By David Hegg
By now you’ve read and heard and talked long about the situation in Israel. Because I write my column eight days ahead of publication, it is often the case that I’m late to the party. But, then again, being late to the conversation usually keeps me from making rash statements before some of the basic facts are in. It also, in this case, has allowed me to wipe the tears from my eyes so that I can see things a bit clearer.
As a pastor, one of the hardest questions I am asked is this one: “If God is so powerful, and if he is so good, then why does evil seem so prevalent in our world?”
Philosophers on both side of the theistic divide have struggled with this question. Some, like Richard Dawkins, the leading atheist of our day, actually believe there is no such thing as evil. Why? Simply because if evil exists it means there is a standard by which to distinguish evil from good, and that standard must not only be pure good, but also immutably good. That is, it must be impervious to the effects of evil, and be eternally good. Dawkins’ problem is that this kind of standard seems quite a bit down the road toward an eternal, transcendent God, and since he rejects even the concept of God, he must avow that there is no good, no evil, only “pitiless indifference.”
The trouble is that we naturally know that evil exists. We’ve seen its face in the myriad senseless acts of man’s inhumanity to man down through the ages. And so, I would say to Dr. Dawkins, “Maybe the presence of evil argues for the presence of a God standard.”
Another suggested answer is that “everything has a purpose,” which basically says “the end justifies the means.” And while we can hide behind this as a maxim, it really doesn’t answer the questions we are continually asking. Sure, we may find the “purpose” for some evil event down the line, but the fact is, it was still evil and painful and horribly wrong.
For me, the best answer may not be the most personally satisfying in the moment, but it does promise a long-term comfort in a world where evil not only exists but also plays a very prominent role. Evil exists because sin exists, and sin has invaded everyone born in the line of Adam. We all sin, but the greatest evil is found when sinful desires are encouraged, fed, rationalized and released rather than beaten down, starved, repented of and restrained. Why is there evil? Because you and I and billions of others are in this world.
At this point, no one can predict what will happen in this latest round of brutal evil between competing ideologies in the Middle East. Was the surprise attack on Israel evil? Must Israel show ethical restraint in response? Must transgression of the protocols of Just War Theory be recognized and punished? Is every instance of a human dying, especially at the hands of a fellow human, horrible, painful and deeply sad? Yes to all, absolutely, and resoundingly, yes.
Prayers for peace are surely needed. Political and military restraints and agreements and treaties and promises will surely be suggested, even enacted. But, given that past performance is the best predictor of future success, no one should get their hopes up. Where evil is sung and preached as good, and violence is seen as the pathway to paradise, peace offers much less reward.
So, will the politicians, philosophers, military and societal leaders find a solution to this ages-old ideological conflict? No, sadly, no. And, in some ways, that is the greater face of evil.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.