi Zachariah from Beyond Opinion “Challenges of Evil and Suffering” (Nashville, Thomas Nelson 2008), 185.

D)    Christian belief, reality and the Problem of Sin:

  1. Platinga ed. God, Freedom and Evil (New York: Harper & Row 2002), 30.
  2. Timothy Keller in The Reason for God (New York: Riverhead 2008), 165–178.
    1. Dinesh D’souza from What’s so Great About Christianity (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing), 169–176.
    2. Timothy Keller in DNA Handbook, Gospel Theology (New York: Riverhead 2008), 20.
    3. Ravi Zachariah from Beyond Opinion “Challenges of Evil and Suffering” (Nashville, Thomas Nelson 2008), 201-208.