The first two posts of this possible booklet:
Where is God?
What is evil?
On September 11, 2001, a cadre of terrorists, under the direction of a man named Osama bin Laden, hijacked four planes. They flew two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. The attempt to fly a fourth plane, perhaps intended for the Capitol building, was foiled by its passengers.
The majority of those looking on immediately identified these actions as evil. There were some, of course, who believed the United States had done things in the world that explained the hatred these individuals had for the US. But even then, few thought that the response was justified. Most of us would have no problem identifying those who delighted in the deaths of so many people as "evil."
We hear of things every day in the news that we quickly identify as evil. A serial killer somewhere is systematically hunting, raping, and killing in some area of the country. A man and his wife kidnap a young girl and they keep her in their secluded “compound” for years. He rapes her regularly until finally she is discovered and freed. Most of us are quick to identify these actions as evil.
A child goes missing and eventually the police arrest the mother for murder. Their theory is that she duck taped the child’s mouth, perhaps suffocated the child. Then they suggest she put the child’s body in the trunk of her car at some point. She eventually buries the child not far from her home. In this particular case, the mother was found not guilty and many in the public were enraged because they had come to the conclusion that this was an evil woman who had done horrible things.
But what makes these actions evil? Before we can get to the question of why God allows such things to happen, we need to get clear in our minds exactly what it is about these things that makes them evil. For example, are these sorts of evils the same as God allowing a tsunami or earthquake to kill 10,000 people? If evil is simply a question of pain and suffering, then the pain of a tsunami seems to outweigh by far the suffering of one child who would suffocate in the space of a minute. Are they the same?
We would argue that the problem of pain and the problem of evil must be separated as two separate issues, at least when we are trying to explain why God allows them. The first issue asks why God allows people to suffer. If God is perfect, then why do things incredibly less than perfect happen in the world? Why do we get paper cuts and skinned knees? Why do people die of cancer or get killed in a mud slide?
By contrast, the question of evil is why God allows individuals with evil motives to carry out their intentions. Why does God allow murderers to kill other people? Why does God allow the greedy to steal the life savings of the elderly? Why does God allow men and women to cheat on their spouses and tear apart homes?
Evil is any intent or action that works against the love of God or your neighbor. It is, most obviously, any intent or action that is deliberately harmful to others. But it can also be intentions or acts of selfishness that harm others because we are willing to sacrifice others more indirectly in our own self-gratification or promotion. Evil, as we are defining it, is always a matter of intention.