Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 4, 2018


Pondering the problem of evil in the world


            Robert Bowers, 46, is facing federal hate crime charges after murdering eleven Jews who were at worship in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Bowers also injured four police officers before he was restrained and arrested. This mass shooting is believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in US history.

            The news of this horrible killing of innocent people stunned our nation. It is difficult to imagine anything worse than being gunned down while you are worshipping God. And not just one person but eleven.

            How do we explain this outrageous act by Robert Bowers? Some will offer the somewhat plausible explanation that the man was deranged. I think it is but the latest example of a man who willingly allowed the devil to fill his mind with hatred. His hatred boiled over, leading to the evil decision to kill innocent people merely because they were Jews.

            Despicable deeds like this killing by Bowers raise the age-old question of the problem of evil. How can such evil exist in the world if as Christians claim, God is all good, all knowing and all powerful? Does God create evil or does God allow evil to exist? Great minds have wrestled with these questions across the ages – and have offered conflicting conclusions.

            What seems clear to me is that in the beginning God chose not to create robots but people with a free will. He wanted people to choose to love, obey and worship him. So when people choose to disobey God, the result is suffering. Human growth and maturity can result only if choices are available to people. Saint Augustine argued that evil originates from the free will exercised by people who have turned their backs on God.

            From the beginning to the end, the Bible admonishes us to choose to love and obey God rather than to link our lives with the devil whom Jesus called the Evil One. Jesus made it clear that when we obey God, we are his children and he is our Father. When we disobey God, we are children of the devil and he is our father.

            The Apostle Peter warns us against the deadly power of the devil. Peter said, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Peter’s advice: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” Robert Bowers did not resist the devil and the devil devoured him with hatred.

            As we deplore the horrible hate crime of Robert Bowers, and mourn for the families of his victims, it may be helpful to remember that 325 million other Americans chose not to surrender to the evil of hatred. We must not allow one evil man to rob us of our hope in humanity. But we must do more than refuse to let hatred fill our hearts. We must discipline ourselves to choose good rather than evil every day in small things as well as large. Our choices determine what kind of person we shall become.

            Robert Bowers is a terrible example of how to live. But lest we focus too much on his bad example, we should be wise to look at the many good examples we may imitate. Such a sterling example as that of Mother Teresa.

            Malcolm Muggeridge was an English journalist – and an agnostic. He decided to “check out” Mother Teresa, thinking he might expose her weaknesses. Instead, spending time with her changed his life; her influence led him to become a Christian!  Mull over the way Muggeridge thought and consider spending time pondering the questions he raised. This is what he says in his book, Something Beautiful for God:

            “Accompanying Mother Teresa, as we did, to these different activities for the purpose of filming them – to the Home for the Dying, to the lepers and unwanted children, I found I went through three phrases. The first was horror mixed with pity, the second compassion pure and simple, and the third, reaching far beyond compassion, something I had never experienced before – an awareness that these dying and derelict men and women, these lepers with stumps instead of hands, these unwanted children, were not pitiable, repulsive or forlorn, but rather dear and delightful; as it might be, friends of long standing, brothers and sisters. How is it to be explained – the very heart and mystery of the Christian faith? To soothe those battered old heads, to grasp those poor stumps, to take in one’s arms those children consigned to dustbins, because it is his head, as they are his stumps and his children, of whom he said that whosoever received one such child in his name received him.”

            When I read that, I am driven to move beyond a discussion of why evil exists in our world and ponder anew what I need to do – for others – today, and tomorrow and the next day. + + +