Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Chapter V - The Problem of Evil

But are not the evil and misery of the world, is not all that which we know as “sin” and pain, in manifest contradiction to this Christian conception of a GOD of Love? Most certainly they are: and it has been the strength of Christianity from the beginning that–unlike many rival systems and philosophies, including the “Christian Science" movement of modern times–it has always faced facts, and in particular has never regarded pain and sin, disease and sorrow and death, as anything but the stubborn realities which in point of fact they are. If we ask, indeed, how and why it was that evil, whether physical or moral, originally came into the world, the Gospel returns no answer, or an answer which, at best, merely echoes the ancient mythology of Jewish traditional belief–"By the envy of the Devil sin entered into the world, and death by sin”: an answer which indeed denies emphatically that evil had its origin in GOD, and declares its essential root to lie in opposition to His will, but without attempting any explanation of the difficulty of conceiving how opposition to the will of GOD is possible.

The Gospel is concerned with issues that are practical rather than strictly theoretical: and the really practical problem with regard to evil is not how it is to be explained but how it is to be overcome. If we ask how evil first arose, the only honest answer is that we do not know: though we can see how the possibility, at least, of moral evil (as distinct from mere physical pain) is implicit of necessity in the existence of moral freedom. The question is sometimes asked, “If GOD is omnipotent, why does He permit evil?” But the doctrine of Divine omnipotence is misconceived when it is interpreted to mean that GOD is able to accomplish things inherently self-contradictory. GOD is omnipotent only in the sense that He is supreme over all things, and able to do all possible things. He is not able to do impossible things: and to make man free, and yet to prevent him from doing evil if he so chooses, is a thing impossible even to GOD. Man is left free to crucify his Maker, and he has availed himself of his freedom by crucifying both his Maker and his fellow-man.

If we ask, “Why does not GOD prevent war? Why does He permit murder and cruelty and rapine?” the answer is that He could only prevent these things by dint of over-riding the will of man by force: and moreover that it is not the method of GOD to do for man what man is perfectly well able to do for himself. For wars would cease if men universally desired not to fight.

We are really raising a much more difficult question if we ask, “Why does GOD allow cancer?” And to this, it may be, there is no completely satisfactory answer to be given: though it is possible to see that cancer and other diseases have a biological function, and also to recognize that the endurance of pain in some cases (though not in all) ennobles and deepens character. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews does not hesitate to say of Christ Himself that He “learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”

In general it must be said that Christianity does not afford any complete theoretical solution of the problem of evil: what it does is to provide a point of view which sets evil in a new light, and which is adequate for the purposes of practical life. It teaches us that physical suffering, so far as it is inevitable, is to be endured and turned to spiritual profit, as a thing which is capable of bearing fruit in the deepening and discipline of character: and that moral evil is to be overcome, by the power of the grace of GOD in Christ.

If we ask, “Why should the innocent suffer?” the Christian answer is contained in the Cross. “Christ also suffered, being guiltless”: and although, if Christ were regarded simply as a man and nothing more, this fact would merely intensify the problem, the matter assumes a different complexion if Christ be regarded as the revelation of GOD. For if so, then suffering enters into the experience of GOD Himself, and so far from GOD being indifferent to the sorrow and misery of the world, He shares it, and is victorious through it. “In all their affliction, He was afflicted.” GOD is Himself a Sufferer, the supreme Sufferer of all, and finds through suffering the instrument of His triumph. But if this be true, then all suffering everywhere is set in a new and a transfiguring light, for it assumes the character of a challenge to become partaker in the sufferings and triumph of the Christ. “Can ye drink of the Cup that I drink of?”

So interpreted, suffering ceases to be a ground of petulance or of complaint. It is discovered to have a value. It is judged to be worth while. And it is possible to find in such a faith the grounds of a conviction that behind and beneath all suffering is the love which redeems it and the purpose which shall one day justify it, and that in very truth no sparrow falls to the ground without the Heavenly Father’s knowledge and care.


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

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Religious Reality
By A. E. J. Rawlinson
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