I have been increasingly thinking for a while now that the obsession with evil and suffering in the world—and the increasing tendency of atheists to raise the problem of evil and suffering as an argument against God’s existence-is a very modern phenomena. I have tended to think that it reflects just how comfortable contemporary western life is. Only people who have gotten to the point where they think that life really should be easy, safe, and free of any real problems would be so thrown by the existence of these features of life. Western complaints of suffering in the world feels like the complaints of an over-indulged young twenties adult ‘Who’ll just die because the boss won’t let me listen to the radio while serving customers.’
However, Gnosticism is nothing if it’s not an attempt to try and solve the problem of the existence of evil. So, while I still think there’s something in the ‘Get over yourself’ response to contemporary histrionics about the existence of suffering and evil, it does seem as though people began asking the question soon after the gospel was proclaimed. This suggests that the problem may be more basic to human responses to the knowledge of God than I had thought.
Unfortunately, like all attempts to find an answer Gnosticism is problematic. Ultimately the Bible doesn’t explain where evil comes from or how it began. It is a mystery—one of those things God hasn’t revealed, that we don’t have the resources to discover without revelation.
Gnosticism’s solution has the problem that it turns us into victims, rather than criminals. Evil and suffering exists because of the moral irregularities of beings further up the ontological tree (the Demi-Urge who made the world and is the god of the OT and his mother, Sophia). We aren’t responsible, and neither is God.
The problem is two-fold. We don’t see ourselves correctly and so don’t see that forgiveness really is at the heart of the solution to the human condition.
But arguably just as bad is that this desire to keep God’s hands clean can only be done by distancing him from the world in which evil and suffering exist. Gnosticism is a fairly strong example—it preserves God’s utter purity by putting multiple ontological layers of beings between God and the world and having the world alien to God’s love (an excellent insight by my supervisor—Gnosticism’s difference with Christianity is that Gnosticism makes the world alien to the love of God). But the desire to absolve God of the problem of evil regularly involves reducing his Lordship over the world, and involvement with it.
The Bible is less squeamish, and more robust. God makes no apologies for the existence of evil and suffering, is regularly pictured as using them for his good purposes, and is unequivocal that he is good and righteous. The book of Job makes it clear that God is not interested in coming down to our level and giving us the evidence we need to pass judgement on him—that he sees even our desire to answer the problem of evil as itself part of the problem of evil. God is God. He is to be worshipped, glorified, thanked, and served. He’s not to be vindicated or condemned. You don’t judge the Judge, even to declare him righteous.