The Problem of Evil

I agree with Winston Churchill, whose article entitled, ‘shall we all commit suicide’ was published shortly after Ernest Rutherford had split the atom in 1917, demonstrating his awareness of the destructive possibilities of this scientific development.

I don’t like the title but the article revealed a shrewd understanding of the human condition and his words are a prescient reminder in days such as these.

Mankind has never been in this position before,’ he wrote, ‘Without having improved appreciably in virtue or enjoying wiser guidance, it has got into its hands for the first time the tools by which it can unfailingly accomplish its own extermination. That is, the point in human destinies to which all the glories and toils of men have at last led them. They would do well to pause and ponder upon their new responsibilities. Death stands at attention, obedient, expectant, ready to serve, ready to shear away the peoples en masse; ready, if called on, to pulverise, without hope of repair, what is left of civilisation..

There’s the rub: For all our ingenuity and the illusion of progress, our moral failure has remained consistent through the ages. We are fallen beings. Our own virtue has not kept pace or even progressed a single jot.  Apart from God it is not in our gift to change it. 

Too many of us want to fix the world; to change it and remake it in our image. 

We would do much better to look closer to home. To our communities and to our families, and most of all, to ourselves. 

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ Says biblical prophet, Jeremiah. 

One minute we’re shouting about some injustice or other and the next we’re guilty of doing the very thing we are complaining about. 

This strange phenomenon was perfectly illustrated this week when ITV news interviewed British Palestinian, Latifa Abouchakra, who was complaining about the unfairness of life in the UK and saying that she didn’t feel safe.

 “No matter how hard I work; no matter how good I can be it will never be enough because apparently Muslims and Palestinians are inherently terrorists according to the system here,” she said. 

She specifically bemoaned being called “a terrorist.”

This might have elicited some sympathy for the poor woman at the time; It might have stirred others to express outrage at this terrible injustice- until, that is, we saw Latifa in another video. 

Speaking on her own news channel the day after the murderous attack on Israeli civilians she presented it thus:

“As fragile as a spider’s web: The Zionist entity is shaking with fear. In an early morning shock, Palestinian resistance from Gaza launched an unprecedented three-pronged attack on the entity,” she began against a background of footage of the attack and dramatic music. 

She went on to glorify the brutal attack in appalling detail.

Now, I’d say that this perfectly illustrates how we may at once consider ourselves to be an innocent victim, whilst justifying and glorifying terrible violence against others. 

The problem with celebrating the brutal murder of children in their homes, is that, by any standards, it is the worst kind of evil. 

It is a spiritual problem; it is a problem of the heart, blackened by sin; devoid of conscience or compassion and of love. A hardened heart. 

There is no justification for it except by wicked self-deception. 

It was  Alexander Solzhenitsyn who said “the line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” 

I have returned to this quote time and again because of its incisive truth. It is, quite literally, the heart of the matter. 

CS Lewis was on to something when he said, 

‘I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.’ 

That is, we should not cast our net too wide in search of evil but look closer to home. To recognise and tackle each evil as we meet it, especially in ourselves; first and foremost within our own hearts. 

Lewis went on to explain it better than I ever could:

‘We have been trained to address people who believe that whatever goes wrong in the world is someone else’s fault: the capitalists, the government, the Nazis, the generals etcetera. They approach God himself as his judges. They want to know not whether they can be acquitted for sin, but whether He can be acquitted for creating such a world.

He continued, 

‘If one begins with whatever happens to be ones own sins this week, one is often surprised at the way this shaft goes home. Get their minds away from public affairs and bring them down to brass tacks.

As a Christian believer I can wholeheartedly recommend this approach. There is nothing comfortable or comforting about the Christian life. It is wholly demanding. 

Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart: The parts of us that we would prefer to keep hidden. 

The main message of Jesus in what is widely recognised as the greatest moral teaching, The Sermon on the Mount, is concerning the human heart: that we not only sin (commit murder, adultery etc.) when we carry out the act, but when we conceive of it in the heart: 

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

We cannot see by ourselves that the problem of sin lies within each one of us. Our hearts deceive us: they justify our motives, they trick us. They tell us that we are ‘good people’ or at least better than others. 

“Look at them!” says the heart. “If only we changed them things would be better for everyone.”

That is precisely why we cannot change the heart alone but must ask God to help change it for us. That’s where our will comes into play: he won’t change us if we don’t want to be changed. Often our pride blocks the way. We are self-sufficient; we have no need of all that. 

It rather like the old psychology joke:

“How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one but the lightbulb has to want to change.”

And we cannot begin to want to change until we realise that we have a problem. 

The secular religion would call this self-reflection. It is highly prized but without the power of God it does not and cannot change a human heart. 

‘The heart is deceitful above all things’ says the word of God. 


“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

We engineer a narrative that allows us to win, to save face; to pretend that we have changed or are changing, but this all unravels in the right circumstances and reveals our true selves: the true state of our hearts.

There is no other god who demands so much of his followers, especially that which goes against the grain of our baser desires. 

It is all too easy to hate, to seek revenge when we are wronged, to satisfy the desires of self at the cost of others. The great evils of the world have been committed by ordinary men.

What I am talking about is an entirely different way: a narrow path, for broad is the path that leads to our destruction: it is a super-highway to hell. 

Who can claim to fault Jesus instruction to love our neighbour as ourselves? even to love our enemy and to pray for them? To put down our swords and beat them into ploughshares? 

These are noble commands, even Godly commands but wars are still fought and evil still lives in the hearts of men. 

We are under a peculiar type of tyranny: a spiritual tyranny; caught in the grip of an unseen force. 

The spirit of the Antichrist is already at work in the world. It’s all around us. 

Our worldly desires arise from our pride, though quite what we have to be so proud about I’m not quite sure:

“It’s all about me” (putting oneself in the place of God) 

“No one tells me what to do!” (putting oneself in the place of God’s Law)

“I’m a good person” (putting oneself in the place of Christ’s sacrifice: if you’re so good why would you need a saviour?)

The answer is one that Jesus gave: “No one is good except God alone.”

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