Embracing the Swirl: The Problem of Evil and Me

Published: April 27, 2016

Questions are downright uncomfortable. And I don’t mean a little-sweaty uncomfortable; I mean a deep, soul-shaking, earth-shattering kind of discomfort. This is what exploring the problem of evil is like for me. I feel like a tiny ant squirming to make sense of the universe: Why are we here? Why is it so hard? Did God know it would be this hard? Not only do I start to sweat, but I feel disconnected from God in this state of intellectual terror. There seems to be no corner I can escape to for solace. As people, we are drawn to big questions. We want to stretch our arms out wide and look up to the sky for answers. It comes naturally to us. The answers we so desperately seek, however, do not.

And so, with this fear in mind, I decided to dive deep into the question this semester in a class with Dr. Kevin Jung entitled, “The Problem of Evil.” The class has helped me to deepen my own theological convictions in conversations with those who view things differently. It has given me the freedom to think and feel without limitation. Recently, Dr. Robert Audi, renowned philosopher and professor at Notre Dame University, came to Wake Divinity to give a lecture on the possibility of an answer to this problem of evil. Dr. Audi, a brilliant thinker, presented to us a rational, creative, and intellectually complex theodicy. He noted that perhaps God does not intervene in individual acts but leaves humans to explore their own freedom. In addition, perhaps God does not know how history will unfold—instead, God is along for the ride. God may still be all-powerful but evil may be required to accomplish greater goods. Maybe life is richer with dangers and evils in the world. We could not experience virtues like compassion and concern for others if there were not pain and evil to respond to. These points provided more clarity for how we might discuss the problem of evil.

But as I sat in the lecture, my heart continued to ache with questions. I wished that rationality could pacify my longing for peace. The why? within me was relentless. And then the swirl begins again. The beauty of a butterfly, the hug of a friend, followed quickly by refugees in isolation, persistent mental illness, the death of an innocent person. And then sunshine again—the cycle continues. I do not have an answer or a theodicy that meets my expectations. And I think that is okay, at least for now. I can only hope that somehow God is swirling with me. Maybe I am not alone. When I discuss these questions with my peers, I feel a kinship and even a hope that we belong to one another. As faith leaders, we cannot be afraid to get a little sweaty and swirly. That is the task we are given—to reach up to the heavens and down to our laps in prayer with angry, persistent questions. And maybe, in the confusing chaos, we might still feel hope and belonging with our Creator.

sulljn15

Jenna Sullivan
Jenna is a first-year divinity student from Little Rock, Arkansas. She loves the community at Wake Divinity and is delighted to continually grow as a minister, thinker, friend, and disciple of Jesus.