A Preface to the Question of Why There is Evil

For almost five decades, I have been considering, thinking about, reading, and studying the problem of evil and suffering. When I was in graduate school at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Dr. John Newport’s work on questions people ask about evil and suffering captured my attention, as well as Dr. Milton Ferguson’s doctoral seminar on evil and suffering with a particular reference to the biblical solutions. Questions were implanted in my mind and soul that I have sought to answer as a student of the Bible and, yes, as a student of life. These questions seem to permeate all aspects of life and indeed are relevant today.

As I write, I am well aware of the difficulty in separating my own ideas and thoughts from those I heard in the classroom from my professors as well as from fellow students, one of whom was Dr. David Fite, a missionary to Cuba who was imprisoned by Castro for more than three years. After he was reunited with his family and faith community, he immediately enrolled in the doctoral program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Listening to his story of pain and suffering while in Castro’s prison had a profound effect on my spirit—especially as to how he survived the pain and suffering without bitterness or hatred, emerging with a positive spirit and an intact soul. My hat is off to those who have gone before me, those valiant servants who endured hardship for the sake of the gospel, whose lives were in the crosshairs of pain and suffering as they experienced sorrow and sadness, undeserved, unwanted, unfounded, and unexplained.

I express my respect for and gratitude to those theologians, scholars, ministers, and inquirers who have tackled the unending quest for truth and answers to the mysteries of life, especially to the vicissitudes of evil and suffering. From many of them, I have borrowed thoughts, words, and ideas. I have quoted generously from many resources, documenting with proper credit when I can. For any and all ideas and words I have unintentionally borrowed without giving due credit, my thanks and apologies.

In 1971, in a paper I wrote for a doctoral seminar titled “An Apologetic for Evil and Suffering,” I said this: “I seriously doubt, in the classic definition of theodicy, that ‘a defense of the just and righteous God in the face of evil’ can adequately and rationally be put forth. So perhaps a new definition or even another term may be required in the place of ‘theodicy.’” Even my phrasing of this statement made years ago assumes a need to defend or absolve God from evil and suffering. Today, I no longer think that is necessary or even possible. At the same time, I can still affirm my earlier conclusion: “If [Elton] Trueblood is right in affirming that the non-believer has no problem with evil and suffering, I think I could add that ‘faith seeking understanding’ through transforming grace offers the best response to the problem for the believer.”

“Why me, O God?” asks the man in pain.
“Do I deserve this? Am I to blame?
Could you have made me less than I am,
Never to wonder, only led like a lamb?
What does this mean, O Lord? Is there an end?
Will I struggle in life for death to win?
Show me your love; let me feel your grace.
Give me hope to overcome the waste.
Let me see the sorrow my sin has worn,
And know God’s tears, which love has borne.”
—R. Page Fulgham, 1971

This post originally appeared in Evil & The Garden of Good: Exploring the Mystery of Suffering by R. Page Fulgham.

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