"I repeat the question. Is the world, considered in general, and as it appears to us in this life, different from what a man or such a limited being would, beforehand, expect from a very wise, powerful, and benevolent deity?"
David Hume: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Atheist)
"I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in his power?"
Job 23 verse 5-6
The problem of evil has always been close to my heart. Particularly because it seems to be a major factor in many Christians turning from their faith.This very nearly became the case for me towards the end of my first year at Uni. I was reading about Dostoyevsky's character Ivan Karamazov in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. The novel describes a conversation between the worldly Ivan and his brother Alyosha (who is training to be a monk).
In one particular part Ivan and Alyosha get into a debate about God, and in this context Ivan brings up the subject of the suffering of innocent children. He references a story that was circulating in the newspapers of the time involving a child who threw a stone at one of the Earls hunting dogs (he was a member of royalty but I can't remember his title so i've just labelled him as 'Earl'). When the Earl finds out that the young boy has injured one of his prized hunting dogs he calls for him and his parents to be brought to him. He then strips the boy naked - infront of his parents - and sends him running accross a field. After a small time lapse he then lets the hounds loose accross the field who tear the child to pieces.
The suffering of innocent children is a particularly bothersome problem for Ivan (and myself) because there seems to be no eventual good that can be got from the suffering of little children. One only has to visit the childrens ward of a hospital or remember the baby incinerators at Auschwitz to see this. His response (in my opinion) makes a laughing stock of any theodicy - (the attempt of believers to explain the problem of suffering away).His response is original in that he doesn't point out the flaws in any believers argument. Instead Ivan says (paraphrased) 'I don't care whether God is respecting human freedom (free will defence), or if he is moulding us into better people, or even if those children go to heaven'.
For Ivan, the horrific suffering of innocent children revulses him so much that the goals God has in mind are irrelevant to him. The tears of suffering children are not worth the price. In other words - the price of our freedom is too high. This leads Ivan to an atheistic position that also acknowledges the existence of God. He essentially says 'I accept God is there, but I stand in judgment on God because there is no goal that justifies the suffering of these children'. I found Ivans argument deeply unsettling as a Christian. Deep down I found Ivan very convincing, and this was different to any other atheistic argument because it said WHATEVER the reason, the suffering of children is far too higher price to pay.
So, after thoroughly depressing you all I will now turn to something more optimistic! Namely, how I came to appropriate Ivans response in my faith. Notice I say 'appropriate', not 'argue against' or 'reject'. Ivans response to the suffering of innocent children is a central part of my faith when it comes to suffering. I accept his challenge and as a result I believe that all Christian responses that try to 'explain' the suffering of innocent children away are totally inappropriate and buckle under the weight of Ivans argument. I found many paralells between Ivans outrage and the book of Job and The Psalms . Yet there was a crucial difference between them and Ivan. They both shared the confusion and outrage at the apparently pointless suffering in the world, yet Jobs response (after raging and arguing with God) is:
"I feel my littleness: what reply shall I give? I had better lay my hand over my mouth, I have spoken once, I shall not speak again; I have spoken twice, I have nothing more to say."
It seems then, that the problem of evil is much more a problem of life than an intellectual problem for philosophers. Yet, in the words of Peter Vardy (my lecturer on this issue) 'in the face of evil we are faced - existentially - with two choices either that of Ivan or that of Job'. They agree in their outrage and inability to explain evil - Job cannot reconcile Gods justice to the suffering he is witnessing and undergoing; Ivan cannot explain the suffering he see's around Him in light of Gods existence. Nevertheless Job says in effect ' I choose to trust and love God DESPITE the suffering that I cannot explain'. Indeed the only response God gives to Jobs anger and questions is the following:
"Where were you when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it. Who decided how large it would be? Who stretched the measuring line over it? Do you know all the answers?"
Job 38 verse 4-5
I was able to say with Job 'I have nothing else to say' - although when suffering comes my way I'm sure I will take that back. I am at peace with God now, even though I cannot see any way that the suffering in the world could possibly be justified. I haven't even mentioned the crucifixion and It's relevance to the problem of evil but I think I have yabbered enough now.