Four inadequate answers for the problem of evil

In his book, Why We Need Confession, Russell Shaw identifies four answers for the problem of evil. First, some posit evil in therapeutic explanations that evils are a disorder of the human psyche and therefore can be treated. In short, cure the “illness” and evil will disappear. Second, some suggest that evil is related to consumer activity. Here the answer is supplying those without enough so as to create a cushion against the harsh world. The wealth is distributed according to need (Marxism). Third, some accused the unjust political, social, and economic systems for evil. Their answer is revolution, since those in power are the beneficiaries of evil perpetrated on humankind. Last, some propose that education is the key to subverting evil. In this model, evil exists because ignorance exists; therefore education of the public in science and technology will defeat evil.

“While each of these views speaks a certain truth and must be taken into account, none takes adequate account of human freedom and its contribution both to evil and its eradication. The root of much of the misery in the world is an abuse of freedom: in other words, moral evil, or sin.”[1]

In a similar fashion, it is futile to assign blame to the nebulous category of “Social Injustice” or evil. Social injustice usually refers to suffering caused by unjust social structures and systems that trample on human rights and ignore human needs.

Here Shaw cites Pope John Paul II, where he attached personal responsibility to social sins. A longer quote of John Paul II is helpful as he writes, “At the heart of every situation of sin are always to be found sinful people. So true is this that even when such a situation can be changed in its structural and institutional aspects by the force of law or-as unfortunately more often happens by the law of force, the change in fact proves to be incomplete, of short duration and ultimately vain and ineffective-not to say counterproductive if the people directly or indirectly responsible for that situation are not converted.”[2]

John Paul II rightly attributes these actions to a loss of the sense of sin and the seriousness of it. He writes, “The loss of the sense of sin is thus a form or consequence of the denial of God: not only in the form of atheism but also in the form of secularism. If sin is the breaking, off of one’s filial relationship to God in order to situate one’s life outside of obedience to him, then to sin is not merely to deny God. To sin is also to live as if he did not exist, to eliminate him from one’s daily life.”[3]

Scripture asserts sin is always personal and reaches beyond the offender to impact others. Beginning with the garden scene in Genesis 3, the choices made by humankind were made outside of obedience to God that resulted in moral evil in creation. The following narratives after Genesis 3 recount the implications of personal sin.

[1] Shaw, Russell B. Why We Need Confession. Princeton, N.J.: Scepter Publishers, 2000, 21.

[2] Pope John Paul II. “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliation and Penance of John Paul II.” (accessed June 25, 2012).

[3] Ibid.


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