The fact of the existence of evil troubles many individuals, religious and irreligious alike. Numerous strategies have evolved for dealing with it, from denying it like the Buddhists, enduring it like the Stoics, combating it like the Christians or redefining it like the Marxists. But regardless of the method one chooses, there is observably something to which all of these people from the panoply of religious and philosophical creeds are responding.
For centuries, philosophers have wrestled with the so-called problem of evil. They have attempted to define the nature and the character of evil and to provide explanations for the persistence of its existence. Many of them have been Christians and, indeed, the problem of evil is a major stumbling block to belief in the existence of God for many individuals. It is not uncommon for those struck by tragedy to question their faith, or even to lose it, since they are unable to balance the notion of personal suffering with the existence of a God who claims to love them.
The problem with this reasoning is that it is fundamentally at odds with the very heart of Christianity. Christianity does not postulate that the world is a good place. Jesus repeatedly declared that the world hated him and it would hate those who loved him. Christianity does not claim that God is presently in control of events; when Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus rejected the offer but did not claim that it was spurious. And, indeed, Jesus twice spoke of “the prince of this world” as a being who was coming to kill him but would ultimately be driven out by Jesus’ death.
Christianity does not have a problem of evil because it requires evil for the great historical event celebrated yesterday to have any meaning at all. Just as I wrote last week that the Crucifixion and Resurrection make no sense if man is not at risk of hell, they make no sense in a world that is not given over to evil. But if Christianity has no problem of evil, Christians most certainly have a problem with evil.
One hears much these days of the need for religious tolerance. But this is a false doctrine. Christians are not called to tolerate evil or to love wickedness. We are instead commanded to fight it, to wage tireless and unceasing war against it in all of its myriad forms. We are called to resist it in our own lives, to mitigate it in others and to destroy it wherever possible.
Jesus spoke truly. The world still hates him, and it hates those who worship him. As has been the case for the last 2,000 years, Christians are being actively persecuted around the world. Christian converts are being murdered in Somalia even as Christian churches unwisely welcome Somali immigrants to America. New Christians have been murdered in Iraq and imprisoned in Afghanistan. Life-long Christians in Britain have been threatened with losing their jobs if they don’t hide signs of their religion, even though Sikhs are permitted to wear turbans, Jews are permitted to wear yarmulkes, and Muslims are permitted to wear headscarves. America’s time may not be soon, but it will eventually come, too.
The West is belatedly discovering the truth about the love of money being the root of all evil. The arrogant nations of the post-Christian West put their faith in their wealth, only to learn that Mammon is a false and treacherous god. The great irony is that despite the world’s rejection of God and its foolish embrace of evil, those who find themselves suffering the promised consequences of their actions will end up blaming God for them. Such are the perils of free will.
But there is no cause for Christians to be discouraged despite observing that the prince of this world still rules over his kingdoms and once-great Christendom is in decline. On that first Resurrection Day, not even the 11 remaining disciples believed, only those few grief-stricken women who had entered the tomb and were astonished to find it empty. From that meager seed, a mighty church of more than 1 billion believers has grown. And yet, it hardly matters if there is but a single man or woman remaining who is willing to stand up in the face of the world’s hatred and give voice to the Good News, for even if we remain silent, we are told that the rocks themselves will thunder.