JOHN PEARRELL: People are at the root of evil, not God

"If God is good and so powerful, why is there so much evil in the world?"

As a question, this is an insightful and difficult one. Unfortunately, many times the statement is made not as a legitimate question but as a smokescreen used to reject the individual's belief in God.

If you have a sincere interest in at least a partial answer to this question but you are using this argument as an excuse not to believe, you might as well stop reading now.

The first thing we have to consider as we seek to address this difficult question is the fact that without a God in the first place, the question is meaningless. In order to recognize something as evil, one has to believe that somewhere there must be a moral lawgiver who defines good and evil; there has to be an absolute, objective truth of some sort.

When Hitler was rising to power and he wanted to rid Germany of the Jews, he did so by redefining what it meant to be a person. By doing that, he took the horrible atrocity of the Holocaust, and for the average German, made this horrible evil into something that they perceived as good.

If there is no objective standard, it becomes impossible to tell good from evil.

The Jesuit Priest Fredrick Copleston was debating over this issue of the existence of God with Bertrand Russell in a 1948 BBC broadcast. During the debate, Copleston asked Russell how he knew the difference between good and evil, and Russell answered, "By how I feel."

Copleston had him at that point, but graciously let the point slide by. He could have said, as Ravi Zacharias points out, "Tell me, in some cultures people love their enemies, in others they eat them. Do you have a preference?"

The very nature of the question regarding good and evil by necessity requires some sort of moral law giver.

With that said, let me get to the question itself. Let me begin by asking you a question. Just last week two people were killed and two seriously injured in an automobile accident caused by a young driver attempting to elude police. Why he was speeding before the pursuit began, we do not know.

Do you blame Henry Ford for that accident? I mean, wasn't it Mr. Ford who, while he did not invent the automobile, certainly is the one credited with making the automobile accessible to us?

I imagine some of you may have rolled your eyes as you read the previous paragraph. Of course you don't blame Mr. Ford; it was the reckless actions of speeding driver that was responsible for the tragedy, not the creator of the affordable vehicle.

So much of the pain and suffering, the evil, we experience in this life comes from the result of people exercising their own desires to have their own way.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote, "Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you?" (James 4:1-2, The Message).

Solomon wrote, "People's own foolishness ruins their lives, but in their minds they blame the Lord." (Proverbs 19:3, NCV).

Blaming God for a lot of the suffering and pain we experience is like blaming Mr. Ford for the accident that claimed those two lives and injured others on Ga. Highway 36 last week. It just doesn't make sense.

What of those tragedies that are not man-made? The natural disasters that cause pain and suffering to so many innocent people? I'll have to address that in the next column.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.