How I wrestled with the problem of evil which I believe hands down to be the single best reason to reject God. How the problem of evil drove me, and how I realized that there is no answer to the problem of evil. Yet, I found my own personal answer in how to deal with the problem of evil. In my case I realized you deal with the problem of evil by pushing back and contesting it. I realized this in watching the SGM lawsuit proceed and as a number of brave families in Maryland and Virginia worked to hold CJ Mahaney accountable for alleged criminal activity. Given how I feel about the problem of evil this is my passionate plea to those involved to finish the job and to hold CJ Mahaney accountable and to stay the course until its conclusion. These thoughts are Eagle’s alone.
“Even though these past 4 years in particular have been painful and difficult I believe that all of it. Everything; stepping away from Sovereign Grace, the pruning of our church, strained relationships, even the lawsuit has all been used by God to refine us. God has used it for good. And I’m sure in ways that I don’t yet see.”
Josh Harris January 25, 2015 Sermon at Covenant Life Church
“Epicurus’s old questions are still unanswered: Is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence evil?”
“It is straightforward—and never mind, for now, about plagues and famines: if God existed, and if he cared for humankind, he would never have given us religion.”
Martin Amis “The Second Plane”
The Problem of Evil Over Time…
Today I remain convinced that the problem of evil is single handedly the best reason to reject God, and the Christian faith. In my case I wondered why a loving God would allow all the evil that exists in the world. What type of loving God allows a massacre to unfold in an elementary school in Connecticut? What kind of loving God allows a 767 to fly into 1 World Trade on September 11, 2001? What type of loving God allows a serial killer to trap, murder, dismember and cannibalize his victims in Milwaukee like Jeffrey Dahmer did? What kind of loving God allows a woman who is out jogging to be assaulted and raped? What kind of loving God allows a University of Virginia college student to be abducted? In addition you also have the issue of natural evil as well. But it begs the question…why does an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God allow evil to exist? After all if God is omnipotent couldn’t he create a world that is free of evil? In his strength and sovereignty he could outlaw evil today. The problem of evil is an ancient problem that is indeed very modern. The problem of evil has been tackled over the centuries and many theologians and philosophers have weighed in on the debate. Before I continue let me add this caveat…I am not a philosopher, but during my faith crisis I read a couple of things and looked at a couple of angles in trying to understand the problem of evil. So I offer this brief survey of some differing philosophical points of view and the history of the problem of evil. The problem of evil dates back to ancient times with Plato and allegedly Epicurus tackling the issue. One of the earliest theologians who wrote about the problem of evil was Irenaeus who proposed the theory of theodicy and a response to it which you can read about here. Augustine of Hippo wrote about theodicy while claiming that God is not the origin of evil, and that it is a result of man’s original sin. In the 1400’s Dante Alighieri wrote Dante’s Inferno in which Dante poetically elucidates Christian thinking on evil. Then came along John Calvin who was inspired by Augustine who also claimed that while God can cause evil he can not be indicted for it. In the 17th century famed English philosopher Thomas Hobbes who was known for political philosophy proposed that good and evil are based upon what an individual loves or hates. Then Gottfried Leibniz who invented calculus (Eagle heaves at the thought of mathematics!) came along in which he proposed that an omnipotent God is concerned with creating an actual world and not an imaginary one. Mathematical laws establish boundaries which establish what is possible and what is not. If God were to violate those boundaries he would create an imaginary world. In the end Leibniz came to the conclusion that God created the best of all possible worlds given the circumstances. In return Voltaire tore apart Leibniz in his work Candide. Also weighing in on the problem of evil is Pierre Bayle who is known for trying to provide an answer to the issue of theodicy. You can read in detail what Bayle suggested in this article here. I could go on and on but I will close with David Hume who made important contributions on the problem of evil and religion which you can read in detail here. There is a good paper that I skimmed that explores some of the varying takes on the problem of evil over time which is worth the read. While I want to provide some background on the problem of evil in todays journal entry I want to state mostly in this post how I worked through it.
The SGM Lawsuit
There is something that I want to tackle that I realized in the 2012 timeframe and grew in my understanding in 2013. First of all there is no answer to the problem of evil. After banging my head against the wall for years I realized that moral evil is always going to exist as long as humanity exists, as sadly its part of the human condition. I also had to contend with another element which I plan to tackle in the near future, and its this claim…I realized at the Reason Rally that atheism is a faith system. The most recent claim to illustrate that is the growth of atheist churches. So it left me to wonder…what does one do? If the problem of evil is always going to exist then what does a person do? How do you respond to evil? It is a challenging question because evil can be so intimidating. There is going to be no way to bring things back like they were. I mean the World Trade Center complex as we knew it to be on September 10, 2001 is not coming back. When someone is murdered its permanent…you can’t undo murder. While I vented about the problem of evil for years I often phrased it like this (as many who knew me during this period heard me say…) “Why does a loving God allow a three year old child to be sexually abused?” This is the challenge and the question…so what do you do? I slowly realized that if evil is always going to exist then the next step is that you have to contest it. If you don’t contest evil you give it free reign to do whatever it wants. For example let me use Nazi Germany. I believe Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich epitomized evil in the 20th century. The madness of state policy resulted in the death of 11 million Jews. But in order to push back against evil the United States went to war against Germany. As much as it turns my stomach to ask this question…had we done nothing, had we never gone to war against Germany what would the death toll of the Jews would been? Instead of speaking about 11 million would be talking about a death toll of 25 million? Is that even possible? So we did push back against evil. But that is what I learned after banging my head against the wall, and how my thinking shifted.
While I realized that the problem of evil needs to be contested or clashed something unique started to develop. And when I started to think about it more and more it gave me an answer that amazingly helped me with my unbelief. A group of brave individuals in Maryland and Virginia got together and filed the largest lawsuit in evangelical history. They clashed and pushed back hard against CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Now I will say this…I got a good chuckle out of reading Sovereign Grace contesting and fighting the lawsuit. Doesn’t CJ Mahaney believe God is sovereign? In the spirit of Neo-Calvinism isn’t this lawsuit foreordained by God? If this is foreordained by God isn’t contesting and fighting this in the end sinful and rebellion especially if this lawsuit is God’s will? These are just some honest questions that I have. So as the lawsuit moved forward this agnostic in the DC area started to put two and two together. With evil always going to exist, what do you do when a child is sexually abused? You push back to make sure other children are not hurt, and to hold someone accountable. I also began to realize the role of good government when it comes to scripture and the importance it holds in the end. Unless the government is evil, (i.e. the Third Reich or Soviet Union) government can be used by God to contain and deal with evil. That is why our court system is so important when it comes to justice. The court system is a place to hold people to account and sentence those who commit crimes of fraud, rape, child abuse, murder, etc… So the SGM lawsuit helped bring this change in my thought. But I never really heard anyone consent or talk about this until Dee Parsons asked me to attend Covenant Life Church and I heard Josh Harris speak and took notes. In the talk that Harris gave he said something which grabbed my ear and of which I realized a couple of years earlier. In that talk Harris said, ““Even though these past 4 years in particular have been painful and difficult I believe that all of it. Everything; stepping away from Sovereign Grace, the pruning of our church, strained relationships, even the lawsuit has all been used by God to refine us. God has used it for good. And I’m sure in ways that I don’t yet see.” Please note the part I underlined about God using the lawsuit. Furthermore please understand that the guy writing this is not a Calvinist or into neo-reformed theology at all, I will explain why shortly. Before writing this post I listened to this sermon in full to jog my memory and get the exact quote. This lawsuit was used by God in multiple ways. It helped to break apart a corrupt and decedent denomination called Sovereign Grace Ministries. It was also a public act of holding CJ Mahaney accountable of which he needed to be held accountable for alleged criminal activity. In my particular case the lawsuit helped me exit a faith crisis because it provided an answer…one that I needed in order to come back to the Christian faith. In my case it gave me a working answer to the problem of evil. I know as I type this the problem of evil is always going to exist. But by watching others push back against evil I realized is how to contest evil in the end. In addition I also have to say that while evil can be used by many people to disprove God here is another problem. Evil knows no bounds…it can afflict a Christian or atheist alike. A Christian can die of cancer just like an atheist can die of cancer. Suffering and pain do not discriminate. Now here’s the problem with neo-reformed theology or reformed theology which I am not hearing people mention or bring up. Reformed theology makes the problem of evil worse. Why? The type of sovereignty that John Piper teaches is more of a fatalism, or determinism. Whatever happens…happens because its God’s will. After all God is in control of every act and in the end there is no such thing as free will according to Neo-Calvinism. So acts of evil in the end became acts of worship to God. Since God foreordained evil and wills it to happen the individuals who commit evil are just tools of God and acting out on his will. Plus the act of evil becomes an act of worship to God in the end. In the end what ever happens…happens for a reason. It puts a twist on a 767 flying into 1 World Trade on a beautiful Tuesday morning in New York city. It also puts a twist into a gunman killing 27 people in an elementary school in Connecticut. It puts a twist in a doctors appointment where you learn you have stage 4 pancreatic cancer. In the end reformed theology increases the suffering of person. How? It doesn’t let them grieve or mourn what happened. Its more Islamic in its approach. Its similar to the way that in Islamic countries you never hear people curse or wail God when acts of terrorism or suffering happen in places like Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia. By the way this is the fatal flaw in SGM Survivors and Kris’s theology. While child abuse and corruption can happen in all denominations I would suggest it can be more prone in a Neo-Calvinist or reformed theology church. And when you have a blog author like Kris who shuts down discussions on Calvinism you will never get to the root of corruption in Sovereign Grace. The reformed theology enables child sex abuse, and corruption.
Some Words to Pam Palmer and those in the SGM Lawsuit
I want to take a few minutes and address Pam Palmer and all the other brave souls who filed the lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries. I am speaking for myself alone, which I want to make deeply clear. Filing this lawsuit was probably one of the hardest things you did. In all honesty I will never comprehend the hell you went through. I mean you probably had people who called you bitter, divisive, angry, and who tore you apart. It probably caused friction in your relationships and for all this I am sorry. From the depths of my heart I am sorry. However, I am asking you to ignore their claims, the counter accusations, and what was said both publically and behind your back. In short I have three things I would like to say for those who filed the lawsuit…
Those bold, courageous, and strong families who filed the lawsuit and stepped up to the plate I believe to be the finest attributes to the Christian faith. This lawsuit in the end while painful was done out of love. Love you say? Yes love…love that no one else, no other family has to endure what they endured. This must have been the hardest thing you have had to comprehend. It probably was very difficult. Yet you pressed forward and worked at holding CJ Mahaney accountable. CJ Mahaney needs to be held accountable and he must realize that if you are allegedly going to cover up child sex crimes…you will face penalty under the law. If CJ Mahaney is not going to learn from the Roman Catholic sexual abuse scandal from a distance then he must learn in a court of law, just like anyone else that you cannot allegedly engage in criminal activity and get away with it. But CJ Mahaney isn’t the only one who needs to be sent a message by this lawsuit. Mark Dever needs to understand that his coddling and supporting CJ Mahaney after he fled Covenant Life Church is wrong and he needs to realize that he committed a grave and diabolical deed by continuing to prop up Mahaney while ignoring the least of these. Mark Dever needs to contact the victims from the SGM sexual abuse scandal and apologize personally and face to face. Al Mohler needs to realize that his support for CJ Mahaney is flawed and dragging down an intuition that once had a rich history and which turned out fine young men. Today I don’t know that can be said about Southern Seminary. John Piper also needs to get the message that it is wrong to support CJ Mahaney and stand behind him when he allegedly engages in a cover up of child sex abuse. But Mohler, like Dever and Piper need to repent and realize that their blind support of Mahaney at all costs is wrong as well. As Martin Luther King once said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” So the question I pose to Mark Dever, Al Mohler and John Piper is this…why are you an accessory to evil? To stand behind someone who allegedly engaged in criminal conduct and to support him regardless is to endorse the behavior.
When the plaintiffs met with Susan Burke and were working on the details to file this lawsuit I have to say this…in the year 2012 and 2013 you probably never realized that your actions would help bring to faith a profoundly lost, and confused soul. I don’t know how else to say this…my faith crisis was hell. The problem of evil alone destroyed the faith that I had for a good chunk of life. The scary part for me is that I was about to accept the fact that I was to live out my life as an agnostic/atheist. I honestly didn’t think the Christian faith is possible. After all what does one do about the problem of evil? Against everything you showed me how to respond to evil; by standing up to evil…the evil of covering up child sex abuse. Your voice is loud and clear. CJ Mahaney must be held accountable. Giving him a pass to alleged criminal activity is evil in itself. But its for this claim that I have to say the following…you gave hope to a lost soul. You helped me resolve the problem of evil and to find a working answer that helped me find faith again. Had it not been for your bravery in filing the lawsuit I don’t know where I’d be today. That is the reason why I am so grateful.
So while this is hard to say for those involved in the lawsuit and Susan Burke if you ever read this…I have one plea that comes from deep within my soul. It aches to say this but this is something that must be said. It must be clear, obvious, and known to the world that the sexual abuse of a child is not to be tolerated. One child that was sexually abused in Sovereign Grace is one too many. So it was with that in mind that I make the following plea….
I ask the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to stay the course. Finish the job, and hold CJ Mahaney accountable for allegedly covering up child sex crimes. I’m asking for you to further your Christian witness by using a God ordained court system to hold CJ Mahaney accountable and dismantle Sovereign Grace Ministries. Please don’t let up and follow through to its conclusion. This is a hard long, drawn out battle but this battle needs to be waged. As some of you know I am a sucker for history having studied it in academic settings. There is a quote I remember reading from Teddy Roosevelt years ago that I believe is appropriate. Its called the man in the arena.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
You are in the arena fighting for your family, and dealing with incredible stress. By waging the first lawsuit, and hopefully soon the second lawsuit your face will be marred by sweat, while striving valiantly. This is a worthy cause. You may have thought the first lawsuit was in vain because you didn’t get the result you desired due to a technical issue related to the statute of limitations. Please don’t let the first result discourage you, or keep you from trying again…life is hard and its while daring greatly that you will eventually succeed. The guy writing this has been moved to tears of joy in knowing that I have moved beyond my faith crisis…and people like Pam Palmer and all the other plaintiffs played a major role by filing that lawsuit. You gave me a working answer that helped me resolve the problem of evil. You removed the greatest obstacle to me having faith again. The question allegedly posed by Epicurus 2,000 years ago still exists, yet in the SGM lawsuit I found a working answer. So with that said from the depths of my heart I just want to say thank you. Let’s bring this to a close and let’s bring CJ Mahaney to justice for his alleged criminal activity. My prayer is that this lawsuit will commence again shortly, and that the victims will have their day in court, and that the days of the celebrity pastor come to a swift conclusion.