The first class I took in college was called “Philosophy of Religion.”
I was a freshman at the University of Utah, I had no idea what I wanted to study, so when I chose this class my thought process was simple: I like philosophy, I like religion, I’ll probably like this.
I don’t remember a lot of details about the course (the professor brought his dog once), but I know it helped shape the way I interact with my Faith today.
It was my first glimpse into the problems that I would face as an Orthodox Christian in the real world, dealing with real doubts and struggles.
Early in the syllabus we covered the “Problem of Evil.” The argument is pretty straightforward:
God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful.
Such a God would want to prevent evil.
Therefore God does not exist.
It was the first time in my life I had to really think about the fact that evil exists, and how that impacts my belief in God.
We could talk for days about the problem of evil (maybe one day we will) but right now I’d like to be self-indulgent and talk about what the presentation of that problem meant for me.
It meant I had to seriously start thinking about things I never had to consider before.
It meant that I had to face the fact that my relationship with Christ and the Church was changing.
The days of coloring pictures and memorizing Bible facts in Sunday School were over. Now I was going to have to start figuring out how my Faith fits into my daily life. How (or whether) my Faith would shape my interactions with the world around me.
How (or whether) I was going to actually live Orthodoxy day to day.
And what that meant.
This realization, that I needed to struggle and wrestle with my Faith and its place in my life, is a huge one. And it’s something we all have to acknowledge sooner or later.
How do I respond to the evil and suffering I see in the world? Is it a proof for God’s non-existence, or a reason to turn to Him with even more humility and trust?
Does the existence of evil say more about us, and our need for repentance, than it does about whether God exists or not?
At that point, as a brand new college freshman, I wasn’t sure what this struggle would look like. I’m not entirely sure now, but I do know that asking those hard questions are an important part of my development as a person and my relationship with God. Especially because the problems of our society are constantly being beaten over my head.
Hi, social media.
We as humans like to think of things as either black and white. We tend to force religion into this binary, too, so we talk about the sacred and the secular, and how the two are completely separate and incompatible.
And how we need to choose one or the other.
The more I’ve thought about these questions, the more I reject the premise.
Studying the problem of evil forced me to accept reality; there are bad things happening in the world. But rather than shake my fist at God and ask “why don’t you fix this,” I came to the conclusion that He has given me everything I need to figure out how to deal with that on my own. Maybe the most important of these things are:
Confession and repentance.
There’s a great story about G.K. Chesteron: a magazine invited authors to respond to a simple question: “What is wrong with the world?” There were a variety of detailed, eloquent and thoughtful responses. But Chesterton’s was simple.
What is wrong with the world? Chesterton replied: “I am.”
The problem of evil tries to identify what’s wrong with religion by pointing out what’s wrong with the world: the world is full of suffering, which doesn’t fit with our idea of God.
But asking that question completely takes us out of the picture. I am part of the world, and that means I am part of the problem.
As I’ve learned more about Orthodox Christianity, and grown in my faith, I’ve realized that any exploration of the world’s problems has to start with me.
And that’s the difference between the simple Faith of my childhood and the mature Faith I’m working towards today.
It’s easy to point a finger a God and blame Him for hunger in the world. It’s even easier to walk by a hungry person and not pause to help.
It’s easy to point a finger at God and blame Him for violence in the world. It’s even easier to ignore the anger in my heart, and the cruel words I use.
What good does it do to blame God for the problems we ignore? For the problems we have created.
For the problems that I am a part of.
I can’t pretend to have solved the problem of evil. It’s still a challenge: faith would be much easier in a world full of sunshine and rainbows.
But I also can’t pretend to be a passive observer of the world’s problems. If all I do is point out the existence of pain and suffering and evil, then I’m part of the problem.
God gave me the mind I’m using to recognize this philosophical problem. He also gave me eyes to see the faces of suffering, a heart to break for them.
And hands to help them.
I walked into my philosophy of religion class thinking it was going to be sophisticated and mature. But now I realize how immature it was to see both God and neighbor as ideas in a proof rather than real and personal beings; to see me as an observer of the world rather than a part of it.
Philosophically, I’m not sure I’m any closer to solving the problem of evil. But I have realized that a mature faith is a lived faith. That good and evil are much deeper than any logical proof can capture.
And that real Orthodoxy is lived Orthodoxy.
Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and studied political science at the University of Utah. She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones. Charissa currently lives in New York City.