Knots come in many shapes and sizes and perform a variety of functions, as any Boy Scout or outdoors enthusiast knows. Understanding how to tie a knot may mean the difference between life and death. Some knots unravel easily, while others need persistent focus and attention in order to untangle. Working through the problem of evil is much like untangling a knot that’s both challenging and delicate. It’s not merely an intellectual exercise, whereby one seeks to solve a problem, as one might do when working through a complicated math theorem or scientific theory, but a problem that affects each of us deeply and existentially.
Responding to the Problem of Evil
We all experience evil in some way or another, and how one understands and responds to evil is deeply connected to one’s worldview commitments, especially those worldviews that hold to the existence of God. As John Feinberg reminds us in The Many Faces of Evil, one’s conception of God plays a significant role in how one answers the question of evil. For not all concepts of God are equal. Even among people within the same general worldview, there are substantial differences between their ideas of God. Take, for example, the difference among theists. Unlike Jews or Muslims, who hold to God as one person, Christians believe that God is tri-personal. But what ultimate difference does it make if God is mono-personal or tri-personal?
The problem of evil not only affects theists of every stripe, but all people who have been confronted by the tragedies and horrors of evil in the world. Each worldview must confront the reality and problems brought about by evil—problems that touch every tangent of our finite earthly existence. While each worldview provides an answer to such questions, not all worldview responses are on par with one another. Some worldviews provide a thicker response to the question of evil than others. The problem of evil raises questions related to the meaning and purpose of life. Is there any meaning to our finite existence and the suffering we experience in the world, or is this life all there is? Should we have as our motto: “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die?” As theologian Paul Tillich reminds us, each one of us stands in between being and nonbeing. We all teeter on the edge of life and death. But even if this life is all that there is, can a person find meaning and purpose in the face of suffering? For a serious seeker, she must contend with the question of what constitutes a thick worldview response to evil and how such a response differs from a thin worldview response. What criteria should one use when analyzing worldview responses to evil in the world? Which worldviews are even live options in the face of evil?
Any adequate response to the problem of evil, then, must answer such questions as the ones raised above. How does Christian theism fare with such questions in comparison to other worldviews or metaphysical systems? Does Christianity have within it, not only the resources to present a rational explanation for why evil exists and an answer to what God is doing about evil (or, at least, why he allows it), but also the capacity to provide a response to the existential dimension of evil in the world?
Worldviews and the Problem of Evil
Worldviews and the Problem of Evil is an attempt at providing a robust response to the problem of evil from a Christian perspective. In this book I argue that, in comparison to four other broad metaphysical systems—naturalism, pantheism, process panentheism, and theism—Christianity provides a thick response, not only to the intellectual problem of evil, but also to the existential/religious problem. In addition, Christian theism provides a thicker response than other theistic worldviews. Particularly, within the central teachings of Christian theism, especially the doctrine of the Trinity, Christians have the tools for providing a robust response to the problem of evil.
This post is adapted from Worldviews and the Problem of Evil by Ronnie C. Campbell, Jr (Lexham Press, 2019).