A Familiar Story for an Eternal Problem | Third Space

A Familiar Story for an Eternal Problem

Understanding grief, evil and pain through a bigger story
Thu 4 Aug 2022



Two missed calls. Ten unread messages.

One winter night changed my experience of grief forever - one which may haunt me for the rest of my life on earth.

I still remember it clearly. Having enjoyed a home cooked meal at a friend’s place, I returned to my car and began checking what soon became an overwhelming number of phone notifications. Suddenly my mind raced as the unfolding news of a tragic car accident played out in the time-stamped messages. The last message from her sister confirmed the worst – my friend had not survived the crash. The news stunned me into auto-pilot. My heart caught up and suddenly I pulled over on the side of the road, unable to continue the journey home. Slumped in the driver’s seat, I cried in desperation to God and sat in pain for a few moments more. It aches even now as I recall the trauma death leaves behind for the living. I pray you have not experienced such grief - though chances are, you or someone close to you has.

Philosophers, scientists, anthropologists, and theologians alike have sought to respond to the problem of evil with varying degrees of reason and relief. However, there is the ‘problem of evil’ – as an evidential and logical issue at odds with the argument for the existence of a benevolent God – and then there is the problem of evil – as a devastating and emotional reality for many. Belief in God is more than faith that a benevolent spiritual being has a vested interest in our lives and can do something about eliminating evil. The story of the Bible offers a narrative in which to understand why human beings like you and I respond to evil the way we do. Furthermore, the Bible offers hope in the midst of death.

God’s story helps us to make sense of our reactions to evil

No matter what your faith background may be, there is universal recognition that our natural preference is for a flourishing life, over one which is riddled with injustice and evil.

Scott Harrower’s God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of the World suggests that the story of the Bible provides the logic needed behind this preference of life over death.[1] In the book of Genesis we see God creating life and he deems it ‘good’. The original design for all human life was to live in harmony with God and his creation. It is within this context that sin and evil pervade the story. The anti-personal nature of evil and sin is felt at every level of creation and continues to be felt today.[2]

This means grief may be associated not just with literal death, but the loss of dignity one may feel when there is an abuse of power or when discriminated against. Hopelessness, pain, and despair are all responses to the impacts of evil on life, which was designed to not only survive, but flourish in the safety and presence of God.

God's story acknowledges the source of evil

Not only does the Bible help us understand our response to evil, but it also identifies a malevolent being as the ultimate source of evil – namely Satan. In the creation story, a serpent disrupts the harmony between humankind and God and brings with it evil intent.

The continued existence of evil in our world may cause us to reject the idea that there is a God – or if he exists, then he must be either malevolent or not powerful enough. The ‘Hypothesis of Indifference’ (HI) by Paul Draper offers a dissatisfying alternative which rejects the existence of God altogether. He states it like this:

"Neither the nature nor the condition of sentient beings on earth is the result of benevolent or malevolent actions performed by nonhuman persons." [3]

By replacing the supernatural with natural cause and effect, there is one key issue at hand. We may have no issue removing God as a benevolent being from our worldview, but we have been stuck on how to make sense of the radical evil which exists in our world. Cancelling God seems more like a knee-jerk reaction to the pain we feel, our attempt at lashing out at a God who has broken his promise to love us. What we are left with is a worldview that has no benevolent all-powerful being - and yet, radical evil still runs rampant.

Kenneth Woodward observes that ‘it may be hard to be good without God, but evil, it seems, has no need of Satan as an explanation’.[4] In doing away with Satan and his anti-life activities, society loses a ‘profound and coherent’ sense of evil.[5] In the book of John, we see Jesus overturning the anti-life activities of Satan by offering healing and new life to those who trust in him. Giving name to the devil as the chief horror maker in our world may help release the pressure valve for those who are hurting deeply or have no appropriate way to satiate their growing desire for revenge. And strangely enough, it also provides hope.

God’s story helps us find life in the midst of death

God cares deeply about the evil in our world. Jesus confronts the reality of evil head on and experiences a gruesome and humiliating death. However, this was not the end of the story as he is raised to life again! Jesus promises that through his death and resurrection would come new life (John 14:6) and the abolition of death for those who trust in him (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Recovery towards healing and living with grief becomes a possibility for those who have this eternal hope. Death becomes temporary. Christian communities become safe spaces where the burden of grief is shared, and the hope of resurrection is a reality.

The last book of the Bible describes an epic cosmic battle between good and evil where good prevails (Revelation 20:9-10). Satan is completely overthrown; his anti-life activities are dealt with once and for all. Jesus reigns victorious and we get this glorious description of life:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

Knowing God’s story and our place in it is only the beginning of the recovery process for those who have been impacted by the horrors of the world. We may choose to numb or ignore the pain that evil inflicts on us, but before we do, perhaps we should consider why we’re hurting in the first place and allow our hearts to soften to God’s invitation of eternal hope.

[1] Scott Harrower, God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World (Ashland: Lexham Press, 2019), 24.

[2] Harrower, God of all Comfort, 24.

[3] Draper, 'Pain and Pleasure.’, 332.

[4] Kenneth L. Woodward, 'Do We Need Satan?,' Newsweek, 12 November 1995, § News, https://www.newsweek.com/do-we-need-satan-181030.

[5] Woodward, 'Do We Need Satan?’

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