My computer is dead and I have ordered a new one, so I am having to rely on the kindness of friends for this. After the awful events of Sunday in Las Vegas, we are forced to once more confront the questions about evil in this world. I dealt with the questions of personal evil and natural disasters in previous blogs, so I will be revisiting them this week and next. Here is the blog from several years ago about personal evil. It originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Huntsville Times.
WHY DOES EVIL HAPPEN?
On a warm spring evening in 1972, in the small west central Wisconsin town where I was a youth pastor, trouble seemed a world away, or at least an hour away in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. When 16 year old “Patty Hanson” went to bed, the world seemed so safe. A few hours later, that changed. She awakened sometime during the night to find a stranger in her bedroom. He held a knife to her throat and told her to be quiet or he would kill her and her parents down the hall. Then he took her outside in the warm night and raped her. All the while she was praying and telling him he did not have to do this and that God would forgive him. Fortunately, when he was done, he let her go back to her home. But her life was forever changed.
In the youth group we had discussed where evil came from, but all of a sudden it became real. It was no longer abstract. “Why does God allow things like this to happen?” “If God is all powerful, couldn’t He have prevented this?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “Is there really a God after all?”
This scene is played out every time something horrific happens. This is evil perpetrated by human beings. Sometimes it is in the form of a Hitler or a Pol Pot, and sometimes it is in the form of a married father who lives nearby and has become obsessed with the innocent, vivacious teenager who gets out of the bus while he waits behind it for a chance to pass.
For me, the answer to why God allows such things comes from logic, but that is not much comfort to someone in the depths of suffering. Theology talks about God’s perfect will, which is that all live in happiness and fulfillment, and God’s permissive will, which allows human beings the freedom to fail. To have a real victory, there has to be the possibility of failure. In order for us to follow God voluntarily, the possibility also has to exist to reject God’s will as well.
Tommy loves chocolate chip cookies and knows the cookie jar is full of them. Mommy tells him not to eat any because it is too close to meal time. Then she goes to do something in another part of the house. But before she leaves, she puts the cookie jar in the cupboard and chains the doors with a heavy chain and padlock. Then she leaves the room and returns sometime later, removes the chain and sees the cookies have not been touched. “Tommy what a good boy you are. You did not eat a single cookie.” But all the time she was gone he was trying to figure a way to get at the cookies, but was unable. It is not a victory when there was never an opportunity to fail.
So, God, in perfect love, allows us the chance to do the right thing or the wrong thing. Just giving us the opportunity, does not mean God creates evil. But God allows the possibility of evil. And some choose to follow the wrong path. As a result, others sometimes suffer.
The rapist was arrested and “Patty” had to face him in court, but he was convicted and imprisoned. Unfortunately, “Patty” was never the same again. Some of the choices she made in the years to come were unwise. I am sure that some of that was a result of unresolved feelings that resulted from her assault.
The good news is that God goes through it all with us. We are not left alone to struggle and fail in our own strength. Psalm 23 promises that even when we go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” God is with us. Sometimes we fail to recognize God’s presence and feel we are there all alone. But if we allow God to be there, we can rest in the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
That doesn’t take away the evil, but gives us the power to go through the evil experiences and even overcome.