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James Meehan - The Problem of Evil

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    James Meehan - The Problem of Evil
TOPICS: Switch Uncut, Evil

James Meehan: Well, welcome to week two of Switch Uncut, where we are tackling the big questions that you are asking about all things, God, the Bible, faith, what it means to follow Jesus. If you have questions that you want us to wrestle with, make sure that you comment that down below, and while you're at it, go ahead and like the video, because you know, we've got Caitlin back with us for this episode, so it's gonna be fantastic. Now also what we wanna make sure that you know, is that this show isn't meant to answer every single question that will come up in the exploration of today's topic. But what we hope to be able to do is to do a thorough enough exploration of this question, that all of us can think a little bit more wisely about these questions as we're figuring out what it means to follow Jesus in our modern world. So with that being said, all introductions out of the way, Caitlin, I know you have a question for us, what are we talking about this week?

Katelyn Caffrey: Yeah, so this is a pretty big question that I think a lot of us have wrestled with. So I'm glad we're gonna talk about it, but it's this question of, why do bad things happen to good people? We're seeing so much like, death, disease, conflict, and all of the things going on in our world right now. And I think it invokes this question day after day after day, why do bad things happen to good people?

James Meehan: Yeah, I think the thing that's super important for us to acknowledge first and foremost, is how real of a question this is, and then also just how difficult of a question this is. This is one of, if not the most common objection raised when it comes to the reasons people give for not wanting to believe in God, or not being able to believe in God. Because the way a lot of people will think about it is, if God is real and God is good, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? Like I remember personally, growing up in a Christian home, we went to church every week, but then when I was in middle school, my parents were having a lot of different marriage issues. My older sister was getting into trouble and my home life was a mess. I was a little seventh grade boy that didn't know how to deal with my emotions or puberty or any of those things, so I'm angry all the time. And I remember praying to God night after night, asking for Him to make things better, because for me that was like way too much mess to be able to deal with, but things weren't getting better. And so I remember finding myself one night just being so fed up that I decided to stop praying, because I was convinced that either God didn't care or God wasn't there, because if he was then something would have changed, but things weren't changing. And then it wasn't until years later that I actually came back to faith, because that question, that struggle, that frustration, led me on a journey of unfollowing Jesus that lasted seven years. And eventually I came back to faith, but that didn't actually answer all of my questions, I didn't resolve all of the tension that I had experienced. Like I remember as a pastor, newly on staff at Life Church, the first funeral I ever officiated was for a guy who was one year older than me, that I went to high school with. Who had given his life to Christ about six months earlier, he had gotten baptized, he was involved in the church, but here's a guy who had struggled with severe mental health issues for years. And eventually it got to the point where his depression was so severe that he didn't feel like living was worth it and so he took his own life. And I remember getting the call about this having happened, showing up to the hospital, being there with his mom while he is slowly passing away because they couldn't save him. And then I had to get up in front of a lot of my former classmates that I went to high school with and preach his funeral and talk about his life and talk about his death, And in the process, talk about the good news of who Jesus is, in spite of the really, really difficult thing that had just taken place. And that was really, really hard, because I knew I was asking the question, God, why would you let this happen? If this is somebody who had put his trust in Jesus, he had made the decision to go public with his faith through baptism, he was trying so hard to live in a way that is good and true, and yet he could not escape from the mental health challenges that had been plaguing him for so many years. It's like, God, what's going on, why are things the way that they are? And as I've gone on this journey of being a pastor now for seven years, I can tell you that the questions don't go away, right. I feel more confident, trusting that God is still good, even when life is not. But I know that I've had so many conversations with other people that maybe haven't developed that confidence yet. And maybe because of something that's happened to them or someone they care about or something that they've seen on the news or social media or whatever, their faith has been shaken by the very real presence of evil and suffering that is prevalent in our modern world.

Katelyn Caffrey: Right, man, I'm just listening to the stories and feeling the weight them, like it invokes this response in me and in us. And I think that's a pretty common experience, when we hear these stories of pain and suffering and death and evil, there's something that rises up inside of all of us that says, "It shouldn't be this way. This is not okay and it shouldn't be this way". Is there something to the fact that we all experience that feeling, like that's such a common part of the human experience to have that, ah, like this is messed up?

James Meehan: Yeah, well, I think absolutely, yes, there is something to that, right? If Christianity is true, then it explains better than I think any other worldview, that common experience. But before we get to the explanation, let's just talk about this common experience. If you are wrestling with these questions, you are not alone. If you are wrestling with these questions, there is not something wrong with you. I wanna make sure that this is something that is overly communicated in our community as followers of Jesus within the Switch movement, is that doubts do not disqualify us. Questions are not an indicator that we don't have enough faith, questions are showing that we want to wrestle with God and discover what's true. And this process of asking these questions is actually what brings us to discovering better answers. So let's start there. And then let's talk about this common experience that human beings throughout history have dealt with, which is the fact that when we are confronted by the evil, the suffering and the injustice in our world, our default gut visceral reaction is to claim that this is not right, as a matter of fact, this is wrong. That things were not supposed to be this way. And this is so important because when bad things happen, when evil takes place, when people are being murdered, when people are being abused, people don't say, "I just don't like that". You know, they say that, "That is wrong". And this is an indicator that as human beings, all of us have this sense of rightness and wrongness. We all have the sense that there is a certain way that the world is supposed to work, but currently the world is not working that way. And the reality is, is the only thing that really explains that, is that there is some sense of right and wrong, of objective morality that exists beyond us. Because if the injustice in the world was simply the product of random chance, then it wouldn't be wrong, it would just be unpleasant. If the evil that takes place in the world were the product of karma, for example, once again, it wouldn't be wrong, it would actually be deserved. Because the worldview that subscribes to karma says that, "Hey, when you do good, you will get good. When you do bad, you will get bad". And so if something bad happens, according to that worldview, then it was deserved, because you earned it either something you did previously or in a past life or whatever. Then if we look at the worldview of atheism and naturalism, that claims there is no creator God, there is no objective morality that exists beyond us, then everything that happens is just a product of random chance. So then there is no objective right or wrong, there are just things that we wish were not so. There are things that we find unpleasant, but it doesn't make them wrong, but that's not the common human experience. The common human experience, when we see people on the other side of the world being murdered is not, hey, that's unpleasant, it's that it's wrong. The common human experience, when we hear stories of children that are being abused by their caretakers, is not, "Ooh, I don't like that". Obviously that's part of it, but there's something that goes beyond that. And the best explanation for that, my argument would be, that there is some sense of morality that is beyond us as individuals. And if there is an objective moral law, if there's an objective good and bad, then that's evidence for there being an objective law giver. And this is the argument that a lot of Christians have put forth about the seeing the reality of the problem we have with evil, actually providing good evidence for the existence of some supernatural being, that put that inside of us, that sense that there is a right and wrong that exists, and when things go against that, what it's doing is it's calling out the reality that deep within all of us, we have this sense of the way things are supposed to be, but the presence of evil and injustice and suffering are going against that deep sense. And so, because of that, when we have a worldview like Christianity, that believes in a loving, moral creator. When we're confronted with evil and injustice, they aren't just unpleasant, they aren't deserved, what they are is they are a violation of ultimate goodness.

Katelyn Caffrey: That brings me back to the very beginning, where I think that we see some of these themes start to begin in the biblical story, in the narrative. So can you help us define like what evil even is? Like, take it back to the very beginning, foundationally, what is evil? Why do we have a problem with it?

James Meehan: Right, and this is such a good thing to bring up, because I think one of the common things that can happen here is, if people think about the Christian worldview, I think about this creator God who created everything, and so then it leads to the question, well, then does that mean that God created evil? And the thing important to acknowledge about evil is that the kind of Christian understanding of evil is not that evil is an actual created thing, but that evil is a deprivation of good. So in the same way that scientifically speaking, cold is the absence of heat, dark is the absence of light. In the same way, theologically speaking, evil is the absence of good. And so the biblical story paints this picture of, in the beginning God creates everything and He called it very good. So in the beginning there was no evil, there was no suffering, there was no injustice. Things were the way they were supposed to be, until they weren't. Because the biblical story tells about how in Genesis chapter three, human beings that were created in the image of God, with value, with dignity, with purpose, with the role of ruling over creation on God's behalf, they actually rebelled against God. This is the story of Adam and Eve eating from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. And in that moment, as human beings rebelled against God, they sinned for the first time. And it was in that act of sin that they opened the door for evil and suffering to invade God's good world. Because God created everything and He put it together as this beautiful ordered creation, where everything worked together in harmony. But when human beings sinned, basically what they did, was they took a sledgehammer to God's creation and threw everything into disorder. And I think that's important to recognize about sin in the biblical sense, is that sin is not just making a mistake. Sin is this power that has set itself up against God, and infected all of creation. And that infection and distortion is present in our lives today. That's why when we turn on the news or we look at social media, what we see are these stories of pain, of suffering, of injustice that take place around the world. The biblical story tells us that all of that is a product of the fall, when Adam and Eve first rebelled against God and led all of creation into rebellion with them.

Katelyn Caffrey: Okay, so this brings up a follow-up question in my mind that I've heard people wrestling with, after that introduction to the story, that leads me to think, okay, so why did God let us do that? Why did He not, as soon as they freaking ate the fruit, hit the reset button and start over again, why did He not let us do that?

Yeah, that's such a good question. You know, I think there's different ways to kind of think about this. And the way that I think makes the most sense to me, is the fact that in the beginning what God desired, was a relationship with human beings. And in order for a relationship to actually exist, choice has to be present. And so one of the things that we know about human beings, is that in the beginning God created us, and he gave us free will, He gave us the freedom to choose. And as human beings, if we have the freedom to choose, that means we have the freedom to choose good things and also to choose not good things. And this is the thing that's really difficult, is because not just Christians, but pretty much everybody in the world agrees, that the supreme ethic of the world is love, but love cannot exist without choice. Because when you rob choice from the equation, love turns into something that is so much less than love. That's where rape comes from, is when the choice is removed from the equation. And this is what we've got to understand, is that what God wanted was a loving relationship with His creation. And so He gifted human beings the freedom to choose. Now in that freedom, what we did is we chose to rebel against God instead of live in relationship with Him. And yes, you're right, God could have just never given us the freedom to choose, but in God's wisdom, God's desires, God's love, led Him to give us that gift. And so I think this is the part where it can be really tricky because there are some people who will hear all of that and say, "Look, I get it. I get that love requires choice, that God wanted human beings to have the freedom to choose because he desired a relationship with us, but it would still be better if God never created human beings". And I think that's one of those things where I can understand where people would land there, with that, you know, with them thinking that's the right decision. But the reality is we don't actually know what the world would have been like without human beings, without creation. And it's one of those things where I think it's difficult to make the claim that, oh, the world would've been better without God creating people. Because we just, we don't know that. All we know is that human beings exist. And the evidence seems to indicate that there is a loving creator God who created us as an act of love and gave us the freedom to choose. And then what we did, was we took a gift that was meant for good and we used it for bad. And God allowed us to do that, why? Because He honors our dignity. He respects our freedom to choose. In the same way that as parents eventually, have to make the decision to honor the choices of their children, God did that with us as human beings.

Well, so it sounds like pain, suffering, is part of the human experience that we have to navigate right now. Tell me a little more about how we can navigate that well, choose to trust God and His love for us through that, and honestly wrestle with the question of like, you know, if this is part of my human experience, why isn't God doing more to help me through it?

Yeah. I mean, that was the question that I was constantly asking when I was dealing with my parents getting separated and filing for divorce, all of that stuff, which was, God, why don't you just fix it? And I think this is again, one of those realities that can be really difficult for us to wrap our minds around because while it seems like it would be easier for God to just snap His fingers and make all the pain go away. For some reason, God has decided that even though that might be easier, it wouldn't be better. I think this is really, really challenging, but it's what the biblical story illustrates for us. It's this reality that God is radically committed to partnering with human beings, to bring about His plan for redemption and restoration. So in the beginning, what we see as we see God creating everything, and then He puts human beings in charge of that creation. And then when we rebel against Him, instead of just like wiping everything out and starting over with a clean slate, what God does, is He chooses to partner with individual human beings, to partner with a man named Abraham, the nation of Israel, to bring about His plan. Because it's through the series of partnerships, where God meets human beings where they are, and pulls us forward to where we need to be, that eventually hope of redemption arrives in the person of Jesus. Because even though God is radically committed to partner with human beings, what He recognized over the course of the biblical story, is that we could not get this figured out on our own. So God actually became a human being in the person of Jesus, to step into the mess that sin had made of the world, to put in motion, the final steps of this plan, to deal with sin, death, and evil once and for all. And that plan took the form of God, the creator of everything, dying on a cross. And so for those of us who are followers of Jesus, here's what we have to recognize, is that as tempting as it may be, to see the existence of evil and suffering as incompatible with the message of Jesus, as contradictory to the biblical story, the reality is that evil and suffering do not contradict the story of the Bible, actually evil and suffering are central to the story of the Bible. Because it's in the moment of the crucifixion, on the cross, where God allows Himself to die in order or to deal with death. Because when you have the author of life entering death, death itself is defeated. When you have the author of life, disarming the powers of evil and corruption through His sacrificial death on the cross, what God is doing is He's robbing the darkness of their powers, and then through His resurrection from the grave, He empowers us with His Spirit. So that once again, in partnership with Him, as human beings, we can play our part in putting the mess of creation back together. But the thing that's important to recognize is that God doesn't just leave us to clean us up on our own. No, He puts His Spirit in us. And as followers of Jesus, we believe that God is three in one, He's got the Father, God, the Son and God the Spirit. And so throughout this plan, throughout the biblical narrative, we see God's showing up time and time again, to move this plan forward, that eventually leads to His own death on the cross and His own resurrection from the grave. So that we, as the church, the people of God, committed to living out the will of God, can get to work, putting the brokenness of creation back together, in anticipation of the day that Jesus returns to finish what He started. Because the biblical story does not end with a broken and rebellious creation. It ends with all of creation being put back together, being redeemed, when Jesus returns to reunite heaven and earth, and to push out all that is evil, all that is wrong, all that is dark, so that all that's left is love light and life.

Hmm, wow, that's so powerful, that God is not a God who stays distant or detached and just watches His kids suffer. He entered into our suffering and didn't just suffer for us, but suffered with us. Like He lived a whole life that led up to the cross. And He's constantly meeting people, like you said.

And that's the thing that is so powerful, is that God entered our suffering.


God took on suffering. Like that idea is so backwards, that God of heaven and earth would humble Himself and allow Himself to be murdered on a cross, because Roman crucifixion was a form of execution, reserved for slaves, terrorists and revolutionaries. And so you've got the God of everything taking the worst form of death imaginable, why? Because He was not willing to stay distant from us, but every step of the way, He's meaning to draw close to us. And so He took on the worst that evil and suffering had to offer. And through it, He paved a path for us to be rescued from sin, for us to be made right to be put back together, so that we could begin the process of putting the broken world back together. And that idea of Jesus on the cross being the symbol of our faith, is the thing that most boggles the mind, but also gives me the most confidence when I think about this question of evil and suffering. Because the heart of our story is God entering into the suffering of our world, allowing evil to be dealt to Him so that he could reunite us to Him.

Hmm, what I'm seeing is that throughout the biblical story, as the world got worse, and worse, and worse, God just got closer, and closer, and closer. Like, that's so... He started out, created everything, it was so good. He was walking intimately in the garden with Adam and Eve, then brokenness, sin, and as the world gets worse and worse and worse, you know, He rescues his people from slavery and He's leading them through the desert, and He comes and meets with them in this tent, the tabernacle. But if it's got to move around, it's super portable and it moves with them wherever they go. Then we have like the iteration of that as the temple, it's this permanent location where they guarantee they could have an encounter with God, His presence was there. Okay, great. The temple was destroyed. The people were taken into exile. Oh my gosh, like, where is God now? And then coming out of that, the prophets talked about like the hope of the Messiah coming, all of this stuff. And then God Himself, steps into history, just like we talked about, is He takes on suffering, He comes and He's with us, Emmanuel God with us. And then the last iteration of that, the next step of God moving closer to us, is Him actually dwelling within us through the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead now resides in us. And that's as close as close can get. And it's His Spirit that empowers us to keep going. Like Paul is constantly talking about endurance, and that's because there's a recognition that it's hard.

And I think the thing that's important to acknowledge is that as you're watching this conversation right now, you might be hearing all of this and thinking, "Man, that sounds really good, but the things that I'm walking through still hurt". And I think that's what's so important for us to just be able to create space for, is that having this understanding of the way that God's been working throughout history, does not the pain away. I think what it does, it gives us the confidence to trust that God is good even when life is not, but it doesn't take the pain away. And when the pain gets so bad, it can be tempting to want to turn your back on God. But if you do that, then what you're doing is you're turning your back on the one who wants to comfort you and He wants to bring you healing while you are in the process of navigating your own hurting. And this is the beauty of what the Psalmist writes, when he says that, "Hey, the Lord is close to the broken hearted. He shows compassion to those whose spirits are crushed". This is the power of God, being the Spirit that is dwelling in us. That He is our helper, He is our advocate, that God wants to bring comfort to us, even when everything in our life feels like it's falling apart. And even with God being in us, there can still be times where we feel so alone. That's why it matters so much to be in community, to be in relationship with other brothers and sisters in Jesus, people that are there for you in the good times and the bad. Because when we are carrying a burden this heavy, of dealing with the sorrow and pain of people that we love that are struggling, then the best thing that we can do is have others with us, going arm in arm with us, helping carry that burden, so that we don't have to carry it alone. And so whatever challenges you might be facing, and if you don't have community, then let us know so that we can help you find it. You can comment down below, you can visit at Switch Online. There's a link in the description to this video, because the last thing that we want, is for you to have to navigate all of this on your own.

Right. Yeah. And as we wrap up, I just wanna go back to the point that you made earlier, that wrestling with some of these, with these questions and experiencing the feelings of, this is not okay, and where the heck is God, and doubting, that is not wrong. It does not make you a bad Christian. It doesn't make you messed up. Actually, that's part of my story. I went through a season where honestly, there were questions that I had that I had no idea how to answer. They just felt so big and so too far from me being able to grasp. Things about eternity and God's goodness and power, and like my brain was just blown up as a little middle schooler. And the amount of shame and guilt that I felt, 'cause I was raised in a Christian home, I grew up going to church, I met Jesus when I was five years old. I was like, I can't be thinking this stuff. I can't be thinking this stuff. And I remember the moment when I went to my mom, and it was like, I had prepared this whole speech of confession. That I was wrestling with these doubts and stuff. And got it out, definitely were some tears. And the amount of compassion and grace that she met me with, was honestly a pivotal moment in my walk with Jesus. Because if I had felt... if she had confirmed the shame that the enemy was trying to give me to grab hold of in that moment, then I think that the trajectory of my life would have taken a different route. But instead of shaming me for having those questions and doubts, she sat with me, she cried with me, she processed with me, and she encouraged me to keep pressing into Jesus. Because just like you said, it is in the wrestling with those questions that we are actually invited to discover better answers.

Yeah, so whatever questions you might have, just know that this is a safe place where you can bring your questions, you can process your doubts, and every step of the way, our hope and our prayer is that you will keep following Jesus. Because as you do, He will lead you to what is good and what is true. So with all that being said, that's it for this week's episode of Switch Uncut, As you have questions that come to you, make sure you leave them in the comments below. Whatever we can do to support you, that's what we wanna do. And maybe you've got a friend that needs to hear this conversation, share this video with them so that they can be encouraged and they can find hope knowing that even when life is bad, we can trust that God is still good. See you all.

See you, guys.
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